They say that necessity is the mother of invention.
So it was for Sara Fabre who, approaching her 60th birthday, found she would have to wait another six years before receiving the state pension.
She is one of the so-called ‘Waspi’ generation of women adversely affected by moves to equalise the retirement age for both sexes.
“Not having a pension at 60 meant I was going to lose £50,000,” she said. “The life choices and assumptions I’d made were up in the air.
“I thought, what can I do? What skills have I got to see me through if I’m going to have to stay in employment?”
The life choices and assumptions I’d made were up in the air.
Her answer was – launch a business.
My MEDiA, a digital media marketing consultancy aimed at start-ups and small businesses, began trading in February last year.
Sara, who moved to Cumbria from Kent 23 years ago and now lives in Carlisle, had a wealth of experience in retail as a buyer with Debenhams and Top Shop.
In the 1990s she had been a blogging and e-commerce pioneer, setting up the website Sara’s Attic, selling vintage clothing and accessories, and later Missy BAG DiVA selling quality vintage bags.
If I hadn’t had the advice and the grant, I’d probably still have started the business but it would have been a lot tougher.
More recently, she had been a partner and co-founder of vintage retailer Warwick Tower in Carlisle and the events company Very Vintage Affairs.
She said: “After leaving those businesses I’d taken short-term jobs with retailers but decided that wasn’t for me.
“I wanted to work with smaller businesses, like those I had started.
“My MEDiA helps businesses set up their social media channels, usually Facebook and Instagram. I can schedule their posts and come up with graphics and ideas on how to interact with customers.
“I design websites too, including e-commerce websites, although not all my customers have the budget for a website. It isn’t always necessary for start-ups – many can get by with a Facebook page.”
Sara had been unemployed prior to launching My MEDiA. This made her eligible for the New Enterprise Allowance scheme, a Department for Works and Pensions initiative to help job seekers become their own boss.
Successful applicants – who must be on Universal Credit or certain other benefits and be referred by their JobCentre – get access to one-to-one support from a business mentor to develop their business plan and get started, plus business workshops, financial support worth up to £1,274 over six months, and the opportunity to apply for a StartUp Loan of up to £25,000.
The scheme also assists people who are already in business but receive Universal Credit because their income from self-employment is low.
Sara said: “I was referred to Cumbria Business Growth Hub where my adviser, Mo Colohan, was a great help. I can be impulsive and passionate, and to run three or four steps ahead of myself. Mo kept me focused.
“I needed to get started pretty quickly and she helped me through the process and advised on drawing up a business plan. She also provided useful contacts and made constructive suggestions.
“For example, she made me look at my charging structure, to benchmark it against competitors to ensure that I wasn’t over or under charging.”
She added: “The New Enterprise Allowance grant was a big help. Overheads are high when you’re starting a business so it oiled the wheels.
“If I hadn’t had the advice and the grant, I’d probably still have started the business but it would have been a lot tougher.”