Small Enterprise Startup for People with Disabilities


“Stepping into Business” is a course for people who wish to become self-employed or otherwise to establish their own small enterprises and who have disabilities.  The course is offered in modules, each module addressing a specific area of business startup in the context of an individual's disability.  The course is wide-ranging in its content, covering aspects of business development such as:
“Stepping into Business” is based on “Making the Road by Taking It”, a workbook of self-employment training exercises developed at the Rural Institute on Disability at the University of Montana.  The course comprises a series of modules, based on the original Montana exercises.  It has also been rewritten, where appropriate, to take account of differences between the legislative and regulatory frameworks in the United States and in the United Kingdom.

“Stepping into Business” is suitable for use by groups of trainees, under the guidance of training professionals.  The trainees will be aspiring to set up new small enterprises in the United Kingdom and will generally be people who have one or more disabilities.  It is expected that course participants will have appropriate computer and adaptive technology skills to be able to use word processor, spreadsheet, email and internet access software effectively.

“Stepping into Business” is available as a distance learning course with a small number of short residential sessions.  In this case the time structure of the course will probably be considerably longer as it will be necessary to devote additional time to discussion of each module.  It is, however, more likely that individual training programmes will be constructed to meet the needs of each trainee;  such programmes can be delivered on a very flexible basis.

The modules included in the course are outlined below.  The amount of time that should be devoted to each module will vary from one participant to another.

I should like to thank the staff at The Rural Institute on Disability at the University of Montana, and in particular the Institute’s then Director, Cary Griffin, for making this course possible.  Cary has provided me with an electronic version of the original “Making the Road by Taking It” text and has granted me permission to anglicize the text and to convert it to accessible form for use by people who are vision impaired in the United Kingdom.  Cary has also given me a great deal of ongoing encouragement and support.

Below are listed the modules that comprise “Stepping into Business”, together with a summary of some of the issues that will be addressed.

Many of the modules can be delivered in the form of directed group discussions.  There are, however, exercises included in some of the modules.  It is expected that course participants will use their normal means of writing to complete these exercises and to make notes on the group sessions.  Some of the activities will require trainees to make telephone calls and to visit organizations and agencies which might be of assistance to them in setting up their businesses.

Whilst some modules, such as "Access to Work", are generally disability related, it should be noted that each module will be delivered in a way which relates to each individual's disability.  Thus, for example, modules which require travelling will have to address the issue of how effective travelling strategies can be developed.  Participants may often have their own solutions to such problems, but it is important to highlight these so as to give them proper consideration at an early stage.
Marketing Yourself
This initial module allows you to explore yourself and your business idea, with a view to defining where you are going and why.  You will look at the basic “what” and “why” of your proposed business, as well as beginning to see yourself as a businessperson.  Discussion of these fundamental subjects will help you to begin to develop your business ideas.
Personal Attributes Review
In this module you will conduct a detailed review of your personal skills and attributes that might be called upon in your business.  To do this it will first be necessary to define your business aspirations more clearly.  You will then consider a wide range of personal, technical and business qualities and characteristics that you might bring to your business.  You will also begin to consider what resources you have available to you and what help and support you might be able to find.  Finally, you will consider questions that you might have about starting or running your business.
Business Models
Here you will look at the various models of small business that are available to you, learning about how each might work.  You will discover that there are options other than self-employment from which you may be able to choose.  This will help you to decide which is the most appropriate business model that is likely to fit in with you and your business ideas.
Strengths and Weaknesses Analysis
In this module you will look at the advantages and disadvantages of your proposed business.  It is very important that you are honest with yourself at this stage;  if you identify a problem, there may be someone who already has a solution.  You should therefore look at the possible supports that might be available to you and how you might make best use of these supports.  You will start to gather information on what help is available and how you might access that help.
Personal Business Skills and Supports Inventory
This module contains a detailed list of business skills.  You will examine each skill and consider whether you have the skill, can learn the skill, may need support in this area, might be able to develop an alternative strategy or where you might get help or support.  Remember that, in addition to the general business skills covered here, you will also need specialist skills in your own chosen line of work.
Personal Credit Affordability
The purpose of this module is to establish how much credit it would be reasonable for you to commit to in order to run your business.  You will make a detailed list of all your outgoings (a basic list is provided for guidance).  You will then calculate the maximum level of credit you might seek to raise, based on various levels of income from your business.
Business and Disability Benefit Language Basics
This module contains a comprehensive list of business and benefit related words and phrases.  You will learn how to define the most important ones of these in general terms.
Product, Price, Placement, Promotion
This is a heavy module that guides you through a detailed look at your products or services and how to market and sell them.  You will consider features of your products or services and the characteristics of your potential customers.  You will also look at ways in which you might collaborate with other organizations in selling and buying in products or services.  Throughout this module the focus will be on pricing and your intended position in the market.
Features and Benefits of Your Products or Services
In this module you will make a list of the features of your products or services and the benefits that these will bring to your customers.  You will also list potential features that you might add later and the potential added benefits of these.  The objective here is to focus clearly on the products or services that you intend to sell.
Pricing & Break-Even Exercise:
Personal Financial Statement
This module contains a sample set of costs for a fictitious business.  You will consider these costs, adding any that you think are missing.  You will identify which costs are fixed and which are variable.  You will learn how to calculate the contribution margin on each sale.  You will also look at how to calculate how much product or service must be sold to pay for all variable and fixed costs and what will happen to this calculation if you change the price of your product or service.  You will then consider what assets and liabilities you have (a sample list is provided for guidance).  You will thus calculate your current worth.
Refining Your Business Idea
In this module you will work through a series of questions that focus on your business, its products or services and its customers.  You will seek to define your business more clearly, identify your products or services, identify your customers and understand why they should buy your products or services.
Target Market and Positioning
In this module you work through a worksheet that helps you to define your target market and where you will position your business in the marketplace.  You will look at the detailed customer demographics of both private individual and business customers who might buy your products or services.  You will also conduct a survey of businesses in your geographic area and consider whether they might be competitors, whether you might be able to work with them or whether they might be able to help you.
Small Business Research and Resources
This module is intended to help you to determine the feasability, viability and sustainability of your business.  You will identify the business sector within which your business belongs and then look for specific supports and networks that might be of help to you.  Further searches will identify local and national supports that are available to business in general and that might be of use to you.  You will also attempt to locate organizations through which you might come into contact with potential customers.  Employment Service, economic development and social incentives will also be sought and identified at this stage.  You will then move on to identify potential sources of supply of goods, materials or services that you might need, as well as exploring ways in which these sources might benefit your business.  You will study the general and specific economic and commercial characteristics of your area, as well as assessing the performance of businesses that might be your competitors.  You will look at possible factors that might lead to fluctuations in the performance of your business.  Finally, you will find out about legislative and regulatory controls that might affect you and your business.
Business Operation
In this module you will look at the day-to-day operation of your business.  You will identify those tasks that are directly related to your product or service, as well as those that are essential to effective and legal operation of your business.  Specific topics to be covered include record keeping, communication, travelling, time management and health and safety.
Access to Work
In this module you will learn how to make optimum use of the Access to Work scheme.  This will include obtaining Access to Work support prior to starting trading, identification of disability related problems that could be alleviated by Access to Work support and ways of strengthening your Access to Work case.
Funding Sources
In this module you will find out about possible funding sources to which you might gain access.  These will include European, UK government and local government sources, as well as charitable and other non-government sources.  You will also consider the advantages and disadvantages of borrowing money to start your business.
Using Employees and Support Workers
In this module you will attempt to identify those parts of your job that you are unable to do yourself.  You will then consider options for having such work done for you.  You will consider options such as buying in products or services, employing staff and making use of support workers.
Personal Presentation
In this module you will look at how you should dress and behave in your chosen business.  You will discuss how you might dress to do the productive part of your work, when working directly with customers and when attending professional or trade meetings.  You will also look at what forms of behaviour are generally considered acceptable in these various settings, as well as considering those forms of behaviour that are not considered acceptable.  Finally, you will look at any special clothing requirements that are associated with your chosen work and whether you may charge these to the business.

© Brendan Magill, September 2005.