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I have a short anecdote for you. I have recently been getting involved in the SIFE ‘Capture’ project, a scheme at Lancaster which aims to help students with business ideas get started in the money-making world. A friend and I, both of us studying creative writing as part of our course, heard about this project and began to form a magnificent and completely fool-proof plan. It was something along the lines of: ‘We should write some things, and get them published. Then people should give us money.’ Granted, we knew it wouldn’t be that simple, but it couldn’t hurt to look into it. The following is a rough description of our first meeting to discuss ideas.
Having dealt with the initial introductions and inevitable signing of forms, we sat down opposite a pair of helpful and very patient advisors who began asking us questions.
‘So, what’s your business plan?’ they asked. ‘We write,’ we replied, ‘short fiction and poems. We have a lot of poems.’ Everything was going fine, until the business words started to emerge. ‘So what are your goals? Do you have a business plan, a marketing strategy?’ We exchanged blank looks and replied that our goal was to get some kind of collection published, and that was about as far as we’d got. ‘Have you thought about who to target this at? Who would purchase a book of poems?’ I thought about this. ‘Probably other poets,’ I said, and felt silly.
The meeting continued in this fashion, and at the end of it as we walked away with a large to-do list I felt that its main purpose had been to make me realise how little I knew about the real business world. As great as it is to have a passion and a simple goal, becoming an ‘entrepreneur’ takes a lot more than some initial talent and a desire to succeed. Nonetheless, it’s an attractive prospect which has received an awful lot of attention in recent days. ‘Start your own business!’ ‘Forge your own path!’ ‘Become the glorious architect of your own shining future!’ All slightly hyperbolic examples of the sort of thing you see plastered across careers advice services and university emails on an almost daily basis.
So why all this hype over entrepreneurship? Has someone simply spent too much time watching Dragon’s Den? There is of course more of a strategy to it than that. What with the depressingly ubiquitous news that graduate jobs are becoming scarcer by the minute, it’s no surprise that there is a push to make us create our own through independent effort. There is significant government backing for university enterprise societies; in November the government announced that it would provide these societies with financial support to kick-start entrepreneurial activities.
The problem with all of this is the potential it has to turn entrepreneurship into a sort of gold rush, where everybody thinks that the answer to employment worries is to start from scratch with a hope and a dream and none of their own money. Now, I’m not trying to dissuade people from having these kinds of goals, as that would be counter-productive and extremely hypocritical. But we must not get complacent. Finding a foothold in the business world is no simple task. It takes planning, perseverance, and various other weighty virtues. Perhaps, as the enthusiastic emails and campus posters seem to suggest, it is something everyone should consider – but it’s certainly not something everyone can succeed in. Thankfully, there is always advice available and projects like SIFE willing to help. So good luck, business pioneers. You’re going to need it.
On a final and somewhat philosophical note, the whole experience has made me realise something (though I’m not quite sure how I feel about it): While it’s sometimes tempting to be terrified of the word ‘business’, it seems to be everywhere whether we like it or not – even in poetry.