On the wall of his office in the SLBI, Bill Ball has one of those postcards with a motto. The motto reads Its Tough Running a Successful Business.
Bill’s job was to remind people just how tough it is and encourage them to go for it if appropriate. Being a business counsellor for SLBI is nothing if not interesting.
“You have to deal with anyone who comes through the door so you don’t know what’s going to hit you until you sit down. The majority of people coming for advice are new starts, so they want help developing a business idea or putting together a business plan or loan proposition for a bank.” It is the written plan that decides whether or not a business ever sees the light of day. The people coming to Bill are usually armed with no more than a good idea and lots of enthusiasm, so the first thing he does is sit them down with a cup of tea and a pen and together they work out the bones of a business plan.
“Only the person who is starting the business knows what their business is all about, so they have to write it themselves but you can point them in the right direction and tell them which areas they need to cover.” Bill takes people through the basics. Why are you starting a business? What business is it? What makes you the right person to start it? What is the market? ‘Where are the premises? What are the risks?
“Anyone starting in business has to be able to answer all these questions before the banks or landlord or anyone else even asks them” Bill has learnt his trade not just through years of teaching experience but also from running a few successful firms himself.
Back in the swinging sixties Bill studied at the London School of Economics. He qualified as an economist and went on to work at a technical college teaching economics and business studies. After five years teaching experience Bill decided it was time for a change and took off on a trip around South and Central America and the Caribbean to decide what that change should be.
“I arrived back at Heathrow with £2.40 and an idea that after teaching business for so long I should really have a go at running one” The artists’ co-operative and shop which he opened on Railton Road in Brixton grew into three successful businesses including a nightclub and a clothes design and retail firm.
Bill was lured back into business training when local authorities started getting involved in generating their local economies, something he had long been encouraging them to do. He worked first for the Cooperative Development Agency in Brent, then Camden Economic Development Unit followed by the Economic Development Office in Bristol. But when the SLBI offered him the chance to do the business counselling job he did best, in the south London location he loved most, he jumped at the chance. Right now he is bringing all this experience to bear helping south London businesses to be both realistic and positive at the same time.
When you see the young men and women bounce into his office starry eyed and grinning and watch them walk out frowning but determined half an hour later, you know he is doing his job.