Entrepreneur or Mad Man?

My name is Matthew Emo, I have Cerebral Palsy and I am the founder of Devilishly Disabled Clothing.  When I was growing up the word entrepreneur was everywhere. The way in which the term was stylised led me to believe that all entrepreneurs are driving around in Bugatti Veyrons, have butlers and are surrounded by an endless entourage of beautiful people.

The reality for most however is very different. Here’s my business’ story so far.

I set my business up after being made redundant from my lecturing job. In honesty my redundancy provided a period of reflection along with a sharp injection of reality. I’d worked hard to get where I was, for me lecturing was my pinnacle. Yet, the only place I could now find work was Sainsbury’s, who are one of the few large companies who truly support those with disabilities.

Working however, provides me with such psychological strength and although it can be hard on my body, it also helps keep me active. My disability also limits my work choices significantly. So although setting up the business has been hard, I don’t regret it, because with an active mind I can control my disability.

Have a Driving Force

The bottom line is you won’t make much money for quite a while.  My advice is to have a driving force, something other than money that compels you to drive the business forward. Mine is that some of my friends have passed away at disrespectfully young ages, before they had the chance to make the impact that their characters would have undoubtedly enabled them too.  Secondly, as my condition deteriorates my ability to work within an organisation may diminish too.  I could quite legitimately stop working because of my condition but I won’t. That’s not to beat the rhetoric that disabled people are lazy but because working is a privilege that not everybody has. Self- employment and running my own business provides me with the best opportunity to work in the long term.

My Business

Devilishly Disabled Clothing aims to empower those with disabilities to show that their disability does not define them. Yes we use humour to depict those everyday situations faced by those with disabilities, but that’s because I have never met a disabled person without a sense of humour. It is that character and personality that I want everyone to see before the disability.  Hopefully this will help remove the uncertainties that surround disability, leading to increased social circles and equal opportunities.

The Mistakes

Ah the mistakes, I have made plenty and I will make plenty more.  You learn by doing though right? I won’t list all my mistakes as you won’t have time to read them.

My first and biggest mistake was starting the business after being made redundant.  Although I probably wouldn’t have had time to build the business whilst working, a new business will never replace a guaranteed income.

Do Your Research

I knew nothing about Kaleidoscope, Disabled Entrepreneurs or even the NEA scheme when I set up my business. I just dived right in there and set up the business with a bank loan and all of the enthusiasm you should have when setting up a business. The NEA Scheme offer loans with a 6% APR – which is better than mine! If however you write a good business plan and believe in your business venture, then there is help out there and you will succeed.

Watch Out

We have only been trading since the end of last year and in that time I have learnt a lot. The biggest of which is that you will get tonnes of people giving you advice and tonnes more telling you how their business can benefit yours. My advice- take all the advice you are given but drive the business in the direction that you choose. My business is developed from my vision and it is that which will help me succeed. Don’t get drawn into spending loads money on advertising, hoping that it will get you that big break. I’m learning that hard work gets you a foot hold and that things develop in time. Ineffective advertising provides peaks which will not sustain you in the long term.

The Dilemma

Do you start your own business or not? I’m sure it’s not just disabled people who fear what the DWP might do to existing benefits and assistance once a business is set up.  But if we are looking at this from a well-being perspective, then there is nothing that gets you motivated quite like your own business. The government are supposed to support working people and in my experience thus far they do that. They could do so much more for those with disabilities but I’m sure that’s the case for many.

The Future

I will continue to work hard, doing whatever I need to whilst Devilishly Disabled Clothing grows to support me. I want to expand the brand to be more inclusive. At the moment we are aiming at about 6% of the 12 million disabled people in the UK with our depictions of physical disability. I want my brand to depict those daily situations and frustrations faced by all disabilities and beyond that society at large. After all, disabled people aren’t the only people who face difficulties daily. Hopefully we will soon be empowering all to see the awesomeness of the individual.  Beyond that a Bugatti Veyron would be nice!

This piece was written in response to the BBC’s Ouch Blog entitled The ‘dragons’ who want to help disabled people start their own business which is available here.

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