Levelling up entrepreneurial opportunities in the UK

A quarter of all entrepreneurs in the UK are disabled and, to address the inequalities they can face, a new independent review called The Lilac Review has been launched with backing from the Government. Spearheaded by Small Business Britain it aims to level-up entrepreneurial opportunity across the UK.

Business owner Sarah Berthon is on the steering board for The Lilac Review. Sarah founded Excel against the Odds, supporting people with chronic illnesses in the workplace through mentoring, workshops and nurturing online communities. Living with conditions such as PoTS, Ehlers Danlos Syndrome, ME/CFS, and Chronic Migraine, Sarah draws from personal experience, including from corporate roles and entrepreneurship.

Here, SME Magazine catches up with Sarah, pictured above, to hear more about her business and involvement in The Lilac Review.

  1. Sarah, tell us about your business. When did you set the business up and what was the thinking behind it?

Excel against the Odds grew out of a realisation that entrepreneurs with chronic illnesses need targeted support to help them to run and grow a business in a way that works with their health. I started my first business, Crafty by Nature Skincare and found that it was making my illness worse. I was in a cycle where I would push myself hard, make my health worse, be forced to take time out and then find that I was behind. This then made me push too hard again and so the cycle would continue. The advice I was being given wasn’t working for me as it didn’t take my illnesses into consideration.

I looked in vain for support on running a business with a chronic illness. As I couldn’t find what I was looking for, I started a Facebook group called Entrepreneurs against the Odds for business owners with chronic illnesses in 2019. The main idea was to provide a community of people who understood the challenges of working with an illness and who could support one another. I spoke at length to the members about their struggles and what would help them and eventually started offering mentoring and training through my business Excel against the Odds. I also started to offer consultancy and training to corporate organisations who wanted to better support employees with chronic illnesses. I am the host of the Excel against the Odds podcast where I talk with my guests about the successes and challenges of running a business with a chronic illness.

  1. What do you enjoy the most about being an entrepreneur?

I love that being an entrepreneur gives me hope and a purpose. When I was first diagnosed with chronic illnesses and consequently lost the career that I had worked hard for, I lost my plans for the future and the hopes that I had. Starting a business and seeing where it could lead me has given me a real sense of hope for the future and has taken my focus away from my illness and towards something positive.

I also love that I’ve met so many amazing people on my journey. The people I’ve met and the experiences have far outweighed my expectations. There are some wonderful entrepreneurs doing amazing things and it’s a joy to meet them and hear their stories.

  1. What advice would you give someone thinking about setting up their own business?

I have lots of advice, but here are my favourites:

Do something that you love and believe in. You will find yourself either working on your business or thinking about it a lot of the time, so it can really help if you enjoy it.

Think about what you want to get out of your business, the days you want to work, the hours you want to work and how you enjoy interacting with people, and then set your business up to suit that.

Don’t be afraid to have boundaries. Your customers will be happy to work around them as long as you communicate them clearly.

If you have chronic illnesses, ensure your business model works well with your health and gets the most return on your energy investments. We hear a lot about ‘Return on Investment’ in terms of finances, but when you’ve got a chronic illness, it’s important to think about how you can make the biggest impact whilst using the least amount of energy.

  1. What does being on the steering board for the Lilac Review mean to you?

I am absolutely delighted to be on the steering board for The Lilac Review. I’m feeling very hopeful that it will have a positive impact for disabled entrepreneurs, remove some of the barriers that they face and provide the support and guidance that is much needed. I am very grateful that this topic is in the spotlight and Small Business Britain and the other board members are pushing for positive action.

  1. Sum up your business in three words

Advocating, supportive, community.

For more information on The Lilac Review, click here.