Ask David Robertson, chief executive of Bibby Financial Services, and he will tell you there has never been a more exciting time to be in business as the momentum of popular culture sparks a new wave of entrepreneurial spirit.
So why is it hip to be in business right now, and what it does it take to create a successful start-up?
"It's certainly in vogue to be going it alone now," says Mr Robertson. "Despite the dip in the number of start-ups last year - 388,300 as opposed to 446,500 in 2004 - 2006 is shaping up to be the year of the entrepreneur.
"High-profile shows such as The Apprentice have attracted thousands of viewers - all of them hooked as they watch a dozen budding entrepreneurs compete for a chance to become part of self-made businessman Alan Sugar's empire.
"And global success stories such as the three college buddies who e stablished Innocent fruit smoothies - now a multi-million pound business - are supported by almost daily tales of those giving up the rat-race to set up their own businesses in rural idylls."
More than a quarter (27 per cent) of new businesses are started because of the owner's desire to be their own boss.
"But being a business ownermanager can appeal to people for many other reasons," says Mr Robertson."For instance, it gives the opportunity to be creative and realise a dream, perhaps the chance to embark on a second career or provide a flexible way of balancing childcare with work.
"It is important to stress however, that while it can be incredibly rewarding, setting up and running your own business is not an easy option - particularly at the onset.
"Behind the success stories, the reality is that many businesses do not survive beyond the first year.
"Failure rates in this initial 12 months can be anything from 20-30 per cent and, unfortunately, in 2005 some 18,000 businesses closed."
It's with these sobering statistics in mind that Mr Robertson offers budding entrepreneurs the following tips: n Follow your passion - start by exploring your dreams and passions in life. If you start a business in an area you're interested in, you're more likely to make a success of it. Write down the skills you already use in your day-today life and think about how you can use these assets to benefit your business n Know the market - make sure the demand for your product or service exists before investing time and money in your new venture. Once you know the market you're entering, you are armed with the vital knowledge you need to make informed business decisions n Get stuck in - running your own business involves hard work and particularly in the early stages, may require burning the candle at both ends to get off to a good start. Make sure you fully understand the extent of what you're embarking on and have the full support of your partner and family n Customers are key to your business and feedback should be positively encouraged. To gain a better understanding of your customers and the issues they face, phone key customers regularly and employ feedback mechanisms such as a customer hotline or online feedback form n Always strive to exceed your customers' expectations such as promising delivery within five working days, but actually delivering in three. One word of caution - never promise what you can't deliver n Network your way to the top. Itis an excellent way to meet like-minded business professionals, customers and potential business partners. To get started, check out your local Business Link and advisory groups for details of networking events in your area n Build an enthusiastic team that shares both your vision and commitment to the business, this is essential to your success, particularly in the early stages n Don't be afraid to take risks now and then. Being too cautious means you may miss out on excellent opportunities and the chance to grow your business n Last but not least - focus on finance . Regardless of industry sector the most common cause of failure for any small business starting out is poor cash-flow. Nearly one in four (23 per cent) of those who have experienced problems say raising finance to start their new business was the most prominent, and 16 per cent reported facing difficulties with their cash flow.
"It might surprise people to know that, on average, nearly 1,400 apparently successful UK firms are calling in the receivers every month, simply because they are not being paid on time," says Mr Robertson.
"The good news for entrepreneurs is that there are increasingly innovative forms of funding coming to the fore - freeing up cash-flow and injecting capital when it is most needed.
"Although the more commonlyused bank loans and overdrafts may be suitable in many cases, solutions such as invoice finance are growing in popularity and are no longer seen as the last chance saloon for failing businesses - rather as a real and viable alternative to more traditional means of business finance.
"Invoice finance solutions can not only help get your new venture off the ground but can also provide an ongoing supply of working capital."
A rapidly-expanding packaging business is on target to take sales past the £500,00 mark after securing a clutch of lucrative deals with a host of major suppliers.
Established in 2004, Contrapak provides design and packaging facilities for companies throughout the UK, ranging from chemicals to pet food manufacturers.
Sales last year reached £100,000 and the directors have secured funding from L loyds TSB Commercial Finance to help it take turnover past the magic mark.
Operating out of its 6,000 sq ft unit at Webton Business Park, the business has recently been signed up by a host of household names.
The firm has also developed a range of innovative environ-mentally friendly water soluble packs that are leading to contracts in the UK and mainland Europe.
Lloyds TSB Commercial Finance is providing Contrapak with a flexible asset based lending facility, which involves lending against the sales ledger to improve cash flow and free up funds.
This ensures that the firm has the capital it needs to hunt out and fulfill contracts quickly, according to Graham Collins, regional manager at Lloyds TSB Commercial Finance.
"Cash flow is king for a company such as Contrapak. The business has invested a great deal of money in state-of-the-art facilities, but without an appropriate working capital facility in place, new contracts can become increasingly difficult to service while maintaining high standards," says Mr Collins.
"The directors were determined to make sure Contrapak had the necessary financial resources in place in order to move forward and acknowledged invoice discounting was the quickest and most suitable solution."
Contrapak director Kirsty Smith says: "It's always been our intention to grow slowly in the first couple of years and then look to expand once we were established.
"In our first 18 months, we were working primarily with smaller firms that wanted to outsource their packaging requirements for cost saving reasons.
"We're increasingly partnering larger businesses now, especially those that are looking to trial new products but don't have the capacity within their existing facilities.
"Sales should easily exceed £500,000 this financial year and now that we have the right financial package in place, we're confident that we can move forward and grow at a fast but manageable rate."
Invoice finance takes two forms Invoice discounting provides funding against unpaid invoices. The financier will turn up to 85 per cent of the value into cash within 24 hours of it being raised Factoring is the same as invoice discounting but the customer is aware of the factor because it undertakes a collection service.