Hannah Saunders, founder of Toddle Born Wild 

Small businesses are facing challenging times. The effects of Covid-19 are still having an acute impact and on top of that, business owners are having to navigate a complex and unpredictable economic climate.

According to recent research from The Federation of Small Businesses  the cost of business and, unsurprisingly, energy is right at the forefront of these challenges. An overwhelming 96% of small businesses are concerned about rising energy costs and 38% extremely concerned. This is most prevalent among firms in accommodation and food (68%), wholesale and retail (45%) and manufacturing (43%) who reported ‘high levels of extreme concern' to the FSB.

It's never been more important to provide resources and access to information that can help business owners around the UK.

That is why the British Business Bank is offering UK businesses practical and actionable guidance on what they can do to reduce their costs, boost their profitability, and increase their resilience. Our online guides cover everything from financial planning to mental health, which is often overlooked despite 92% of small business owners reporting that they have experienced symptoms of poor mental health over the last two years.

However, while online guides offer practical advice, they are by no means the only way of helping businesses. Time and time again we hear our loan recipients highlight the value of role models and mentors during those early stages of business ownership. One of our 2022/23 Ambassadors Dhruvin Patel, founder of Ocushield, relied heavily on the mentoring scheme for advice and support in getting his idea off the ground. Dhruvin said: "When you're starting out it's hard to find role models. The mentoring programme was really important in the early days of the business, as it helped me take all the right steps. Our success has continued to grow ever since."

Every year, we refresh the Start Up Loans Ambassadors programme with 12 new small business owners from across the UK. Our Ambassadors not only represent the entrepreneurial spirit of this country but also provide inspiration and the benefit of their experience for those who wish to take the leap into business ownership. We have one for each region of the UK and drawn from across sectors. However, vitally, every one of them is willing to be transparent in the public realm and discuss the challenges they've faced as business owners, how they've overcome them and how they stay motivated in the face of uncertainty.

Here's what two of our Ambassadors had to say about the Start-up Loans programme, facing adversity as a business owner and becoming an ambassador.

Emma Airley and Sebastian Bacewicz, founders of Pastéis Lisboa said:

"While we were fairly advanced with our financials and business plan by the time we applied for our loans, the input from our mentor Sid Kochari was invaluable in helping us to really tighten things up and be laser-focused on the priorities during a hectic, stressful time.  This not only encouraged us that we were on the right track and helped us filter out all the other noise, but it has also given us a really detailed road-map for the future growth of Pastéis Lisboa."

"In the tough days, because there have been a lot of them, one the things that gets us through them is just reminding ourselves that other people have faith in us, even when we don't, because we all suffer from imposter syndrome. Being able to remind yourself, ok, they believe in us, the bank believed in us, Transmit believed in us... helps us when we're struggling and having days when we doubt ourselves."

Hannah Saunders, founder of Toddle Born Wild said: 

"Getting that money into the company early on whether its through investment, a loan, it can be so challenging and it can be really intimidating. So, I hope in my role as an ambassador, I can encourage people and hopefully inspire them. You they might be sat there with nothing, no money, just a dream but, slowly and systematically, if you get that business plan done, and you get that loan in, you can build your dream; you can be successful, and you can create a business that you can be really proud of.

Navigating those really early stages of business are just so hard and so if I can encourage anybody into business it's a real privilege to do so."

It is without doubt that I say, the current economic climate is challenging for small business owners whether they're just starting out or a few years down the line in their business journey. However, the testimonies of our ambassadors suggest that with the right tools and the right role models, every small business owner stands a fighting chance at building a strong, resilient business despite the challenges they may face along the way.