Richard Osborne, founder of UK Business Forums

Richard Osborne’s life changed after he was spotted on the street by an old school friend. Photo: UK Business Forums

Coming from a difficult upbringing, Richard Osborne is now a multi-award winning entrepreneur and founder of the UK’s largest online community for small and micro business owners, UK Business Forums.

There are currently over 500,000 members a rapidly growing number with the surge of new start-ups, working from home and a growing shift towards a micro-enterprise economy.

I was doing a lot of drugs, stealing and doing nothing good before I met Steve Coates, who became a father figure to me. I don’t know why he kept me employed but he saw something in me.

He ran a small business and became president of Advanced Group, a commercial kitchen design company. People looked up to him and he spent time training me and later put money into my first business. Even though we weren’t together as business partners, he was just someone who inspired me to get clean

In the mid-90s, I was on the streets and going out every night, before an old school friend saw me one night and took me to the local YTS center. ‘How do you want to design?’ they said. I sat in the interview and one of the questions was where I saw myself in five years.

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“Drive a car and drive like you do,” I told Steve. I was offered a job there, then for £35 a week, but I could have earned more selling drugs. However, things clicked. I took home a computer book and did a 3D drawing the following week, which the company had never seen before. They loved it and bought another computer, which I then realized could produce more quotes in record time.

I could see how I was adding value to the business by bringing in more technology ideas. Still, my home life was not in an ideal place. My stepfather was missing, the bailiffs were on us, and Mom was doing two jobs. I had a tough childhood, that’s for sure, but Steve sent me on internship and quickly promoted me to team leader. I started putting my efforts into a career and wanted to please Steve.

I look back now and see what a father figure he truly was. He wasn’t aggressive or angry; he wanted to develop his team. I ended up working seven days a week, improving the company network and introducing email to the company.

However, I was also down and made the illogical decision to postpone my leave. When I left, I was second in command, with about 40 people.

I started Netrotech in 1999, with Steve’s investment and we then sold that business after two years, 2001. I then formed Quick Formations which became the UK’s largest company registrar. United. It had quickly become excessive, I was doing everything alone and I had no one to talk to. I didn’t have Steve to define me.

Richard Osborne has survived several breakdowns to become a key cog for small business owners.  Photo: UK Business Forums

Richard Osborne has survived several breakdowns to become a key cog for small business owners. Photo: UK Business Forums

I was creating 150 businesses a day and it was swallowing me up. I sat there on my kitchen table and realized that I couldn’t be the only person in the same boat. However, I was familiar with online forums and quickly set up UK business forums. In 2005, I took possession of it.

It was a place where people worked for themselves, interacted and asked questions. Managing a community is stressful enough with so many different personalities and I soon had offers on the table, it changed our lives, while the money from the sale allowed me to start Business Data Group, which now owns UK Business Forums.

During the pandemic we reviewed the business plan of UK business forums with owners looking to resell me. We knew there was revenue growth and there was no hesitation with my investors.

We have companies such as Barclays (BARC.L), Hiscox (HSX.L) and Sage (SGE.L) on board, membership numbers exceed half a million and our growth hacks newsletter and business advice reaches more than 300,000 people.

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We are only at the tip of the iceberg. We know the pandemic will accelerate progress towards a micro-business economy, with an increase in sole traders and entrepreneurs working with large corporations. We are already seeing this with the banking sector – the rise of virtual assistants serving SMEs bears witness to this.

We create a source of orientation. Our statistics show that nearly 50,000 young people do not continue their studies and do not start a business. However, these young people are not made aware of taxation or VAT at school.

Services like ours must exist as a source for a million different questions asked by freelancers. Connecting them with people who have been there and done it is part of the solution.

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Harry L. Blanchard