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Disabled people wishing to become self-employed, particularly those who are currently recipients of Work and Income or ACC income, had an opportunity to participate in a six-month intensive mentoring and coaching programme, starting in July 2012.

The programme, funded by the Ministry of Social Development's Employment Innovation Fund, was led by Diversityworks Executive Director Philip Patston and Lesley Slade, both of whom have personal experience of self-employment and disability over a combined period of 20 years and have proven skills in starting up, developing and maintaining small businesses while managing the impact of permanent and short-term disability.

The two worked with a group of 11 people to mentor and coach them to develop themselves and support each other to be sustainably self-employed. Modern and agile small business ideology will be used to help people vision, strategise, implement and review their small business concept.

An ongoing network was to be created so that the small business owners can share skills, administrative services, web development, and other operational costs. This didn't eventuate.

By the end of six months each person aimed to be established as self-employed — including company, tax and accounting set-up — and be ready to offer a product or service to the market. Each was to have an established business framework which would allow them to adapt and grow their business over time. They were to have developed skills in management, marketing, product and service development, customer service and social networking.

Funding for support (eg. Workbridge Self-Start and Job Support) was have been identified and applied for. Each will be part of a supportive, small business/self-employment network infrastructure.

At the end of the project each person will also undergo a self-assessment of their confidence and capability to remain self-employed. Further development needs will be identified. Marketing success was be measured through client leads.

Current self-employment support options for disabled people are limited to Workbridge's Self-Start fund, which requires a comprehensive business plan, projections and business skills, but offers no follow-up. This project aimed to fill this preparation and sustainability gap in current services.

Conclusions and recommendations

On average the programme was reasonably successful. Elements of the programme that weren’t successful seem to have been due to internal factors such as motivation and external systemic factors such as funding policy.

We thought that three of the original 11 participants (27%) were more likely to succeed in the long-term. Self-employment is a long game and we thought that others benefitted from becoming clear about whether or not self-employment suited them.

We recommended that MSD continue to explore self-employment as an option for jobseekers, but keep in mind the self-motivation and perseverance needed to be sustainable. We also recommended, from our learning, that a more one-on-one, rather than group, approach would be more successful and that a longer period of one year would lead to more successful outcomes.

We recommended relaxing criteria for start-up funding from Workbridge to assist people to engage support to do market research, forecasting etc in order to prepare business plans.