How I as a Disabled Entrepreneur set up a business in the pandemic

I had a successful career working within the manufacturing industry and had various roles during my 25 year service. I was made redundant in December 2020 due to the pandemic and the uncertainty of Brexit as I worked for a Danish Company. This was both shocking and devasting, I had planned to continue my employment with this company until my retirement.

I had to pick myself up and create a cv for my future employment. I was very nervous about how I would be perceived as a disabled person. I have multiple sclerosis, which was diagnosed in 2005. My previous employer had been fine with this and supported me in the workplace, so this has never stopped me from working. I applied for lots of jobs and finally got an interview online. Following a successful interview, I was lucky enough to be offered a new position quite quickly following my redundancy which was fantastic.

I had disclosed my disability from the onset, and this didn't seem to be a problem. However, for me to get a start date I had to go through a risk assessment which proved to be extremely intrusive and traumatic. I felt I was suddenly seen as a problem and the questions bore no relevance to the actual job I was doing. I had to provide a full medical report of my condition which is very personal. Suddenly my start date kept being pushed back and the whole onboarding process became so stressful which triggered a deterioration in my symptoms, and I started to lose my confidence after reading the 12 page risk assessment which was so unbalanced and did not reflect how I actually presented and would require if I was fully supported in the workplace.

During this time, I was chatting with my hairdresser Kevin Winstanley who introduced me to his Mum Jacqueline Winstanley who set up the Inclusive Entrepreneur network. Jacqueline told me about the support the network provides to people who face barriers to creating enterprise, particularly disabled entrepreneurs.

Jacqueline explained about the access to work award and how this helps disabled people stay in work. I tried, with Jacqueline’s help to continue with the onboarding process but this was proving to be extremely difficult, and my health was suffering.

After much consideration, the battle was not worth the negative impact on my health, I decided not to accept the job offer and with Jacqueline’s support and coaching I set up my own virtual pa business – JA Executive PA Services in April 2021. Jacqueline helped me to apply for the access to work award which has been invaluable, I could not do my job without the support it provides.

I was in a bad place after my experience and the health and wellbeing support the network provides helped me to navigate managing a long term health condition in the workplace, and as my business took shape and I started to grow my confidence started to return. The peer support from the network and the Friday briefings has been invaluable and I have been able to contribute to the APPG for Inclusive Entrepreneurship and everyone has been so supportive

My business is now growing and it has been very much a learning process. I had to learn very quickly what's involved in running your own business from setting up a business profile on all the social media platforms, creating a company logo, through to setting up my own website It has been hard at times, feeling like a rabbit in the headlights. Not sure which way to turn, but I’m now feeling a lot more positive and confident for the future.

I feel privileged to be working with the most amazing clients. Every day is different, and I love the variation of my work utilising all the skills I’ve learned over my years in employment by supporting overwhelmed entrepreneurs so they can concentrate on running their businesses.

"Janet's services are such a welcome break to an overwhelmed entrepreneur. From bringing order to your inbox through to staying on top of the administrative support and diary management, Janet is a productive and very conscientious professional. She is always clear in communication and is incredibly trustworthy and reliable, something incredibly important and not to be underrated in this line of work".

Beth Kume-Holland Patchwork Hub

In her role as Operations Coordinator, Janet capably undertook a wide range of responsibilities at Micro Matic UK including production planning, purchasing and general administration. With a positive attitude, she maintained co-operative relationships with customers and colleagues locally; across the UK, Denmark, Lithuania and Luxemburg. Janet’s strengths lie in her ability to track a portfolio of tasks ensuring that tight timescales are adhered to, communicating any issues promptly. She has a professional demeanor, is adaptable and trustworthy

Paul Palmer-Baker Head of Design and Operations

I have always worked and the thought of not being able to work and the knock on effects from that on myself and my quality of life was very frightening. Taking a leap of faith and accessing the right business, health, and wellbeing support has given me a new lease of life