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Where small is beautiful

Best known as the founder of the Greenwich Communication Centre, Lorraine Turton is a serial/social entrepreneur and a passionate advocate for the Royal Borough. She describes how her venture, the Greenwich Enterprise Club, is helping local start-ups reach fruition

Lorraine Turton was watching TV when she had her eureka moment. It was the start of 2012, and with nearly three million out of work, you could barely turn on the news without hearing the word “unemployment”. One day it’d be the latest spate of lay-offs; the next it’d be a wave of unpaid interns; the day after that, a Job Centre queue snaking all the way down the street.


Turton felt a pang of recognition – in earlier years, she had undergone two consecutive redundancies. What could she do, she mused, to help others in similar positions?


Her own route out of joblessness had been bold to say the least. Building on her background in the City, she went on to launch a marketing and events consultancy in 2003. This was followed by an IT support agency for businesses and the much-loved social enterprise Greenwich Communication Centre on Trafalgar Road.


As if that were not enough, she assumed the chairmanship of the East Greenwich Business Association, as well as being elected Greenwich Borough Representative and vice-chairman for the southeast-London branch of the Federation of Small Businesses. You might say she was busy. 


Despite her workload, she was always quick to notice a previously untapped niche. With the job market so precarious, she turned her attentions to the growing contingent of start-up entrepreneurs. Could they benefit from a support group, she wondered?


“If the solution, for me, was to return to running my own business, I felt that I could offer others the confidence boost and support to take that step,” says Turton, who has lived in Greenwich since 1999. 


Shortly after the Olympics, the Greenwich Enterprise Club was born. It has since attracted some 200 members, not to mention receiving an award for innovation at the FSB London Business Awards 2013. With structured meetings, member introductions and a speaker slot, its scope is encouragingly broad and its services are free.


“The Enterprise Club supports budding entrepreneurs to reduce risk in getting their new ventures off the ground,” explains Turton. “It provides a forum for expertise and experience to be shared, and beyond that it is a club where friendships, partnerships and collaborations are nurtured between like-minded entrepreneurial people.”


The members are a disparate group, but already the success stories abound. We only need to look as far as Elliot Kay (who, as a peak performance coach of five years standing, joined primarily for networking purposes), or Bhaswati Guha (who has just started a business helping small enterprises implement management systems). Based on the wealth of testimonials, it’s hard to believe the club has only just celebrated its first birthday. 


“Since I work from home, it is good to get out of that comfortable environment and connect with other people,” says website designer Amrit Manku. “The club has assisted with networking, creating a connection and getting my name known.”

How it all began
So how did Turton herself make the leap to a self-professed serial/social entrepreneur? As is often the case with go-getters, the seeds were sown in childhood (“I always had some scheme going at school to make a few extra quid,” she says), but her talents didn’t become fully apparent until she quit her first job at the age of 19. Her debut enterprise was a shop selling oriental arts 
and crafts.


“There's rather a long story here,” she recalls, “but the short version is: I travelled to China and returned safely a year or two later to open a shop in Glastonbury. The shop was called Eternal Flame and I took exactly £100 on my first day of trading, which was not bad money in those days. The rest is history.” 


After spending a couple of years in the UK, the Dragon summoned her back and she relocated to Hong Kong in 1993. This was followed by a stint in Sydney, and finally a move to London, where she swiftly settled upon Greenwich. Initially, she’d been attracted by its green open spaces and proximity to Canary Wharf. But since starting her businesses here, her relationship with the borough has grown roots. 


“When you live in a place but work somewhere else, you are only superficially connected to it, but when you run a local business, your eyes are opened to both the good and the bad,” she says. “You become embedded in the community and are interconnected with the whole fabric of the community you serve.”


As a champion of small businesses, Lorraine Turton might be said to have a finger in every pie. In fact, she presides over more such ‘pies’ than anyone has fingers. Time will tell whether her many mentees can follow in her footsteps. 
Donate to the Greenwich Enterprise Club at bit.ly/12rDm5T.


Lorraine Turton’s top tips for local start-ups

  • Join a networking group and make new business friends – there are people out there who can help and support you.
  • Have in your mind what the ultimate outcome of your business is, then plan backwards from there the tasks you need to do.
  • Don't try and sell anything until you've put together a really good story as to why a customer should buy from you rather than your competitor.
  • Running your own business is not for the faint-hearted. There are risks at every turn 
  • and decisions are not always easy. Learn to manage stress.
  • You will make mistakes – lots of them – just try to pick yourself up as quickly as you can and move on. Try to avoid major mistakes. They are killers.
  • Good suppliers and contractors are like gold dust – keep them close to you. Pay their invoices quickly.
  • Your competitors are always changing shape – watch them like a hawk and react accordingly.
  • Become an expert on internet marketing or employ someone who is.
  • Believe that you can do it and be determined to succeed – the path of success is not straight. Setbacks are part of the game. Be committed to reaching the end.

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