Self-employment and small business ownership is becoming an increasingly popular route to work for people with disabilities who want to use their skills and talents to create employment. It can offer you the chance to create a job and a way of working that fits with your individual health needs and personal preferences. The Foundation for People with Learning Disabilities also suggest that such options may make self-employment particularly beneficial to people with more complex needs.

Link to case study of Robin - same pageSelf-employment can offer the chance to

  • Develop more work options linked to your interests, aspirations and skills.
  • Create a career pathway, progression and development which may be harder to achieve using other routes.
  • Provide opportunities for you to have more control over the timing, location and pace of employment that better meet your needs
  • Increase community engagement as you'll be working in your local community, providing services.
  • Improve health and independence through the improvement of economic and social wellbeing, community connectedness, skills, and knowledge

More Employment Support providers are now offering support to job seekers interested in self-employment either as a job on its own or combined with a part-time salaried position elsewhere. There are a number of important things to bear in mind when looking at developing self-employment including:


Planning for self-employment

Developing a business idea

Business ideas can come from a number of different places.  Some people spot an opportunity or think of a business idea out of the blue.  Others have a particular skill, interest or talent that they can develop.  It is also possible to convert a hobby or pastime but wherever the idea comes from, it is important to spend time planning.


Business Planning

Business planning is important to help you capture your business idea, identify the market and to provide a description of how your business will work.  It should contain information about what is needed to get started, the finances, the customers and targets for the future.  Business plans do not need to be complicated or long but, even for very small businesses, are useful to help to check that things are going to plan.  They are especially important when trying to get finance.

There are lots of guides available to help you plan and develop a business.  Some of the following have been developed specifically for people who have a disability.


Financial planning

An important part of business planning is checking that the enterprise idea is viable and that it will generate an income large enough to meet its costs and to pay you a wage. Financial forecasts help by estimating the income and expenditure of a business.

There are a number of cash flow templates.

Some businesses need initial funding to get started.  This does not always have to be a large sum and many people will use their own savings.  Larger enterprises may seek funding or loan finance.

It is worth talking to the local enterprise support agency about what money is available locally.



Setting up a business carries some risk as it is impossible to guarantee that everything will go smoothly even with a good business plan.  These are ways to reduce risk but it cannot be removed altogether.

Some people try a number of different ideas before they find the business that’s right for them. For others, either starting slowly and testing their idea or combining self-employment with a paid job might be a good way forward. Both can provide some security if you want to start part-time.

Careful planning will always help along with support and training.


Training and Support

Developing self-employment opportunities needs careful planning and support. Support for both the business itself and for the individual. . Most local authority areas have enterprise support agencies that can help with business training and advice.

You might benefit from using a suitably experienced Job Coach or Enterprise Facilitator to guide you through the process but you should check that your support worker has the appropriate enterprise skills and knowledge.  BASE offers a range of training services, including for self-employment and small business development, aimed at people who have a disability and those that support them. 


Access to work

Access to work can contribute to equipment, travel and support costs for self-employed people with a disability or long term health condition. Access to Work will not pay for start-up costs or cover costs, such as business course or market research, while your business is being formed .


New Enterprise Allowance

The New Enterprise allowance is available to people in receipt of certain benefits interested in developing a business idea. You may be eligible if you are over 18 and get either:

  • Universal Credit, Jobseeker’s Allowance or Employment and Support Allowance
  • Income Support and are a lone parent, sick or disabled

It offers a mentor, advice and support along with a weekly allowance worth and access to a loan fund to help with start-up costs. More information can be found at:


Registration, tax and benefits

All businesses need to register with HMRC.  For most people this will be as a sole trader but others may set up a Limited Company or Community Interest Company.  Information on how to register as self-employed and create a tax account can be found here:

The site also has links to information about the records that must be kept and what insurance is needed.


Welfare benefits

It is important to check the impact on any welfare benefits when setting out. The following links provide information regarding benefits and self-employment.


Supported employment sector activity

A number of BASE members are actively involved in developing self-employment and small business opportunities:

Boss Employment CIC is currently undertaking research into the Nature of Entrepreneurship and the role of Supported Employment in helping people set up their own business:

The Foundation for People with Learning Disabilities developed a range tools and resources through their In Business Programme which are available to download from:

Status Employment in partnership with Croydon Council and Tree Shepherd have recently piloted a Supported Self-Employment Academy (SSEA) linking enterprise training with employment support and a personal budget. You can view a pdf about this scheme.

Mi.Life offers intensive support to people and groups to obtain paid employment via their own business:


Case studies

Robin Meader

image of Robin Meader at workRobin Meader is an artist and graphic facilitator who uses artwork and creative imagery to capture the key messages of conferences, projects and training events in a series of unique drawings and art pieces.

Robin’s current and previous work includes cartoons for a blog, historical illustrations for a heritage lottery project and ongoing NHS work, producing resources for the Transforming Care campaign.  He has worked with the University of Sheffield, Somerset County Council and the Foundation for People with learning Disabilities helping confirm his client’s commitment to inclusion by opening their programmes to a more diverse audience.

Robin is supported by Openstorytellers and his partner Pete Le Grys from Photosymbols who provide vital help with the day to day management of the business, supporting Robin.  This support is paid for using a personal budget.

Robin says ‘I feel really excited because I am now a self employed artist who has lots of opportunities in front of me and lots of new work. However, I would not be able to do this without Openstorytellers, I would be stuck in a bedroom all day, trying to get internet connection and wondering to manage my emails, tax returns and contracts’

Robin also has a voluntary business support circle made up of a number of people with different skills. Some have general business skills, whilst others have, importantly, knowledge and experience of his area of work.  His business circle helps Robin plan and develop new opportunities for work as well as supporting him to meet the legal and financial requirements of his business. 

Robin combines his artistic work with a part time paid salaried position with a local retailer which offers him a regular income alongside his earnings from self-employment.

For more information contact or Openstorytellers on  01373 454099