Epiphanies, by their very nature, come when you least expect them. Andy Ince's came whilst he was waiting in the queue to have his photograph taken as a new student on the architectural course at Manchester University.
More than 20 years later, Paul Harrison, the person he stood next to in the queue that day, simply by virtue of their surnames, is his business partner and co-founder of their award-winning business, Harrison Ince architects.
"Paul and I became best friends almost instantly and quickly decided that we'd go into business together," Andy explains. "Within a year and a half of graduating, we felt ready to give it a go and, in June 1989, Harrison-Ince was born."
"We know that we can always turn to the Forum for help and the guides remain invaluable."
- Forum member Andy Ince, Harrison Ince
But on setting up, dreams of a cakewalk were quickly dispelled. "We were incredibly nave at first. We knew our job, but we had absolutely no idea how to run a business. We were no good at chasing payments and we also saw our core business in nursing homes fall flat because of interest rate rises.
"We learnt nothing about running a business at university, so all we had to rely upon was family and friends. Luckily, we got to design a couple of pubs which, while not the contemporary, award-winning work we'd imagined, at least paid the bills. But those early days were hard. At one stage, our bank manager had to work out how many more weeks the business would survive."
Against such economic uncertainty, businesses generally cut back on their spending and give short shrift to cold callers. In spite of this, an agent working for the Forum managed to talk his way into Andy's office and quickly had the fledgling company signed up as a member.
"We saw that the Forum could fill in the gaps in our knowledge," Andy enthuses. "We knew nothing about employment or health and safety law, yet by using the easy-to-follow guides we ensured that we were complying with all the relevant legislation. For instance, all employees need a contract of employment, yet, without the Forum's Employment Guide
, we would never have known this."
The member helpline has also proven invaluable, whether in simply confirming that Harrison Ince had the correct policies in place, or in helping the business to chase payment. "The Forum made us aware of late payment legislation and even gave us the documents to quote. Thanks to this, not only were we paid, but we were also able to charge interest for the delay in payment."
With the Forum's support, Harrison-Ince has grown into an award-winning company, with offices in Manchester and Edinburgh, that is responsible for some of the UK's premier developments. It is currently working on two multi-million pound projects to prepare Liverpool for its European City of Culture status and, in Manchester, has contributed to the stunning transformation of the Deansgate area.
As the company has grown, it has become a little less reliant on the Forum, but not once has Andy thought of leaving: "We know that we can always turn to the Forum for help and the guides remain invaluable," he says.
"We also value the Forum's campaigning work. It is no good just complaining; businesses have to take action. For smaller businesses, that means collective action. As a more established business, it is important that we continue to watch out for those starting up. After all, my children might want to set up in business one day. With the Forum's help, I would hope there would be a favourable environment in which to do so."