STANDFIRST: What happens if you put the pursuit of happiness at the heart of your business? MAXINE GORDON finds out from Yorkshire’s 'happipreneur' and small business champion Tony Robinson

It is raining outside, we are in the middle of a global pandemic and the worst recession for decades, but Tony Robinson sounds pretty upbeat as he tells me about his new book.

However, you might expect him to appear chipper because the book – part memoir, part business guide – is called The Happipreneur. Over 410 pages, Tony offers a guide on how to live an enterprising and happy life – based on his four decades in business.

And it’s been quite a career. Tony, 68, who is based in Scarborough, began as an HR director, then became a serial entrepreneur and campaigner who set up the Micro Biz Matters movement in 2012 to champion small business. He has worked with leading entrepreneurs including Lord Sugar and has distilled all his experiences into this book. He was awarded an OBE in recognition of his service to small firms and training.

But his story has a surprising twist.

“It’s a riches to rags story,” he begins. “I wanted to be an HR director by 30 and became an MD. I was travelling the world first class but a few years later I gave it all up to start my own business.”

Tony realised that the pursuit of wealth and status came at the expense of happiness. So, he had a rethink and a reset. Inspired by economist Ernst Friedrich Schumacher’s book of essays, Small Is Beautiful: A Study of Economics As If People Mattered, Tony laid the foundations to become a ‘happipreneur’.

Tony said: “Many entrepreneurs are as miserable as sin. And it’s because, as Schumacher says, the unlimited pursuit of wealth means you don’t enjoy life. Happipreneurship is the opposite of that.

“It’s about making ends meet through your own enterprise and not pursuing wealth and status.”

So how do you become a ‘happipreneur’? Tony runs through a ten-point checklist:

1. Do what you love and are good at.

2. Control your own destiny and that can be in a job.

3. Put friends and family first.

4. Be useful to others. “Being useful is the best way to personal fulfilment”.

5. Avoid debt and make ends meet. “This is contrary to what Government promotes by saddling people with start-up loans before they even have a customer”.

6. Be enterprising.

7. Enjoy hard work. Do what you love and are good at. “At 68 I still work ten to 11 hours a day doing something I love”.

8. Learn how to handle grief, setbacks and putdowns. “Coronavirus, flooding, the death of a loved one, your own illness – all these things are going to happen. You can learn through practise how to handle grief if you get rid of the ‘world is against me’ attitude”.

9. Love life.

10. Love being happy. “A lot of people don’t laugh very often”.

Importantly, Tony is not an advocate of ‘positive mental attitude’ as the route to happiness. His prescription is more practical.

“In many ways it’s about reducing your costs, which is one of the things most people find difficult to do.

“In order to lead a happy life you have to have a simple diet, not have lots of clothes. I’ve downsized three times and I am willing to do it again in order for us as a family to make ends meet.”

He adds: “You can have a fulfilling, content life, but it’s not going to be advanced by pursuing status trappings because something will come along the way to derail you.

“Happy, enterprising people look forward to the day ahead. If we have a setback we can look forward to the next day and its opportunities by thinking: I can do something productive”.

Tony says he talks from personal experience and from the lessons learned by interviewing and working with leading business figures over the years.

He tells the story of working with Alan Sugar on a business that was failing. Tony said: “It was a dud and he wasted a lot of money on it. But he said: ‘Let’s stop it. We’re not going to make this work. Let’s move on’.”

I ask Tony whether it’s a particularly big challenge – for people to be happy – during the current coronavirus crisis.

“These are terrible times and it’s much more about learning how to find contentedness in that day.”

Meanwhile, wearing his campaigning hat (which he literally does for his ‘Pay In 30 Days’ crusade), he is calling on the Government to do more for the three million “excluded” entrepreneurs who have been denied help from state help during the Covid-19 crisis.

“This is a national tragedy. Yesterday, someone had to sell their print machinery and computer - basically all the things they need to do digital printing."

He is also continuing his high-profile 'Pay in 30 days' campaign which is what it says on the tin. "I want Government to say to the largest 7,000 companies that we won't contract you, fund you, license you, pay for furloughed staff or work with you unless you pay all your small and micro business suppliers in 30 days.

"It's terrible. The average of these 7,000 companies pay in 70 days and owe £23 billion which could be circulating in the economy. I regard that as theft. This is major to me and I will win."

The Happipreneur 2020: Why #MicroBizMatters?, by Tony Robinson OBE and Taryn Lee Johnston is available in paperback priced £9.99.