By Adam Lent
Running a small business – why does anyone bother? The hours are longer, the risks higher and the pay often lower than working for someone else.
And yet the number of people setting up their own firm keeps on growing. So what’s in it for them and, more importantly, what’s in it for everyone else? What makes small business such a powerful force for personal and social change?
1. Seizing the Power to Create
We live in creative times. A desire to turn your own ideas into reality has arguably been strengthening for centuries but now the internet is giving millions the tools to develop, share and launch those ideas.
Those running their own business are at the forefront of this revolution in mass creativity. The RSA survey of small business owners found that making the most of a good idea was the second most popular reason for setting up your own firm well-ahead of motivations like topping-up income earned elsewhere.
Etsy sellers are in a whole different league however. Another RSA survey found no less than 80% chose the chance to be creative as their main reason.
2. Living Free
Small business owners love their freedom. In the RSA survey, 87% said they had more power to do the things they wanted to do than in a typical job.
This is partly about freedom from the top down culture of big business. As one entrepreneur interviewed for the RSA study said: “when you run your own business, you’re not forced to do things by people who don’t understand the task”.
But it’s also about having the freedom to shape your life in the way you want. The hours may often be long but it’s up to you when you do those hours. The small business owner waves a cheery good-bye to the arbitrary nine-to-five convention that ignores the pressures of caring for kids, elderly relatives or even for oneself.
3. Making a Difference
The traditional image of the entrepreneur found in soap operas and on programmes like The Apprentice could not be more out-dated. A new generation of business owners want to make a difference rather than just money. 82% of small business owners in the RSA survey said the work they did was now more meaningful than when working for someone else.
Some might have a big vision to improve the lives of patients or students by transforming healthcare or education. Others simply want to produce a great product that makes their customers’ lives better. But what they definitely do not want is to get lost in the politics of big business that can sap and ultimately destroy a creative vision of a better world.
As one young entrepreneur told the RSA he has a burning desire to be an “agent of change” but it is a desire that has always been stifled when he has worked for a big organisation.
4. A Fairer Future
As my book, Small is Powerful, will argue, the way very large businesses dominate our economies is no accident. During the first half of the twentieth century, business leaders and politicians really did come to believe that big was beautiful. Giant corporations received (and still do receive) massive legal and financial favours from their friends in government. Hardly surprising then that concentrations of power and wealth have risen to levels which are now doing deep damage to the political, social and economic fabric of our world.
When small business flourishes freely without government skewing things in favour of the very big, power and resources are naturally shared out more fairly. A world dominated by a super-powerful elite where taxpayers are terrified into handing over billions to avoid economic collapse, as happened in 2008, might just begin to dissolve.
This is why the rise of small business is a genuine force for personal and social change and why the future is a little brighter every time someone decides to take the plunge and start up on their own.
About the author
Adam Lent is the Director of the Action and Research Centre at the RSA. He is crowdfunding for his new book, Small is Powerful: Why the era of big business, big government and big culture is over (and why it’s a good thing). You can back the book and bag yourself a copy here.
Find Adam on Twitter here.