Tom Hodgkinson: People crave adventure and romance, and they're rarely on offer from a corporate job



Are small businesses the future? I ask this as I have just returned from a meeting of a project called the Power of Small at the Royal Society of Arts, designed to research the growth of small business and find out what is driving it.

The RSA's figures say that 14.3 per cent of the workforce is now self-employed, the highest figure on record. While naysayers attribute the growth in small business to desperation caused by unemployment – the sacked car-factory worker is cleaning windows to make ends meet – the RSA says that, when asked, more than 50 per cent of small-business owners claimed "freedom" as their central motivation, not money.

One journalist at the RSA meeting defended the multinationals by saying that they pay higher wages and offer more security than small businesses. But this merely utilitarian view ignores the fact that people crave adventure and romance in their lives, and that such commodities are rarely on offer from the corporates, unless you count going on a bonding bungee-jumping weekend.

Though I would not want to romanticise small business too much. We've been running the Idler Academy for more than three years now, and it ain't easy. And when I talk to other owners of small businesses, such as pub landlords and shopkeepers, their grumbles are the same: VAT, PAYE, rent, business rates, website maintenance, the non-stop pressure to sell products and find new customers. Add to that the small returns typically on offer, particularly during the first few years, and you wonder why you bother. Surely it would be easier to get a job at the council, turn up every day and take the salary.

But the grumbles of the small-business owner are of an existentially different nature to the grumbles of the corporate-wage slave. "It's a nightmare, but it's my nightmare," is one common comment. The small-business people have taken responsibility for their lives; they do not seethe with powerless resentment. And crucially, they enjoy the process of their work, not just the financial outcome. It's the satisfying feeling I get when I see 20 happy people leave our shop after a talk.

According to the RSA, running a small business is particularly attractive to young people, women and the over-55s, and these are the groups we see most at Idler Academy events and courses.

One central driver behind the rise in entrepreneurialism has been the internet. I have blamed the net for hollowing out the old middle-class professions such as journalism, photography and music while sucking money up towards an elite of Aspergic geeks in Silicon Valley, but it has also encouraged enterprise: individuals sell stuff on eBay and rent their spare room on Airbnb to make extra cash. We are perhaps returning to an economy characterised by mixed work: instead of one steady job for life, we can pursue a number of activities at once. To me, this is vastly preferable to the dream of "full-time full employment" dreamt of by Tony Benn and now promoted by George Osborne.

While the internet may be dominated right now by a handful of giants, I still believe in its democratic power. That's why we are starting to film our courses and sell them online.

Above all, small businesses are fun – to run and to work for. They can operate like a family, and are particularly enjoyable when the business is pursuing meaning and an idea rather than just profit. They are full of vitality. Friends in corporate jobs, on the other hand, complain about the mix of boredom and stress they suffer. One successful entrepreneur told me about a dinner party he'd been to recently. The lawyers and bankers there, while they might own a house in St John's Wood, seemed consumed with self-hatred. "Posh drudgery, just posh drudgery," he said.

After three-and-a-half happy years in this spot, this column is coming to a close. I hope you have enjoyed my idle thoughts and ruminations. If you would like to receive my free weekly newsletter, "Hodgkinson's Register", a mix of comment and naked marketing of the books and courses offered by the Idler Academy, sign up at Till then, goodbye!

Tom Hodgkinson is editor of 'The Idler'

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Trainer / IT Trainer

£30 to £32k : Guru Careers: We are seeking a Trainer / IT Trainer to join an a...

Recruitment Genius: Project / Account Manager and IT Support

£18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This world leader in Online Pro...

Recruitment Genius: Part Time Bookkeeper / Office Administrator

£17550 - £19500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a standalone role based...

Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Developer

£16000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is a world leader ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
From left: Yvette Cooper, Jeremy Corbyn, Liz Kendall and Andy Burnham at a televised Labour leadership debate  

Jeremy Corbyn wouldn't be so far ahead in the Labour leadership race if his rivals weren't so awful

Ash Burt

Giving children 'iRights' to delete what they put online sends the wrong moral message

Joe Rivers
Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... for the fourth time

Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... again

I was once told that intelligence services declare their enemies dead to provoke them into popping up their heads and revealing their location, says Robert Fisk
Margaret Attwood on climate change: 'Time is running out for our fragile, Goldilocks planet'

Margaret Attwood on climate change

The author looks back on what she wrote about oil in 2009, and reflects on how the conversation has changed in a mere six years
New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered: What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week

New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered

What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week
Oculus Rift and the lonely cartoon hedgehog who could become the first ever virtual reality movie star

The cartoon hedgehog leading the way into a whole new reality

Virtual reality is the 'next chapter' of entertainment. Tim Walker gives it a try
Ants have unique ability to switch between individual and collective action, says study

Secrets of ants' teamwork revealed

The insects have an almost unique ability to switch between individual and collective action
Donovan interview: The singer is releasing a greatest hits album to mark his 50th year in folk

Donovan marks his 50th year in folk

The singer tells Nick Duerden about receiving death threats, why the world is 'mentally ill', and how he can write a song about anything, from ecology to crumpets
Let's Race simulator: Ultra-realistic technology recreates thrill of the Formula One circuit

Simulator recreates thrill of F1 circuit

Rory Buckeridge gets behind the wheel and explains how it works
Twitter accused of 'Facebookisation' over plans to overhaul reverse-chronological timeline

Twitter accused of 'Facebookisation'

Facebook exasperates its users by deciding which posts they can and can’t see. So why has Twitter announced plans to do the same?
Jane Birkin asks Hermès to rename bag - but what else could the fashion house call it?

Jane Birkin asks Hermès to rename bag

The star was shocked by a Peta investigation into the exotic skins trade
10 best waterproof mascaras

Whatever the weather: 10 best waterproof mascaras

We found lash-enhancing beauties that won’t budge no matter what you throw at them
Diego Costa biography: Chelsea striker's route to the top - from those who shared his journey

Diego Costa: I go to war. You come with me...

Chelsea's rampaging striker had to fight his way from a poor city in Brazil to life at the top of the Premier League. A new book speaks to those who shared his journey
Ashes 2015: England show the mettle to strike back hard in third Test

England show the mettle to strike back hard in third Test

The biggest problem facing them in Birmingham was the recovery of the zeitgeist that drained so quickly under the weight of Australian runs at Lord's, says Kevin Garside
Women's Open 2015: Charley Hull - 'I know I'm a good golfer but I'm also just a person'

Charley Hull: 'I know I'm a good golfer but I'm also just a person'

British teen keeps her feet on ground ahead of Women's Open
Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

Turkish President Erdogan could benefit politically from the targeting of the PKK, says Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: Our choice is years of Tory rule under Jeremy Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

Our choice is years of Tory rule under Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

Yvette Cooper urged Labour members to 'get serious' about the next general election rather than become 'a protest movement'