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

 

Share

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 idler.co.uk. Till then, goodbye!

Tom Hodgkinson is editor of 'The Idler'

React Now

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

Recruitment Genius: Workshop Deputy & Production Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A rare and exciting role has arisen within thi...

Recruitment Genius: HR Assistant

£14000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A vacancy has arisen for a keen...

Recruitment Genius: Finance Assistant

£14000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to expansion, this multi-ac...

Recruitment Genius: SEO Specialist

£21000 - £34000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity for an e...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Children shouldn’t even know the word 'diet' — obesity and lack of body confidence are symptoms of the same cause

Natasha Devon
Rihanna, Nicki Minaj, Madonna, Deadmau5, Kanye West and Jay-Z at the Tidal launch event in New York  

Tidal: An overpriced music streaming service that only benefits the super-rich members of a messianic-like cult? Where do I sign up??

Michael Segalov
General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
How Tansy Davies turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

How a composer turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

Tansy Davies makes her operatic debut with a work about the attack on the Twin Towers. Despite the topic, she says it is a life-affirming piece
11 best bedside tables

11 best bedside tables

It could be the first thing you see in the morning, so make it work for you. We find night stands, tables and cabinets to wake up to
Italy vs England player ratings: Did Andros Townsend's goal see him beat Harry Kane and Wayne Rooney to top marks?

Italy vs England player ratings

Did Townsend's goal see him beat Kane and Rooney to top marks?
Danny Higginbotham: An underdog's tale of making the most of it

An underdog's tale of making the most of it

Danny Higginbotham on being let go by Manchester United, annoying Gordon Strachan, utilising his talents to the full at Stoke and plunging into the world of analysis
Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police

Steve Bunce: Inside Boxing

Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat