As trends go, the great British start-up boom is one that can’t have been ignored in recent years. Whether it be the recession, a sudden surge in entrepreneurialism, or – as seems more likely – a combination of the two, the small business owner is certainly blazing a trail for the UK economy.
Indeed, such a trend appears to have been echoed in other parts of the world, whether it is over the pond, or closer to home in continental Europe. Nevertheless, a point of differentiation emerges in the very make-up of the people driving forward enterprise and innovation in each and every country. The fifth DNA of an Entrepreneur report from global business insurer Hiscox sheds new light on the attitudes, behaviours and feelings towards government of 3,000 small business owners across the UK, USA, Netherlands, Germany, France and Spain. Suffice to say, it is all quite revealing.
Where to begin, then? Well, if only to place things into some sort of context, it is clear that entrepreneurs the world over have been dealing with a rather tough trading environment of late. The findings show that whilst just over a third (37%) of respondents said that revenues had increased in the past year, that figure has fallen from 46% in 2012. Meanwhile, just under half (47%) reported customer growth compared with 60% in 2012, with 51% saying their customers were taking longer to pay than the previous year.
Encouragingly, British entrepreneurs said that securing finance to fund their start-up was easier this year, bucking the overall trend that revealed 78% of respondents were having difficulties raising the necessary capital. However, it appears that a more favourable lending environment had little effect on the optimism levels of British business owners, which fell from 47% in 2012 to 42% this year. That said, this was a relatively small drop-off compared to the 10% fall across the six sample countries – from 48% to 38% – and the notable 19% decline among Dutch entrepreneurs, who evidently aren’t feeling all too rosy about the year ahead.
Staffing issues present somewhat of a double-edged sword too. Whilst only 10% of those surveyed said they intend to increase their headcount in the coming year – compared with 15% a year ago – nearly two thirds (63%) of respondents expect to avoid redundancies, up slightly from 60% last year.
However, where we really begin to see a divergence between the British entrepreneur and his or her foreign counterparts is in their own workload and definition of ‘work’ itself. The headline figure in this regard is that the average small business owner in the UK works the least hours of the six countries surveyed. At 37.6 hours, this sits at 3.5 hours less than the average for respondents (41.1 hours) and over 6 hours fewer than Germany, where entrepreneurs indulge in a 43.7 hour working week. Nevertheless, the Germans do take the longest amount of holiday at 21.6 days, whilst us Brits take a mere 0.2 fewer days (21.4), compared to our American peers who only spend an average of 10.1 days on vacation per year.
Furthermore, Hiscox reveals that the British have the most ‘elastic’ definition of work when it comes to attending networking events out of hours – 71% of Brits believe this constitutes ‘work’ – along with having lunch at their desk (51%) and responding to emails and voicemails after hours (72%). To put this in perspective, only 69% of British business owners ranked ‘increasing my experience’ as a viable definition of ‘work’. Nevertheless, we are the most forgiving of our national government, it would seem, having become less critical on issues of taxation, bureaucracy and labour laws – the only country to have done so in fact. Overall though, 38% of respondents said that a lack of government support was their biggest fear for the year ahead.
What, then, does all of this tell us? Bronek Masojada, CEO at Hiscox, puts forward the following summation:
“Our research findings support the idea that small businesses are adapting to ‘the new normal’, anticipating tough trading conditions rather than expecting any early return to the boom years of the last decade. They also have a clear agenda for government, something policy-makers would be wise to study as they work towards securing a sensible and sustained economic recovery in each of these countries.”
Perhaps the most pertinent outcome of the research is that over half of respondents continue to prefer being self-employed than working for somebody else. Indeed, the most cited benefits of being one’s boss were the greater flexibility in working hours, being able to influence the direction of the business, and having more pride and control in one’s work. In the flexibility stakes at least, another look at the average working week for British entrepreneurs just goes to show that we can achieve much in a short space of time, yet still reap the rewards of entrepreneurship. And there’s absolutely no shame in that.