Q&A: What are some social and economic issues small business face?

Just got this question, I know there are others questions I have not yet answered, and I have already written my “The Week Ender” post for the week, what the hell, but I’m in the mood to have a go at “The System” again. I think I’ve mentioned before that blogging is therapy for me, and I’m sure some of you might even think I should be in therapy, so there you are.

I’m going to expand this question “slightly” into – I hope Walsh does not mind:

What are some of the social, political and economic issues small business face?

I should remind you that when I talk about small business, I mean 1 to 5 people businesses, like SOHO-, SME, SMB-, Micro-, Lifestyle-, Home-, DIY-, Hobby-, Boomer- or Personal business, like professionals, contractors, freelancers, self-employed, sole-traders and virtual assistants.

Social issues are clearly centered around the work-place, work life and private life. To many work is the central activity in their lives and the stresses and pressures of todays workplace are enormous, overtime, project pressure, sales targets, travel to and from the place of work, to name but a few. This all causes tension in a partnership, family and leads often to a dysfunctional family/private life. For example, we need dating agencies and web-sites to find partners, because we are too busy to find a partner in what used to be a “normal way”, and in this sense we have to be thankful for the service dating agencies and web-sites provide. These issues are prevalent in the group of small business owners too.

Striking the right work/life balance has become a personal choice item, with the advent of home businesses. Businesses run by entrepreneurs, often unhappy with the traditional choices in the work place, who have decided to set their their own work/life balance and run a business, not to grow and dominate the world, but to earn an often higher than average income, while retaining a certain amount of freedom and flexibility in their private lives. Parenting people often see a home business, as a way to have a family and stay active in their chosen field of work.

The growth in these kinds of businesses is explosive, while our society is technologically perfectly capable of sustaining this trend, our social work infrastructure in many cases is not.

This brings us to the political issues these micro and small businesses face. The fact that our society is wholly unprepared for this revolution in the work place and small business environment, has to do with the fact, that governments often receive no advice from actual participants in this new home based micro business economy. Current advisors are from big business, with virtually no experience or knowledge about micro business issues.

Of late universities and other institutions have started to produce a vast amount of valuable data, about micro businesses, which is often meaningless to the political elite in the western world. It is, in my opinion, wrong to expect our politicians to guide us into this new area of explosive micro business growth. Experience tells us that any decisions made will be often too late or even counter productive, market forces are much faster and more targeted to help these growing sectors develop.

In my discussions with politicians, civil servants and often big business, the term “Small Business Infrastructure” is rarely understood. The best we can hope for is the insight that less red-tape is going to help, for some politicians this is a frightening thought.

Economically, I feel we are at the beginning of a truly “golden age” of entrepreneurship. Our technical infrastructure, the internet, powerful micro-computer systems and mobile technology have helped to transform our way of doing business. The last piece in the puzzle was the advent of the software as a service industry, which took longer to develop than I had foreseen. With an almost transparent internet and IT infrastructure, the focus is getting back to the business objectives, even in very small businesses. If this is extended by a “Small Business Infrastructure“, which includes 24/7 technical and customer support, additional service offerings like bookkeeping, telephone answering, and similar services, the survival rate of small business startups, vastly improves.

If small business owners use outsourcing and bootstrapping techniques as a matter of cause, the fixed cost (over-head) structure in each of these micro businesses can lead to super efficient and hyper valuable home or micro businesses. I believe you can start a business with $20/£10 a month and grow your business, risk free (without loans) on the side, while still in employment, until the turnover is big enough to justify quitting ones day job.

You may feel about a business on the side as you will, the fact remains this is going on as we speak, trends we see in the online usage patterns of our OnlineOffice, certainly support this theory.

At the same time business failure is far less an issue, as the risk associated with these ventures is very small, with the right mental attitude of the entrepreneur towards failure, the learning effect of a failure can be enormous. Especially in Europe the old-fashined anti-risk strategies only serve to leave us further behind the other global economies in terms of technological leadership. The U.S. is testament to what an economy with a “normal prospective on business failure” can do.

Emerging economies like China, India and some others are learning from the U.S. and will outstrip our economies within the next decades, unless our politicians, will finally stop putting barriers up for micro businesses.

Last and by no means least, the positive ecological impact of a largely home based economy can not be underestimated. Endless hours of travel to and from the work place, meetings, office heating, and so on could be a thing of the past. Rural economies will be revitalized, multi-generation household will no longer be a thing of the past, this all will have a tremendous positive impact on our social infrastructure, child-care, crime and drug abuse, to name but a few.

While I have often quoted this in the past “it is not the answers that are the problem, knowing the question is”, I’m often left feeling with politicians it is both, not only do they not know the question, they don’t know the answers either. While I accept it is easy for me to sit here and say this, it does not alter the fact that it is only too often true.

It is almost the weekend now, and I’m off to see 10cc, or what is left of them. ST.

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