Micro businesses and sole traders: The forgotten entrepreneurs

Events of this sort are important for harnessing the entrepreneurial talent that is so abundant both in the UK and abroad, offering practical advice to those thinking about taking the leap and becoming their own boss.

As the UK’s biggest business insurance broker, we deal with budding and existing business owners every day. We understand their concerns, and we are working with them to develop new ways in which both startups and established firms can better deal with the day-to-day practicalities of running their business.

Last week we launched the Simply Business: Backing Britain report. This is a landmark survey into the wants, needs, and concerns of sole traders and microbusiness owners. We spoke to nearly 2,000 of our customers, and a staggering 50 per cent told us that they do not feel any political party is currently representing them. There is a sense of disillusionment with both central and local government, with 56 per cent saying that neither understands their needs.

The government has been vocal in its apparent support for small businesses. But for the most part, that support has not been getting through. Many of the coalition’s headline programmes designed to boost small firms have had no impact on sole traders and microbusinesses. Some 81 per cent said that changes to export rules had made no difference to them, while childcare and employment law were ranked similarly, at 77 per cent and 69 per cent respectively.

Perhaps most startlingly, despite the government’s well-publicised Red Tape Challenge, some 33 per cent of respondents said that recent changes to red tape had actually hindered their business.

This is partly a question of language. Sole traders and microbusinesses don’t recognise the term ‘small business’ when talking about themselves. These firms, which are the foundation on which the economy is built, have completely unique characters and requirements.

They are not being well served by government policy that is primarily focused on growth businesses – those, for example, looking to move from five to 50 employees. The true microbusinesses, those who are happy operating as one-man-bands, or are perhaps thinking about taking on their first employee, and who do not want to become the next Google but are instead content simply doing good work and paying their way, are being ignored.

For too long, the government has focused too heavily on ‘disruptive’ tech firms, and especially on those based in a small enclave of East London. These businesses are a vital and important investment in the future economy, but they are not without their drawbacks.

First, these businesses are at the forefront of the automation revolution, and will therefore by definition not drive a jobs-based recovery. But just as importantly, the consistent focus on these firms has meant that resources are being denied to businesses that really need them – the smallest businesses, struggling with rising petrol costs, prohibitive business rates, and confusing regulation.

Today, it is time for politicians of every stripe to change their thinking on the UK’s small businesses. We want to see the appointment of a Minister for Microbusiness, charged with giving a voice in Westminster to these unique and vital firms.

Our report shows that 45 per cent say their voting choice is influenced by their role as a sole trader or microbusiness owner. For the party that gets it right, there’s everything to play for.

How do you think micro businesses and sole traders are being represented in the UK? What needs to be done? Let us know what you think!

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