News & views

Thursday, September 08, 2016

With the rise in technology and new ways of working, the last few years have seen an incredible amount of flux for UK firms both large and small. Here, we take a look at what these changes have meant for businesses and ask if they’ve been purely beneficial…

Whether large or small, UK businesses have always relied on a culture of change to flourish.

But even by these standards, the last few years have seen more than their fair share of flux for brands in a wide array of sectors.

Technology and the dot-com boom have sparked off a rise in new forms of business, while also revolutionising the way entrepreneurs trade and communicate.

Economic factors have had their influence too, with the last recession prompting a huge surge in the number of people looking to start their own company.

It’s no wonder, then, that interviews with entrepreneurs carried out over the last 25 years by Shell Livewire [SC1] have revealed a huge shift in the way they see themselves.

Whereas in the 80s and 90s the primary reason for going into business was to turn a profit, nowadays it’s much more about having the opportunity to focus on ideas and creativity.

Surge in home-based businesses

And it is this sense of inventiveness that lies behind the growing trend for business-people to set up shop in their own home, with a huge slice of these in the creative services industry.

There are now some 2.9 million of these homepreneurs, as they’re called, according to analysis by entrepreneur organisation Enterprise Nation[SC2] .

But though they may be set up and run from kitchen tables and bedrooms, these evermore popular forms of business are by no means small-time operations.

A third trade nationally, with a further third trading internationally and many more creating work for freelancers and other businesses, the figures show.

Many of these home-based business owners – some 800,000 according to the Office for National Statistics [SC3] – are what have been called mumpreneurs.

Most successful mumpreneurs

  • Laura Tenison launched JoJo Maman Bébé children’s clothes brand with start-up capital of just £50k. It has since become a multimillion-pound enterprise that trades all over the world
  • Lucy Burnford won an investment deal for her business AA Automyze, a digital management system for motorists, when she was nine months pregnant
  • Becky Patterson set up children’s lifestyle brand Not Before Tea with her son Henry, basing the company’s products on a story he had written when he was 10

These mothers who have started firms from their own home reveal another factor changing  the face of UK enterprise – namely, that today’s entrepreneurs are seeking a more flexible working arrangement that provides a better balance between life and business.

Mumpreneurs juggle their family duties with running dynamic and successful businesses, while also often getting the chance to use skills they feel passionate about.

And of course it is technology that has allowed this surge in home-based businesses to take place, thanks to improvements in communication tools like web conferencing apps that mean we can now work from anywhere in the world.

Surge in sharing

Breakthroughs in the digital world have also spurred on the development of radically new business models.

Firms operating in the sharing economy harness the power of innovative online platforms such as smartphone apps to allow customers to lend, borrow, share and collaborate.

A few examples are:

  • DogVacay – Save money on a kennel by finding someone who will stay with your pet when you’re away
  • RelayRides – Hire a car from other drivers either by the day or by the hour
  • TaskRabbit – Find freelance workers to complete a range of jobs, from office assistants to delivery people

It’s not a new idea, but what is innovative here is the technology that enables entrepreneurs to facilitate, formalise and most importantly to monetise these transactions.

Many of these businesses are challenging their more established rivals, with Uber now having as many drivers in London as traditional taxi firms and Airbnb becoming the world’s largest hotel chain[SC4] .

And as new firms are emerging all the time, it’s a rapidly growing sector, which has been valued by author Rachel Botsman [SC5]  at some $26 billion, or around £15 billion.

Alongside the rise in new ways of trading and transacting has come a shift in business culture. This was something identified in Shell Livewire’s report into the changing face of UK entrepreneurism.

Shifts in business culture

In interviews carried out as part of this research, new entrepreneurs frequently cited the importance of building strong bonds with colleagues to make their businesses fun and dynamic places to work.

It is this shift away from the corporate lifestyle of old that could be said to be one of the unifying features linking today’s new crop of businesses.

In fact, a report from Lancaster University [SC6] found that flexible working practices will be the main way of working for 70% of organisations by the end of the decade.

It’s not just about allowing employees to do their job from home either, as flexible working means operating in any way that suits an employee’s needs.

Types of flexible working

  • Job sharing
  • Part-time hours
  • Flexi-time
  • Phased retirement

Lancaster University also found that these working practices don’t just benefit the worker, with the research revealing they led to a rise in productivity and talent retention among many businesses.

Insurance requirements

But with the shifts in culture comes the need for a new set of requirements to help business owners safeguard their interests and assets.

And because many in the new generation of entrepreneurs may be people with a passion for product and creativity, rather than for business practice and regulation, this can be a complex area to navigate.

When it comes to finding the right insurance, business owners will often find that it makes sense to leverage the expertise of an insurance broker to ensure that they find the cover they need.

As business owners establish and then grow their businesses their insurance requirements evolve. At NIG we have products designed for each stage of this journey, from cover for business at home through to businesses with multi-million pound turnovers.