Recently, I read a very interesting research paper by Kate Lewis called “Small Firm Owners in New Zealand: In it for the ‘good life’ or growth?“
Kate interviewed 500 New Zealand small business owners in businesses which ranged in size from 1 to 50 full time staff. A theme that emerged from her interviews was that many of them did not want to grow their businesses just for the sake of growth, or to turn their businesses into empires. Instead, they saw their business as way to support to their life.
Some specific responses from business owners included:
“For me and my husband….we’ve got the same sort of objective…and that is for the company to be of a size where it’s still small but of a size where it can sustain itself without my husband and I here for short periods of time…and for me so it can sustain itself with me only being two part days so I can look after our small children.”
“Overall it’s a pretty laid back life which is another one of our objectives…we travel a lot.”
Some business owners deliberately capped the amount of work coming through their business in order to make their work more enjoyable. Said two owners:
“I enjoy what I do. And I’ve got to the stage in my life where I only do what I enjoy…we make a reasonable amount of money and I’m as happy as Larry.”
“…a lot of people they try and work 18 hour days…but our philosophy is you’ve got to have a life outside of the business…having a business banking background we saw so often people were working all those hours…and their return at the end of the year wasn’t equating to even a realistic wage.”
She finishes her paper with the description of the freestyle owner. She writes:
For them it is not about less time in the business but more time on the business. Not about afternoons off for golf, but about opportunities for spontaneity. Not about retirement, but about quality of work time, and how to condense work into different patterns with different people – family and non-family. It is about reframing work in SMEs, capturing the fact that SME owners don’t just work their businesses, they often live them too.
I felt her description of the freestyle owner resonated deeply with me – in ways that other descriptions of small business owners did not.
How about you? Why do you run a small business rather than working for someone else?
And what about the term “free-style owner?” Does it resonate for you?