I recently arranged to meet a prospective client. I received the address, looked at a map, double checked it against Streetview and finally called to query the address with the lady who’d made the enquiry.
On being assured it was correct and that her business was based at home, I popped it in the diary. When I arrived, I was quite nervous that perhaps (despite checking it) I had somehow still been mistaken about the address.
I climbed out of the car, looked up and down this peaceful cul-de-sac of detached post-war style bungalows, all with neat little front gardens and well-tended hanging baskets, walked uncertainly down the short concrete drive of number 27 and knocked gently on the side door.
Despite all the assurances of having the right address, it didn’t feel right. So, when the door was opened by a lady with a beaming smile, greeting me by name and inviting me to ‘come on through’, I was confused and relieved in equal proportions.
But that was nothing to what I would feel when I walked through the lady’s ‘office’ into the huge conservatory at the back. Suddenly I was gazed upon by several employees, all with beaming smiles. All of them busy. All of them screen printing, die pressing or sitting at laptops preparing delivery labels for what must have been 20 large packing boxes stacked up in the corner.
As if the scale of these conservatory operations wasn’t surprise enough, don’t get me started on the printing press team in an out-building and packing and shipping ‘department’ taking place in the spare bedroom!
It was charming – in a wonderfully British cottage industry kind of way. And yet it was also much more than that. It was efficient. It was business like. It was serious yet modest, ambitious yet humble and so many other conflicting and self-contradictory things.
It was all appropriately sanctioned by the various authorities and was operating perfectly legitimately with all the insurance and HSE notices on display that you’d expect in a factory. In effect, it is a ‘factory’. It just doesn’t look like one when you’re standing by the hanging basket of trailing begonias that’s next to the front door.
And that made me think.
According to the most recently published data by the Office for National Statistics, 4.2m people between January and March of 2014 were recorded as people who worked from home. That’s a staggering 13.9% of the employed population.
Aside from a few anomalous years, the number of people home working has climbed steadily year on year since comparable records began in 1998.
Assuming a similar trajectory since 2014, we can probably safely assume there are now more than 4.4m recorded as working from home. But I suspect the next published data set will show it to be much more.
After all, there’s a record number of people turning to self-employment each year, not to mention the exponential improvements in technology and the economic and environmental considerations which are leading to more and more companies allowing their employees to work from home.
I began thinking about the contribution these millions of people are making to our economy every single day behind their unassuming front doors. So unassuming and normal that people walk by, taking their dogs for walks or their kids to school, and they don’t look twice.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re an accountant, a writer, a consultant, a web developer, someone embroidering workwear or a steampunk style milliner… What matters is that you matter.
You matter to your supply chain. You matter to your customers. You matter to your employees – even if that’s only yourself. Your little business is contributing taxes and helping to keep people in employment.
And not knowing what goes on behind every ordinary looking door I walk by is fine by me. It’s enough for me to know that maybe, just maybe, on the other side of the wall with the hanging basket, there’s a flourishing little business whose roots are fast outgrowing its pot.
I hope people will share their #behindcloseddoors small business success stories.24th October 2017