Audience Shot #22: Enterprise and self-employment on the rise

Furlough and economic uncertainty have more Brits than ever on the hunt for new ways of making a living

From office drones realising how much happier they are without a daily commute to shopkeepers forced into becoming e-commerce experts: 2020 has brought about dramatic changes to nearly everyone’s working life. No wonder so many of us are contemplating our careers — in fact, more Brits searched ‘start business’ this June than at any time in the past 15 years, with the second highest number of searches coming weeks later in August 2020.

Correspondingly, Companies House reported that 81,389 new companies were formed in the UK in July 2020 — breaking the monthly record, which was set in June 2020. Those in the know are anticipating that record could be broken again for August.

A nation of online shopkeepers

With physical premises being forced to close for all but the most essential shops, online retail became an obvious place to turn. This trend was shown in the number of businesses setting up eBay stores for the first time, with the granddaddy of online auction sites saying registrations showed a year-on-year rise of 335% in June 2020.

Etsy, which focuses more on selling handmade items, said that the number of sellers rose by 35% over the three months to 30 June 2020 compared with the same quarter last year, and Shopify, which provides e-commerce capabilities, said that new stores rose by 71% during the same period (Etsy and Shopify figures are global).

From the Companies House registrations, the SIC codes, which describe the nature of a business, suggest that a big increase has come from people going freelance, and searches for self employment are higher than at any point since Google Trends data records started in 2004.

But there are suggestions that there’s more than just people leaving (by choice or otherwise) permanent jobs to work for themselves in the same career.

What kinds of businesses are being set up?

Google shows some interesting topics that have been trending in relation to ‘start business’ searches over the past 90 days, which might give us some clues as to what new enterprises we might start seeing. Remember all those loaves of homemade sourdough on Instagram? Bakery is in the top five trending topics.

Other topics that have seen big increases according to Google are lipgloss, mobile phone accessories, the history of candle making, and personal grooming. There are also a lot more people looking up franchising and drop shipping, which lets businesses pass their warehousing and shipping to someone else.

Our research on the subject of dog ownership for last week’s Audience Shots showed that people had started looking at the prospect of dog walking and dog grooming as business ideas, given the huge rise in people getting puppies during lockdown.

Ebay’s report revealed the most popular categories for lockdown startups. At the top of the list, which was of course all to do with products, were men’s and women’s clothing — interesting, given the number of UK high street fashion retailers which are suffering. Some elements of lockdown clearly inspired eBay sellers, with the cycling and fitness sectors in the top 10 most popular product categories for new lockdown start-ups, but the presence of pools and hot tubs on the list shows just how different Covid fortunes are for some.

Searching for backers and advice

Google Trends’ related topics shows a 150% increase in searches for ‘start up business loans’ over the past 30 days while ‘how to start a business UK’ is up too, by 50% for the same period.

In general it’s a good time to be a business that helps businesses do business, with breakout searches showing for numerous bookkeeping software brands and small business accountants.

Is it a trend that’s here to stay?

Companies House data shows that during the past 20 years, the average age of companies on its register has fallen from 10.7 years to 8.5 years. During the same period, the number of Brits registered as self-employed rose from 3.2 million to 5 million.

While there’s been an increase in searches about starting businesses and going self employed, Google Trends has identified ‘full time job near me’ as another breakout trend.

So it’s likely that some of the interest is from people who are shoring themselves up as much as possible against the economic doomsday that’s being forecast.

For those who’ve chosen self employment, reviews are mixed. Some wonder why they didn’t take the plunge earlier.

Others discover that self-employed life — specifically the absence of a regular pay cheque — isn’t for them. A recent report found that small and medium-sized businesses in the UK are collectively waiting on £50 billion in overdue payments and that self-employed individuals have an average of four outstanding invoices at any given time, amounting to almost £1,000.

As with so much in life, money might end up being the deciding factor in the new enterprise and self-employment trends.

Bite-sized people observations from The Beyond Collective, the independent creative group for the Audience Age