Of the millions of small businesses in the UK the vast majority are not “businesses” per se but “company-wrappers” for individuals, sole-traders – be it butchers, bakers, candle-stick-makers or modern “consultants” – where in effect over a couple of decades MegaCos have got round the complex employment benefits and protection rights by reducing staff and then hiring countless “consultants” who don’t benefit from the many hard-won rights like sick-pay, holiday-pay and so forth.
These “companies” are of course legal companies – the MegaCos won’t deal with people amongst other things due to this desire to keep away from employment rights. But whether you be an indie consultant or a candlestick-maker (where this dynamic has not applied [I think it has. Ed]) you will trade as a Company, you will legally of course have to have “Board meetings” – but these will amount to your accountant sending you once a year a piece of paper to sign. It’s totally perfunctory. And even if it wasn’t you don’t have the dough or the need to hire people to sit on your Board.
But. But. What do you lack?
In the modern world – especially in the sempiternally limbo-land of tyrannical lockdown – the answer is to be found almost five hundred years ago in the past. And in the dictionary.
The first use of the word Company was that Messrs Tom, Dick and Harry traded together “in company”. As we saw in last weeks article “How The First English Companies Were Governed” the earliest formal Companies grew out of Guilds where people were sole-traders but kept each others company. This mutated into them sharing a “P&L” in company and only over time became the formal Legal Company (which was just a set of rules that replaced the Guild’s rules about how the mini-society would be governed).
All human beings need company – or rather certainly all businessvolk – business being the exchange of goods and services for value. People have always had company. Until now – Zoom is hardly company – just another set of pixels on a glass screen. Business has coped as well as it might but it is dawning on folk that it ain’t the same (and more practically remote working will, just as with manufacturing, lead to the same outsourcing of labour to the cheapest markets). It isn’t company and all the complex social bonds and ties that come from hanging out together. Witness the challengers new joiners have in integrating into their new firm – hard to do when your firm is the odd pixel or two on the screen – no office vibe, not much of a Company culture.
So the simple answer to the lead-in question is that what independents need who have to be a Company is company.
The real – ie commercial and human – value of a Board is to give you some company – at the strategic level – in facing the myriad on complex challenges one faces in business. A good Board provides company for you in your Company.
What is company? Well it’s hanging out, it’s support, it’s challenge, it’s ideas. Now sure if your business is on the way to the stars then over time another element enters the equation that it gradually becomes less of your business and more of someone else’s. But that doesn’t apply to indies/micro-businesses.
As we saw last week Companies grew out of Guilds which were a collection of sole traders who benefited from hanging out together in many ways.
So – and this is more important now than ever when businesses and business is collapsing in the UK in the face of an ever-changing onslaught – how do you as an indie maximise your chances of you and your business surviving.
Answer? You are a Company but you need to get some company. Surround yourself with folks in your trade who understand your market who will supply you with information, ideas, support and challenge.