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Thousands of new part-time self-employed entrepreneurs are set to change the face of British business, as their growing numbers bring new ways of working and challenge what we consider to be the very purpose of running a business, according to a new report by the RSA.

Published in partnership with Etsy, the global ecommerce marketplace for handmade goods, Breaking the Mould concluded that we’re on the brink of a profound shift in the UK economy.

The report showed that many 9-5rs are now becoming 5-9rs - with the numbers of people working for themselves in addition to being a conventional employee increasing by 31 per cent since 2000. Since the start of 2014 alone the number of people working for themselves part-time increased by 10 percent – the equivalent of an extra 100,000 people.

View the Breaking the Mould report

A survey of 600 Etsy sellers commissioned by the RSA, revealed that 90 percent of their shop owners are women (with a large cohort aged 16-34 years old), with 50 percent adding an extra 5 percent to household income or £1150 per year. A fifth of sellers spending more than 30 hours per week on their businesses added more than 40 percent to the family bottom line, helping plug gaps in income and cover household expenses.The report, however, also revealed that their booming numbers are set to change the image of business away from one that is dominated by masculine stereotypes. Sellers were shown to be particularly collaborative rather than competitive, with 48 percent recommending the products of other sellers to their buyers, while 37 percent said that where possible they will source materials and supplies from other shops on the website.

The research also showed that the process of setting up a business was very empowering for sellers, who reported joy and fulfilment from the very act of selling and an increased sense of self-worth. The report concluded that the collaborative nature of running a business and the friendships formed on platforms such as Etsy means that the spillovers of entrepreneurship can be as much social in nature as they are economic.

The research also revealed that many sellers offer niche and customised products, and develop deep interactions with their customers which may be indicative of what is to come in the wider business world. When it comes to recognising and helping the growing numbers of people running hobby-like ‘ventures’ the report lays out a number of recommendations to government and others including:

  • A significant step would be for a major institution like the BBC to alter its charter so it takes responsibility to support people starting up a business. The BBC has a remit to ‘promote education and learning’ and there is a strong rationale for the BBC to do more in supporting entrepreneurship

  • Creating a new tier of business support for part-time business owners: The Government and the business community should consider revising their support programmes to cater to the needs of people running hobby-like ventures. This could mean working with StartUp Loans to establish a ‘micro-loan’ package or investing in new sharing economy platforms

  • Recognising ‘ventures’ in official measurements: Cumulatively the impact of thousands of part-time businesses is substantial and government business data tends to overlook small entities. The Government should create a new category of ‘venture’ when conducting analysis and reporting findings

  • Tweaking search engine algorithms to highlight smaller businesses: Most small businesses are reliant on being found primarily through search engines, which are based on algorithms that tend to favour major corporations. By adjusting the algorithms to highlight ventures, search engines could have a major impact in supporting healthy competition and opening up choice for the consumer

  • Deepen our knowledge of the therapeutic effect of selling: With many sellers speaking of validation and increased self-worth, we should explore whether GPs should encourage patients to start a venture in their spare time, or whether prisons could make starting an online business a key component of rehabilitation

Commenting on the report, RSA Senior Researcher Benedict Dellot said:

“People selling on online craft marketplaces exemplify a new type of business owner – one who is driven to start up for creative reasons, has deep interactions with their customers, and provides subtle peer support to fellow shop owners. Yet this is not a departure from capitalism but rather a return to its roots. Platforms like Etsy capture business as it was intended to be: colourful, full of humanity and resulting in exchanges that are to the benefit of all involved.”

Etsy Global Director of Digital Marketing, Andre Rickerby said:

"Shining a light on the incredible work our sellers do to make their businesses a success is a great way to make sure we can provide support in the right way through our platform," he says. "Our sellers are so impressive, creatively and through the hard work they do, it's really interesting to see how this new paradigm of the entrepreneur is having an impact on the UK economy."

The survey showed that:

On top of running their Etsy business, 22 percent of sellers are employed in a full-time job, 15 percent in a part-time job and 15 percent are at home looking after dependents such as children.

Etsy sellers mirror a wider trend in the UK economy with the numbers of people working for themselves for less than 30 hours a week having grown by almost 60 percent since 2000.

59 percent planned to expand their business by selling through other channels and 43 percent to stock goods in a physical shop (from ‘clicks to bricks’).

View the Breaking the Mould report

Notes to editors

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