Is it hard work being an entrepreneur or not?

August 21, 2013 by
Filed under: Adam Lent, Enterprise 

As contestants on The Apprentice never tire of telling us you have to give 110% to make a business work. A survey that came out a few days ago seems to give statistical backing to this unmathematical assertion.

The survey of 2,000 micro-business leaders found they work, on average, 52 hours a week.  That’s 63% longer than the average British worker.

How do we square this then with another recent survey which found that almost 70% of entrepreneurs say they started their business to secure more autonomy over their time?

Could it be that entrepreneurs aren’t aware of how time consuming it is to run a business when they first set it up?  That seems highly unlikely. As I know from my own experience, there are plenty of people happy to warn you to sell your bed and use the proceeds to buy a truck-load of Red Bull as soon as you mention starting a business.

Maybe entrepreneurs just exaggerate how hard they work to impress investors, customers and the wider world.  The first survey gives some credence to this when it shows that London based entrepreneurs stated they put in 62 hours a week – a full 10 hours more than the average. Bluff, straight-talking northerners may have a view on such a claim!  But this can’t be anything close to a full explanation because it is without doubt true that starting and running a small business is genuinely demanding particularly in the period before funds are available to hire staff and before you have found a relatively secure customer base.

I think the truth is that when entrepreneurs say they want autonomy over time they mean something different to what most people mean.  As I’ve suggested elsewhere, entrepreneurs are often  people who want to pursue their own mission or idea  - in short they want to be agents of change on their own terms. So, for an entrepreneur, autonomy over time doesn’t mean having free time or better work-life balance  - it really means having the freedom to spend time on something they want to do rather than what a manager or employer tells them to do.

Strange as it may seem, entrepreneurs can spend every waking hour serving customers, keeping investors happy and chasing suppliers and still feel entirely autonomous.  As the entrepreneurial spirit infuses our culture and economy more and more that may be something to keep in mind as we try to understand what type of people we could become in this post-Crash world.


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  • Indy Neogy

    Isn’t that the usual definition of autonomy in work terms?

    As an entrepreneur I’d point out the other benefit is that (customers willing) you can usually take the time during “typical work hours” to run an errand, or watch the school play.

    You have to put the working in later to catch up, of course, but even now few employers are actually flexible about that kind of thing.

    • Adam Lent

      Thanks for the comment. The survey was clear though that entrepreneurs sought autonomy over time not work.

      Good point on flexibility but given 52 hours is the average that does suggest some are working far more than that – once you get to that point flexibility must disappear as well!