Unseen heroes’ contribute £72 billion per year to UK small business sector

The efforts of these ‘unseen heroes’ who toil away in the background, helping to ensure their partner’s firm is a success, have been identified in a survey carried out by Bibby Financial Services as part of its new live business initiative, ‘Live-business.co.uk’, which aims to support and inspire entrepreneurs.
The research found that over two thirds (68 %) of spouses regularly take part in some form of unpaid work for their partner’s business and almost one in five (18 %) spouses work five days or more a week for free. With industry experts now agreeing Britain is officially in a recession, this willing, compliant ‘invisible workforce’ is critical to the smooth running of the UK economy.
Over four in 10 (41%) spouses regularly work in an unpaid administrative role for their partner’s business, while over a quarter (29%) help to balance the books and 40 per cent perform secretarial and receptionist duties. While these formidable partnerships no doubt contribute significantly to small businesses up and down the country, it is clear from the research that Britain’s ‘unseen heroes’ are responsible for so much more than ensuring the ‘day-to-day’ runs like clockwork.
In fact, spouses are often the reason small firms exist in the first place, with almost a quarter (23%) claiming the whole business idea was either theirs alone or borne out of a discussion with family and friends. Many spouses refuse to be relegated to the background, with one in six (15%) adopting a more hands-on approach by getting stuck into sales and marketing, while 14 per cent are responsible for helping to drive the business forward by assuming the role of unpaid business partner!
However, the buck does not stop there – many spouses act as voluntary management consultants for their partner’s business with almost half (46%) regularly consulted on ideas for the business and 44 per cent frequently used as a sounding board on all important decisions. This reflects the financial commitment required when running your own business and the significant impact investing in a business has on joint finances.
The good news is that some spouses do actually get paid for their endeavours – over a third (34%) have taken on some form of paid work for their partner’s business – although it does tend to be on a more administrative basis, with over a third (36%) involved in paperwork, balancing the books and answering the phone. A further 16 per cent work in key operational roles such as sales and marketing, production or personnel on an official, salaried basis.
Edward Rimmer, chief executive of Bibby Financial Services for UK and Ireland, says: “There is an invisible workforce toiling away behind the scenes to ensure the small business sector, which forms the backbone of the UK economy, runs smoothly. These ‘unseen heroes’ are, more often than not, unpaid, keep their heads down and regularly clock up considerable amounts of time to guarantee their partner’s business is a success.
“Such apparent selflessness is perhaps unsurprising given the huge financial commitment involved in running a small or medium-sized business. While taking the plunge and deciding to be your own boss can be one of the most exhilarating things you can do, it requires stamina, perseverance and sheer hard work – not to mention an understanding partner!
“It is clear from our research that having an obliging ‘other half’ who is happy to be behind the scenes can be the key to business success, particularly in these volatile economic times when recruiting an extra pair of hands can be costly and time-consuming. It is hoped that Britain’s ‘unseen heroes’ will reap the rewards in the longer term as their partner’s business grows and becomes more successful over time.”