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Start-up Spouses Keep Britain in Business

3-minute read

Simply Business

Simply Business

26 June 2012

More than two-thirds of small business owners rely on partners for practical, unpaid support

  • 48 per cent of spouses help partners when they should be doing their own job
  • 52 per cent of small business owners would not be able run business without spousal support

Entrepreneurs may be the backbone of the UK economy, but new research reveals the equally vital role being played by their partners - with the wives, girlfriends, husbands and boyfriends of Britain’s small business owners contributing an estimated £8.8 billion to the nation each year*.

According to a survey by Simply Business, the UK’s largest business insurance provider, more than two thirds (64 per cent) of small business owners call upon partners for unpaid practical support, such as admin, DIY, accounts and customer liaison.

Coined ‘SWAGs’ (start-up wives and girlfriends), and ‘SHABs’ (start-up husbands and boyfriends), these unsung heroes work an average of 6.5 hours per week for their partner’s business, with a significant 14 per cent working more than 20 hours, equating to almost half the hours of an average full time position**.

The majority of SWAGs and SHABs (67 per cent) do so while holding down a full time job and almost half (48 per cent) admitted helping when they should be at work themselves.

Top reasons for needing this support include to save time (46%), money (47%) or lend additional expertise (32%) and over half of respondents (52 per cent) admitted they would not be able to run their business without it. An additional one in three said they would be forced to hire an additional employee if they didn’t have their partner to help.

The findings uphold some gender stereotypes, with male business owners most frequently receiving administration support from their partners (47%), while female entrepreneurs primarily get help with IT and equipment related tasks (36%).

Businesses appear to rely on their partners most within the first year of starting up, and again when they reach the five year mark, with respondents in these groups using spouses for a higher number of hours per week than average. This suggests the help provided by can be both instrumental in getting businesses of the ground and as the company expands to become more established.

Jason Stockwood, CEO of Simply Business, commented:

“The nation’s entrepreneurs are often praised for their contribution to the economy but our research shows their spouses to be the real unsung heroes. Working in their spare time and even while at work, they are providing crucial support to keep our small business sector running, to the tune of almost £9 billion every year.

“Starting a business is an exciting time however it is no mean feat, often proving to be extremely time consuming, stressful and hard for one person to take on alone, especially as they will often lack some of the core skills required. Frequently working within a tight budget, the first port of call is often the spouse or partner and our findings show that many businesses would fail to get off the ground without their support. It is time this group of people gets the credit they deserve for a very real contribution to growth in the UK.”

Case studies:

Jenny Laird, 32, from Ely in Cambridgeshire, has just set up her own sandwich and cake shop, Betty Marshmallow, which opened on 9 June:

“I have been thinking about setting up my own shop for a couple of years but had the opportunity to take the plunge in January this year. My partner of 15 years, Steve, has helped me whenever he can, in the evenings, at weekends and on his days off – probably around 20 hours a week altogether. He mainly helps me with getting the shop ready, anything from screwing in light bulbs to painting and heavy lifting. He has also given me loads of emotional support and advice and I could not have got this far without him. I’m sure he will carry on helping out once the shop’s open, chipping in when we get busy.”

Notes to Editors:

*Based on current UK minimum wage of £6.08 per hour and average weekly contribution of 6.5 hours free labour. Total number of UK start-ups taken from Department for Business Innovation and Skills statistics (May 2011): 4,280,415 UK SMEs with 0-9 employees.

**Source: ONS – average 42.7 hours per week

For further information, please contact:

Sophie Howard / Ben Jenkins

+44 20 7009 3128 / +44 20 7009 814

[email protected]

About Simply Business

Simply Business is one of the UK’s biggest business insurance providers, specialising in public liability insurance for SMEs and insuring over 600,000 small businesses and landlords across Britain.

Launched in 2005, Simply Business provides an online brokerage service, delivering policies tailored to individual business requirements. Using the power of tech and data to create the best possible customer experiences, Simply Business employs over 600 people across offices in London, Northampton, and Boston in the US.

Owing to its internal underwriting capability, Simply Business can cover over 1,000 trade types – ranging from plumbers to accountants to dog walkers. An accredited B Corp for their positive social impact, Simply Business has also been voted the Sunday Times Best Company To Work For twice in a row.

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