If ‘small is beautiful’ in business… why does it have to be so hard to research?
The notion of ‘small is beautiful’ has been a catchcry since British economist; Ernst Schumacher first published his book with this title back in 1973. What we tend to forget is that the title then goes on to say “A Study of Economics As If People Mattered”. It is this second theme which really encapsulates not just the collection of essays Schumacher compiled but the fundamental complexity that is small business – because it deals with business as more than the transfer of money and products, business is about people.
Many of the issues Schumacher raises we are still wrestling with and it is with some pride that JMO continues to address them. We began with our last issue in 2016, which presented a landmark collection of papers exploring the neglected realm of self-employed professionals, freelancers, and contractors.
Our second issue for 2017 takes this exploration a step further, moving into the domain of the entrepreneur and the small to medium enterprise (SME). The editorial provides an overview of the SME context to introduce the almost forensic skills researchers in this area need to have – where the issue of definition is offered as a challenge readers might like to take up as they go through the collection of 7 papers (what form of SME is this paper looking at; small, medium or perhaps a micro or even a nano business?).
Keeping in mind that in most economies SMEs are at the micro end (with for instance, nearly 90% of Australian businesses employing 1 to 4 employees), our first paper is one by Leona Achtenhagen, Anders Melander, and Sara Ekberg who explore the role of government incentives – and provide an important contribution to this hotly contested terrain. It also introduces a key point Schumacher made back in 1973, that limiting the value of SMEs and entrepreneurship solely to growth in firm size and employment number misses the valuable role they play.
While a focus on employment has historically been important (particularly for governments), the role of networks offers another aspect to the notion of value. Networks are the subject of two quite different papers in this edition. The first by Frances Chang explores the role of official role of government and industry bodies while the second, by Jalleh Sharafizad returns us to that individual human element Schumacher championed and narrows the focus the role of female business owners’ networks on start-up motivation.
The challenging of assumptions continues with a paper by Angel Meroño-Cerdan, and it moves us to the a view of the depth and breadth that SME research covers with a fascinating study of family business the particular role women play in their management.
The intertwined and dynamic nature of SME research takes full flight in our last four papers of this edition. First, we see Mário Franco examine entrepreneurship from a highly unusual (and interesting) collective view, which is used to question the role employee perceptions have on leadership styles. This rich examination of the individual is then explored in detail by Anne Annink who examines the role of social support required – at the nano end of the independent professional. Her exploration of work life balance provides a nice segway for the investigation by Yongqiang Gao of a more macro perspective of the SME owner and role of social status and philanthropy.
Both this and our last paper by Dan Zhou are set within the Chinese SME context and this returns us to the detective task of definition – as the Chinese definition of SME more than doubles the Australian definition of 200 to be up to 500 employees!!
Overall, the seven papers in the second edition of JMO for 2017 provide a rich and diverse entre into the complex and fascinating world of the SME – so hard to research because, at the end of the day it is truly research where those pesty things called people are what matters!
Read the issue here.