A MAJOR conference celebrating creative micro-businesses kicks off in Edinburgh this week with a star line-up.

The annual Small is Beautiful international event takes place at the Lyceum Theatre on June 15.

It is aimed at small business owners and entrepreneurs who want to learn from some of the world leaders in micro-enterprise, meet other creative business owners and work to improve their business practices.

This year, speakers include Carl Honoré, international ambassador for the Slow Movement, John Thackara, writer and founder of the Doors of Perception, current Makar Jackie Kay, author and poet, Alexa Clay, author of the Misfit Economy, and Brennan Dunn, founder of doubleyourfreelancing.com.

Clay will share lessons from Misfit innovators from the fringe.

Thackara, whose firm works with grassroots innovators and designers to imagine sustainable futures, will talk about how to thrive in the new economy.

Dunn plans to explore pricing and the secret of doubling your work.

Kay has been commissioned to write and perform a small poem on small and Honoré will close the conference.

Roanne Dods, co-producer of Small is Beautiful said: “Over 95 per cent of us in the UK work in micro-enterprises and we know this figure is growing.”

She added: “More importantly though is that day to day, people are making choices to work differently that current large scale models require – they are thinking about their health and wellbeing, their families and communities, and that the need to work in this way is driving innovation and creativity with an impact beyond the bottom line – reaching internationally as well as locally: the impact of small is big.

“We have pulled together a group of outstanding international speakers committed to this way of working to provide inspiration and practical insight, as well as a little provocation and humour.”

Clay said she was excited to take part in the conference.

She described it as a chance to “imagine a world not built on scale of ambition, but to explore the intimacy of connections required to inform new possibilities for living together and organising ourselves economically”.

Thackara said it was the right gathering at the right time.

He added: “We’ve paid far too much attention to the big and the global – at the cost of missing a crucial fact: More than 95 per cent of all businesses in the world are small – and most are happy to stay that way.

In terms of future prosperity, helping micro-businesses thrive is a creative challenge for us all.”

COMMENT, NIcola Balkind: ‘We need extra support to create a thriving career’

SINCE 2014, Small is Beautiful has been examining the micro-business landscape in Scotland and beyond. We’ve navigated the dichotomies between big business and micro-business and watched small enterprises create huge impact. The interest in “small” has risen exponentially since with reports from the RSA, Skills Development Scotland and Creative Scotland focusing on the number and impact of small businesses. We have the First Minister’s ear. So where are we now? Where do we want to go from here?

One in seven people in the UK are self-employed, with 30 per cent more people in self-employment than in 2009. Despite these huge figures, micro-enterprises barely feature on the business pages of our media and are typically under-served by business support agencies. Myths still pervade rhetoric: ideas like unemployment causing this surge, or self-employment as a response to the 2008 economic crash. On the contrary, self-employment has been growing since the 1970s, and the “lifestyle” business has proven to be a value-driven approach. Most micro-business owners are more likely to employ economically marginalised people and are more likely to aim to make a bigger contribution to society on their own terms.

Not everything is rosy in the land of micros. There are difficulties in working alone, and we must be aware of these risks. About half of the 2.8million self-employed people in Britain are low paid, and many of these workers have found themselves here after their true employment has been replaced with long-term independent contracting. We call this “bogus self-employment” (coined by Ben Dellot) because contractors are still treated as employees and agree to a predetermined hourly rate, yet forgo benefits that employees take for granted: redundancy, holiday, sickness, maternity/paternity pay. Illness, a broken laptop or a late invoice can leave micros with little to fall back on. Despite these difficulties, the Workplace Employment Relations study found that the self-employed are the most satisfied group of workers in the labour market based on factors like job control, influence in decision-making, business loyalty and – paradoxically – satisfaction with pay. Micro-businesses need a different kind of support to move from precarious to thriving.

Our community of freelancers say that they run their own business out of necessity and out of choice. While many found themselves unemployed or graduating into a poor market, they opt to focus on their choices, like making their own hours, connecting more deeply with their collaborators and colleagues, being able to spend more time on the work they love and making a difference and more significant impact. These are not “odd-jobbers” or gig economy freelancers. They’re dedicated practitioners who seek opportunities for growth, improve-ment, collaboration, and new definitions for those factors, too.

At Small is Beautiful we want to develop ideas to support our individual micros collectively and work better together to make a bigger social impact. We’re a diverse and enterprising group. We’re satisfied with lower pay as long as it translates into greater satisfaction and freedom in what we do. And we all got here from different routes. Some of us want to earn lots of money, some of us would be happy with ‘enough’ income as long as we can work with integrity. We need to learn to work better with bigger institutions and we need to help them work better with us. We want to learn what things we can do to be less precarious and live with the uncertainty that faces everyone in every workplace. We will continue to keep pulling together the research that we find that is helpful for micros and work on making change happen, together.

Small is Beautiful, an annual international inspirational conference and a celebration of the world of creative micro-business, freelancing and enterprising, will be at the Lyceum Theatre in Edinburgh on June 15 smallisb.com

Nicola Balkind is a writer and digital freelancer based in Glasgow