Theresa May's land grab of "workers' rights" confirmed it for me. We're the real forgotten people of this election. No, not the white working class but small business owners: the 5.4 million of us that account for 99% of all businesses, 80% of all employment and generate 68% of all jobs growth.
Yet, far from being grateful for the stoic shifts we put in to raise the country's economic growth, productivity and employment levels, politicians of all stripes have, over recent years, made the lives of small business owners a misery.
And, frankly – and partly because few members of parliament (MPs) have any direct experience in starting and running a small business – they don't seem to give a damn. We're the nation's patsies: there to be kicked, with no election result likely to change things in our favour.
Our gripes are many, but I'll cite just three – procurement, pensions and business rates – in which the role of government acts as a depressant (sometimes literally).
Let's start with procurement – the process of "on-boarding" suppliers to large entities. Many small businesses are part of a supply chain for much larger organisations (including authorities undertaking public services).
This means complying with the ever-expanding volume of rules and regulations governing the conduct of the larger entity (often imposed at a European level and then "gold-plated" by the UK government).
The procurement process is where non-conformists are weeded out, which is why our much larger rivals love regulation and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) detest it. They have the resources to employ specialists in box-ticking, while we don't – giving them an immediate advantage.
For SMEs, procurement is a time-consuming, mentally draining and sometimes scary process that makes the 12 tasks of Hercules look easy by comparison. Scary? I'll offer one example, from a European financial institution with a "convenient" online procurement process in its home language (though with basic translations available).
We failed on two questions: do we employ under 15s and do we discriminate against ethnic minorities? I answered "no", of course, only to find out later (after the system kicked me out without specifying why) that the correct answer was "yes". The original question – lost in translation – was asking whether we had "a policy in place" for preventing both the employment of minors and discrimination along ethnic lines. Oh, how we laughed.
Emails and letters regarding procurement are usually addressed to the "Head of Procurement", which is – of course – me. Meanwhile, correspondence on the auto-enrolment of workplace pensions (which came into effect for SMEs this year) is addressed to the Head of Human Resources. You guessed it, that's me too.
And what correspondence! Since the law required me to set up a scheme for my 15-or so employees I've been inundated with emails from NEST (the UK government-sponsored provider) often arriving around Sunday lunchtime, just to disturb my only peaceful moments of the week. All sound terrifyingly legalistic, although are usually requiring some pathetic piece of information that took another hour out of my working day.
Yes, "took". The past tense reflects the fact I inevitably relented and outsourced the task to my accountants, who now earn a sizable fee for administrating the system. Of course, this adds to my costs – eroding my already thin margins – as does the specialist I employed to set-up the scheme and the additional wages I have to pay because no one in my young team asked for a state-invested pension plan and were somewhat miffed contributions came from them as well as me.
We take on keen-as-mustard graduates and give them skills they'll use throughout their careers. Amazingly, we also pay them (and their taxes and National Insurance) for the privilege.
Nearly all are in their 20s and far more concerned about saving for a mortgage deposit than contributing to a pension scheme they didn't ask for. But that's the law – and this Head of Human Resources has to shut up and pay, and even deal with the tuts and admonishments at dinner parties when raising it as anything other than "the right and moral thing to do".
Rates and rubbish
Contributing to local services is, of course, another moral obligation. And at least the business rates demands are honest enough to properly dehumanise me – addressing their correspondence to "The Occupier". "No we don't care who you are," they seems to be saying, "just pay up".
And, boy, do they want me to pay up. While my rates were once 36 per cent of the rent, they've gone up to 56 per cent, and would have become 82 per cent if it were not for the joy of having the rent almost double just in time to retain the 56 per cent equilibrium.
Of course, business rates is not a cost you take much notice of until it escalates out of control and they send seven-day payment demands backed up with no reminders – just the threat of a court summons. This was on top of my particular local authority interpreting a 2016 Supreme Court ruling on multi-level occupancies as reason-enough to inform me my rates had been undercharged by £8,400 ($10,850) over the past two years – here's the bill (to pay in seven days).
"But you get your rubbish collected," was the fatuous response of my civic-minded dinner-party companion (the same one defending the auto-enrolment of pensions). "Well, no," I responded. That requires me to purchase a licence from the private company now responsible for refuse collection in my area, as well as buy their correctly-denoted bin bags at nearly £200 per roll.
Oh, and if the bags are put on the street at any time other than the strictly-specified hours, we incur fines large-enough to terrify our office cleaners into abandoning all hope of understanding the rules – meaning they simply stack the bags in the entrance lobby, forcing me to act as Head of Sanitation and calculate when we can and cannot put the bags out for collection.
Soon the bags start smelling and the staff start complaining – to me, of course. Meanwhile, the bulb's gone in the ladies loo, the photocopier's playing-up again and two of the staff have called in sick. Oh, the joys.
Robert Kelsey is the bestselling author of a series of "anti-self help, self help" books, including What's Stopping You?, Get Things Done and The Outside Edge. The former financial journalist and investment banker is also the deputy chairman of entrepreneurial think tank The Centre for Entrepreneurs which he co-founded with serial entrepreneur Luke Johnson.