Hanging out your Shingle: ATB’s Perch explores self-employment in Alberta during downturn


Calgary — We’ve likely all had days when we thought: “If I was the boss, I’d do things differently.” But for Alberta’s 383,000 self-employed workers, they don’t just dream about it, they live it.

But what does life look like for entrepreneurs in our province? At ATB Financial, we already know a lot about entrepreneurs because we have a whole team focused on them (see Business Beat). But at ATB, we think we can always know more about the people we care about.

So we dug even deeper into self-employment in the latest edition of Perch, where we look at what has been happening to self-employment during the downturn and paint a portrait of Alberta’s self-employed entrepreneurs.

The research busts two myths.

First, there is the idea that when the job market gets tough, those with fresh pink slips turn to self-employment. The reality is that it’s neither that easy nor that simple. Albertans who have lost their jobs during the downturn are not turning in large numbers to self-employment.

“Between January and October of this year, self-employment has actually decreased by 1.5 per cent in our province,” said Rob Roach, Director of Insight at ATB. “We might still see an uptick in self-employment as the effects of the downturn continue to play out, but so far it is not replacing the thousands of jobs that have been cut due to low oil prices,” added Roach.

Second, some claim that many self-employment jobs are of lower quality than those of an employee that receives a steady paycheque and benefits. Again, the reality is not that simple. The average income of self-employed workers is lower than that of employees. But many factors other than annual income affect the quality of self-employment such as tax advantages, higher wealth accumulation and greater independence.

Additional self-employment findings include:

  • Seventeen per cent of Alberta’s workers say they are primarily self-employed.
  • Self-employed workers are disproportionately male (66 per cent), have no paid staff (69 per cent) and are often incorporated (58 per cent).
  • Forty-six per cent of Alberta’s self-employed work in one of three sectors: construction (18 per cent), professional, scientific and technical services (17 per cent) and agriculture (11 per cent).
  • Self-employed Albertans have varied jobs and responsibilities. Some sell jam solo at the local market while others lead large companies with many staff and millions in revenue.
  • Self-employed workers tend to be older and retire later than employees.
  • Incorporated, self-employed workers have a higher average income and net worth than employees.

“Entrepreneurs are a significant component of Alberta’s economy. Their businesses fuel growth and innovation in our province,” said Wellington Holbrook, executive vice-president, Business & Agriculture at ATB. “At ATB we support more small- and medium-sized businesses than any other financial institution in Alberta. The work we do every day, including the research on self-employment that we’re releasing today in Perch, demonstrates that ATB knows this province and its businesses better than any other financial institution.”

ATB offers many unique services to Alberta’s businesses, including:

  • Alberta BoostR – A crowdfunding platform that helps entrepreneurs to grow their business.
  • Capital Ideas – A partnership that brings together entrepreneurs at a monthly meet-up where they share their insights and ideas with other entrepreneurs.
  • Business Beat – A quarterly publication that reports on the opportunities and the challenges facing small and mid-sized business owners.

To learn more about self-employment in Alberta, join us today for the release of Perch, interviews with ATB’s Rob Roach (author of Perch and self-employment research), Dan Allen, vice-president of ATB Business & Agriculture and Megan Armstrong, local entrepreneur and owner of Dogma Training and Pet Services will be available.

For the key findings on self-employment in Alberta, find them in Perch. An extended report can be found on atb.com/economics.

Watch this video for more from Rob Roach on ATB’s self-employment research.

ATB Perch - self employment in Alberta