By: Larry Fish, President
With the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor approaching on December 7th, it caused me to reflect on many of the things for which we should all be thankful. My thoughts were crystallized this year by comments that were made by a business associate of mine in the green industry whose opinions I respect. We were talking about business in general and small businesses in particular. In the course of the discussion, she said, “You know, the real heroes in this country are small business owners.” The more I thought about that comment, the more I agreed with it.
People become business owners for a variety of reasons and circumstances. Some inherit a family business while others take a great idea or passion and make it happen. These days many victims of corporate cutbacks are finding alternative careers starting and managing their own businesses, many of which find themselves in the landscape business. Regardless of how they got into it though, they all share one common experience. Nothing ever prepares you for the reality of owning, managing, and growing your own business. It is the ultimate exam, and statistics show that although many take it, only a few pass it.
There’s a certain romantic aura about the notion of owning of your own business. Words like independence, doing things my way, and being my own boss all come to mind when we identify reasons why business ownership appears to be so desirable. But, these romantic notions disappear quickly and reality takes charge once the loan is approved, the equipment purchased, and you must now start generating sales and paying bills. Remember how you felt that first morning you woke up fully in charge of your destiny? If for some reason you had decided not to go to work that morning, nothing would have happened. It was then that the magnitude of your decision really hit home. It’s all up to me now.
Remember how hard it was to generate enough business so that there was a little left over for you after the bills were paid? Remember how you felt though, when you were finally able to write a paycheck to yourself? It wasn’t much, but it was all yours and you had earned it.
People who own businesses are a special breed. Words like confidence, ambition, willingness to take risks and driven are all apt descriptions for these folks. But they are not the sole determinants of whether or not their companies will survive. Long-term survivability of a company depends upon two things: how well it handles success and how it plans for succession. Handling success is like bench-pressing weights. Everyone has a limit and sooner or later needs help. Handling success means that you now have an expanding base of both customers and employees who are depending upon you and seat of the pants management is not going to cut it anymore.
For many small business owners, success is measured in small improvements. It’s that piece of equipment you could finally afford to buy. It’s your name stenciled on a vehicle. It’s having letterhead stationary with your logo on it. It’s being able to hire one more person to help you out. It’s getting that first referral from a satisfied customer. But there’s a downside too. It’s worry about cash flow and competition and whether you will ever be able to find and keep people who care as much about your business as you do. It’s coming to grips with your own shortcomings as a businessperson. It’s also the fear of failure.
The ownership of a small business has taken its toll on many who have tried it. On the other hand, every large company in existence today at one time was a small business. The difference between success and failure for many businesses is a combination of many things. Among them are timing, money, market conditions, planning, ability, and luck. But most important, I think – – – is heart.
Heart is what makes heroes!
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