Small Business is not for the Faint-hearted

Small businesses are powerhouses in their own right, demanding a unique set of skills and strong character as this quote describes.

"Small business is not for the faint of heart. It’s for the brave, the patient and persistent.

It’s for the overcomer." (Unknown author)

I gleefully came across this quote on entrepreneur, Roger James Hamilton’s facebook page. Hamilton is a successful businessman, with somewhat of a social edge to his latest projects, who aims at closing the wealth gap.

Large corporations with enough employees to form a small army, rich partnerships, media recognition, billions invested in plant, properties and equipment not only make billions (and I’m talking profit not turnover) but make a notable difference in the world too. Think Apple’s ipod and Google’s search engine. They leave a rich legacy that lingers even after their demise. Very impressive, very enchanting.

Compared to this, it is easy for small business owners and their communities to let their toiling and striving go unnoticed. Due to their size, small business is deemed easier to set up and operate, requiring less funds, fewer staff and fewer product lines or services.

And yet, any entrepreneur in small business worth his pocket change, will tell you the challenges are many, and the support is little. They do a lot more with a lot less.

The above quote describes it just right. Let’s break it down:

Small business is for the brave

A lot of risk is involved in small business. Larger corporations have all sorts of safety nets, insurance, guarantees, and loopholes to jump through to mitigate their risk. A small business owner low on funds may bond his personal assets to start up or expand, often putting their family home on the line.

If things go pear shaped, they stand to lose the roof over their heads, putting their families out in the cold. They stand to lose the very things they rely on for personal growth as well as commercial growth. If they use their vehicle for the business and it has to be sold to finance a cash flow crisis, they lose their family car as well as a business asset used in operations.

They risk everything.

Small business is for the patient and persistent

Let’s face it, size matters. It is not everything, but it is a factor we use in determining the reliability and authenticity of companies. We’re more likely to trust a huge corporation that is a household name, than a small brand that nobody has ever heard of. Add to that, money talks. Loudly.

Small business score low on both funds and size. Banks offer better interest rates on larger invested savings and on larger loan contracts. Negotiating power increases in direct proportion to the size of your cheque account. Small business is seen as risky and subjected to more requirements by banks or potential investors, which they sometimes cannot meet. These can be overcome, of course, but it costs more. Then we’re back at square one resolving the issue of low funds.

Small business makes for a small customer. Suppliers don’t usually run over each other to win them over. They do not readily offer credit putting strain on cash flows and that’s before negotiations begin on minimum order quanitities that are out of budget.

Winning customers, big and small, takes undivided attention. Customers expect to be known by name and their every desire met, with a smile. Even after numerous meetings over the best freshly ground coffee, some are not ready to do business and invest in their products or services. But a persistence in building a trusted brand and a good reputation over time, suppliers, investors and customers return. It may be tomorrow, or next month or in three years time, but whenever it happens they have to be willing and ready. When a door closes, they not only look out for other open doors, but they also seek to unlock it all on their own.

Small business is for the overcomer

Small business entrepreneurs overcome many obstacles on a lonely road. The few wayfarers who seem to be helpers, often hold their end of the deal very tight and give no leniency. They build and defend their seedlings from all sorts of dangers and bad weather.

If it’s a family business, entrepreneurs’ personal and professional lives are intertwined making the work-life balance much more important and much more tricky too.

Holding the fort sometimes means fulfilling all the roles in a start up or temporarily being the receptionist and IT-guy together with your own managerial duties until those vacancies are filled. It means being flexible and quick to learn on the job.

In small businesses wastages are very costly. Efficiency is not an objective on a scorecard, it is a survival skill.

Small businesses sprout like a seedling. Two tiny primitive leaves unfold at the end of a fragile stem. The first pair of leaves often look nothing like the real leaves, but it does the critical job of absorbing light and starting the photosynthesis process that kickstarts growth. Sprouts are highly nutritious and considered a powerhouse of minerals and vitamins. A lot of nutrients and energy are required to grow a seed from an inert state into a growing seedling.

Grow organically to kickstart growth

Small businesses begin life pretty much the same way. Only the critical operations are carried out to build strong foundations. Time is both a foe and a friend. Lose patience and persistence, and you’ll never see the business past its seedling state. Try to grow it too fast, and it will crash on its weak foundations. But give it enough time to sprout organically finding the best market position, serving the first customers well, providing value, establishing a trusted brand and reputation amongst customers and suppliers alike will build the strong foundations needed to kickstart growth into the next phase.

By no means are larger corporations more easily run than a small business. Both have constraints and challenges. But the next time you come across a small business serving its niche with a fantastic product or service, remember the powerhouse seedling and give it the respect it deserves. If you’re a small business entrepreneur, give yourself a good old pat on the back. And if you’re thinking of setting up your own small start-up, get ready for the roughest, yet most rewarding, ride of your life. It’ll change you, for the better.


photo credit: Author’s own