Thursday, April 2, 2015

What it really means

Did you know that for the first time in history, in the United States, more small businesses are going out of business than are being started?

Those are devastating numbers. It's a 100% political conversation. Politicians strangle small businesses AND use us as their own political toys.

But, I'm not going there today.

One of my favorite things to do is to meet and talk to other business owners. The REAL business owners. The people who work crazy hours every week. The people who won't get rich doing what they do, but they have more pride in their work than anyone sitting at a desk at a big corporation.

When I say REAL business owners, I'm talking about the people on the street. I'm not talking about the VERY RARE entrepreneur that comes up with an idea that makes them a billionaire. Those are very rare.

When we were in Telluride, we met the owner of Baked in Telluride. (Of course, you MUST visit). We talked about those customer reviews on Yelp and the impact on business.

When I was in lake Havasu I met the owner of Havasu Pizza. When I went back later, he introduced me to his family. Good people, good pizza.

Every time I get my oil changed, I walk over to a BBQ place called Jabo's. When I go, I talk to the son who works tables. (The entire family works in the restaurant).  Today, I met Jabo and his wife Susan.

I took a seat at the bar and started talking to Jabo. The pride he has in his work (all of his BBQ sauces are his own recipes) is evident. He sat down with me to tell me about the origins of BBQ and the differences between Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, Lousiana, and on.

Then his wife Susan pulled up a chair. We started talking about their restaurant. They asked me how the internet business was. That's when Susan smacked her husband on the back and gave them that look that said, "SEE?"

When Jabo got up to help another customer, Susan said, "I've been trying to get him to sell his sauces online! He won't do it."

We started talking about what it would take to get their products online and in grocers.

She was asking me questions, and I could tell that she wasn't even sure how to start. I wrote down a few ideas and things that she should keep in mind as well as gave her the name of a couple of other smaller companies that could help her get started.

As I left (the lunch rush was hitting and a line was forming), I was thinking about that deer in a headlight look Susan had.

I've been there.

I can't possibly share (in 30 minutes) what I've learned in the past 10 years. In fact, when I meet people, and they want to get started....sometimes I'm just at a loss for words.

Besides the very basics of starting a company (from deciding to be a sole prop or corp), there's all the emotion, all of the ups and downs....where the ups are the biggest successes you can ever experience to downs that almost or DO put you out of business.

The enormity, of what we have done, really hit me; every aspect of the business: how to build a website, how do you take payments, what is SEO, what about location, how do you get money when you need it, how do you build a customer base, do you follow in the footsteps of the big corps, how do you advertise, how to you find vendors/suppliers, how do you find employees, how to you handle returns, how do you handle growth, how do you get through a recession, how do you separate work from life, and the list goes on and on and on.

Recently, one of our employees (a very young guy putting himself through college) came to us. He was so excited. He had bought his first new, financed car and wanted to show us.

Then, we hired a woman. Her background doesn't fit with us, but that's the benefit of working for a small business. We hire PEOPLE not positions. When we talked to her, she reminded me of ME. We offered her a job. She almost broke down because she was so excited to work for us after being treated so horribly at her previous place.

THAT's what you get with small businesses. Employers who really care about employees. Owners that really care about their product. Companies that care about customers because we know how hard it is to gain them and how easy it is to lose them.

Yes, there are small business owners just out there to get rich.

The rest of us? As I always tell people, "I want to build something GREAT."