So you want to start a business huh? You have a great idea and you have done your research. That entrepreneurial spirit, fueled by passion and innovation, is what the American Dream is all about. Go get ‘em tiger! This is going to be awesome! Or will it?
I write this from a small business owner perspective but, like you, I am a consumer too. And every year, on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, we are reminded of Small Business Saturday. This “holiday” was originally created by American Express, yes the credit card company, as an annual event to encourage consumers to shop locally owned businesses during the holiday season. Consumers are the driving force behind any small business, and yet, there remains a disconnect between the two parties. Most consumers have no idea the kind of power they hold. Ironically, to their own detriment, most businesses also don’t recognize that power. Truth and transparency can fill the spaces in between.
The truth can often be subjective, but so can a lie. Context can drastically change the landscape of any narrative. A well informed consumer is a valuable asset. As both a consumer and a business owner myself, I will always encourage intentional support over blind loyalty. The following are five myths surrounding small businesses and entrepreneurs.
- All you need to start a business is an innovative product, idea, or service. Like Field of Dreams…if you build it they will come. This is one of the biggest misnomers in the small business world. Thousands of great ideas never make it off the napkin. Well, it’s because the entrepreneur didn’t work hard enough. That simply isn’t true. Hard work does not always pay off. More often than not, having a solid strategy is a key indicator of success and longevity. The right timing and plain old good luck have an impact as well. Consumers only care about price and the best deal. Not true, the average consumer considers several factors when choosing a brand. Value, social responsibility, and convenience are just three reasons someone might buy from you versus a competitor…or vice versa. Some small businesses believe the fastest route to success in their industry is to undercut their competitors. That would be a valid move if again, consumers only made buying decisions based on price. The truth is that the market is noisy and full of disruptions. In this volatile atmosphere it can be daunting for the consumer to make an informed decision. The small business owner must be able to pivot quickly to better understand and meet their customer’s needs.
- A strong social media presence is required to start and run a business. Simple enough right? Wrong! Social media is just another tool. Creating content is time consuming and can be difficult to measure the impact. These platforms weren’t built for small businesses. Recent studies even suggest that social media platforms are engaging in predatory practices that can cause permanent damage. So small businesses should sink a bunch of money early on into advertising? Well no that isn’t exactly true either. Like maintaining a social media presence, advertising is just another tool, albeit a more expensive one. The difference between traditional advertising and your social media platform is the objective and the cost. Content is not the same as advertising and there is a time and place for both. Building brand loyalty on social media is a more cost effective alternative to traditional advertising but fostering a solid reputation is and should be the objective that matters most and not the method.
- Small business owners and entrepreneurs are naturally charismatic and extroverted. Ha! What if I told you that every single entrepreneur, that’s right every single one, has felt or still feels some level of imposter syndrome. For many this looks like persistent anxiety and feelings of not being good enough. Emphasis on the word enough…smart enough, competent enough, skilled enough, popular enough etc. etc.. But small business owners are revolutionary and courageous, fearless mavericks taking on great risk for even greater reward. While this may be true for some, most entrepreneurs are just trying to survive and be the best they can be. Every day is a battle to just be enough. What about all the money and success that entrepreneurs have? First of all, money does not equal success and success does not equal money. A healthy bottom line is important but it is not the only determining factor. Many small business owners, myself included, are also focused on value, fostering relationships, and forging a lasting legacy.
- Entrepreneurs are just corporate dropouts that couldn’t hack it in the “real job” world. Ouch…that one hits close to home. Thankfully, Business News Daily says that one is also a lie. The majority of small business owners cite freedom and passion to create something from the ground up as their motivation. Some develop that passion early on while others endure years of salaried corporate positions before taking the leap. Colonel Sanders was 65 years old when he started KFC. Vera Wang was 39 when she designed her first famous wedding gown and Martha Stewart was nearly 50 when she published her first magazine. Turning a dream into a reality knows no age. Hey at least toxic culture is confined to big business companies and corporations. Unfortunately, that too, is false. In truth, the vast majority of entrepreneurs are good people who run good businesses. But toxic culture is everywhere, from the boardroom to the boutique and just like some large billion-dollar organizations questionable ethics are equally prevalent. I have seen, and you have seen it too, a stark disparity between publicly stated values and mission statements versus actual reality. Not surprisingly, some small businesses will go to great lengths to silence any dissent. Whether it is a company of one sole employee or 10,000 it is still the leader's responsibility to set the tone. Conversely, it is the consumer’s responsibility to hold that business, big or small, accountable for its actions. That is a harsh statement and could very easily get me shunned by my colleagues but when we know better we do better.
- Government interference, the pandemic, and rising inflation have killed small businesses. I would call that a half truth. Interestingly enough, while those three conditions are very real and very challenging, new small businesses and start ups continue to crop up and even thrive despite the struggle. Entrepreneurs are many things and they wear many hats but one common denominator is that small business owners are fiercely independent. That is not to say they don’t build strong partnerships. A solid business partner or mentor is worth their weight in gold. I caveat that by saying that not all partnerships are created equally. Sadly the only way to learn that lesson is the hard way. Sometimes we have to experience what we don’t want to realize and appreciate that which we do want. When shopping a small business, either as a consumer or an entrepreneurial partner, it is imperative that we align ourselves with those that match our core values. The good news is we live In this world of capitalism that provides a great deal of choice and variety.
I would encourage everyone, entrepreneurs and consumers alike, to get to know your small business owners. Ask questions and build a dialogue. Become a part of the small business story. If you do choose to shop locally during Small Business Saturday I ask that you be intentional with your support. And when we find those businesses that are worthy of our support i.e. our money…let that support extend far beyond just one day.
Final message to the customers and loyal supporters of Anthologie Soap Co…I am eternally grateful to each and every one of you every single day. We just wrapped up our first full year as a locally owned small business and I couldn’t be more humbled by your devotion. I am so proud of you!! There are exciting days ahead and I hope that you will continue on this journey with me. All my warm fuzzy wishes to you and yours this holiday season - Dana J.