Fear and Loathing in Small Business
There is a moment when I am in a meeting with a business owner, as I am discussing their brand, or their promise, or their differentiators that I might think to myself… “Are they ready to bring it?” Because here’s the deal. All of my know-how, experience, skills, advice, deliverables, strategies and executions are nothing unless this owner is ready to roll up their sleeves and help me get it done.
Small business is no joke. It’s borderline irrational. I have been a small business owner for 9 years. I have 3 employees. There are 27 million small businesses operating in the United States. Of those, only 655,000 have 20 or more employees. 3.7 million have 1-4 employees. So small business is small. Therefore, a small business is lead by the owner. The owner will be the one that dictates success. As a small business owner, everyday, I wake up, and I worry about my success. I worry about my family’s financial security. I worry about the financial security of my staff and their families. And I definitely worry about the financial success of my clients. This is my driving force for success. I fear failure, and I believe the key to being a successful small business owner is fear.
I know that seems like an awful thought, but honestly, success and winning should be the last thing on your mind. Failure should be your driving force. In the open market, you cannot dictate what makes money and what does not make money. You must simply stick to your process, your service, your differentiators and hope your consumer sees the value. If the consumer does not, adjust. But, there is no time for focusing on stockpiles of cash that you think you deserve. You should know that 80% of small businesses fail. You are designed to fail. Before I launched my business, I was so broke, I lived in a tent for 3 weeks. Me, my future wife, and our dogs, in a tent. No money. No direction. No ideas. Broke. The thought of living in a tent keeps me motivated everyday. I do not focus on a bigger house, or on a new car, or on vast riches. If those things happen, great, but I know one thing, I will not go back to living in a tent.
Fear of failing wakes me up at 5:00 am. Fear of failing keeps me examining and re-examining my clients’ performance analytics. I have a constant and consistent fear of every promise I have made going unfulfilled. That is small business ownership. It is not for the lazy, unconfident or dispassionate.
So somewhere, in that meeting, as I am droning on about Pantone colors, digital impressions, brand equity or a number of other technical aspects of making a brand and creating visibility, I think to myself… “Is this owner going to help me help them?” I need them to work. I need them to inspire their staff. I need them to engage their consumer. I need them to do their job. Because small business is only as good as that owner. Unless they have created a new, better process for smearing cream cheese on a bagel, then they potentially have an idea, concept or service that is useful, but not groundbreaking. They are not going to have venture capitalists beating down their door. So they are going to have to work hard.
So as I look across at that owner. I am measuring them up. I am wondering… “Are they in it to win it? Or do they think this is a get rich quick scheme?” Because those don’t exist. Small business is a get rich slow scheme. And that’s a maybe. So if this owner isn’t as passionate as I am about making them successful, then I know we could have a dud on our hands. And as a small marketing firm, representing duds is not really what drives me. I want to see the same fire I have because then, we can make something great.
So to all my small business owners out there. If you have fear of failure, and I know you do, harness it. If you do not, you should get some. Don’t let it eat you alive, but know that it is a real thing. And when/if you have the chance to sit down with me and discuss your business, just know, I am as scared of you failing as you are. I take each small business we manage and represent it as seriously and as passionately as my own. But when we start working together, I am going to need you to do your part because you can be rest assured, I will be doing mine.