I’ve been thinking for quite some time about those small businesses that appear to be the most successful. What is it that sets them apart? We hear—and there are a plethora of studies to support this—the most successful small businesses are those that seek advice from a CPA or accountant from the beginning. I agree this a contributing factor…for some—those who lack business and accounting experience.
Let’s set that aside for now, as I’m not convinced this is the root cause (spoken like a former auditor!) for success. As a firm that specializes in working with small businesses, I have had the pleasure of working with all types of people and many from varying industries and professions. Last year I spoke with a high school classmate who started her own small retail specialty shop, Doc & Alice, in Hill City, South Dakota. Erin told me she has been so surprised by her experience as a business owner and that, yes, it has been rewarding, but not for all the reasons she thought it would be. She feels it’s almost been a psychosocial experience. (I’m going from what my feeble brain can recall, Erin. So, please forgive me if I unintentionally misrepresent your sentiments!) She has had many customers come into her shop with poor body images who do not know how to love and dress themselves to bring out their natural beauty. Erin feels honored to help them find clothing that makes them feel and look good. She takes time with her customers and says her interactions sometimes feel more like “therapy” sessions.
Another small business owner I’ve spoken with, photographer and artist Todd Muskopf, started a special project called The Classic Beauty Project. Initially his goal was to create and capture the nostalgia and glamour of old Hollywood. What happened was both unexpected and surprising. So many women who gravitated toward and became part of the project had unbelievable stories of loss, sorrow, growth and courage. During his sessions, Todd learned a bit about each woman in order to ease any discomfort she might have and because he was genuinely interested. He is learning more about beauty and that it is not just in creating these glamourous photos. He captures the essence of each woman and encourages them to share their stories. The Classic Beauty Project has morphed into a social experience and yes, he is generating revenue, but feels humbled by the strength of the women he’s worked with.
Personally, I have had experiences with clients that go beyond assets, liabilities, revenues, expenses and taxes. Some may criticize that I may allow a client relationship to move beyond what is strictly professional. I have spent time with overwrought clients who find themselves owing significant amounts of back taxes, trying to help ease their anxiety levels and find a way to move forward. I worry about how they will cope with such high stress situations and some have found themselves in the hospital with symptoms of heart attacks. Not so many months ago, another client who is a fairly new business owner was struggling to manage not only the day-to-day operations, but also the very personal personnel issues that arise. Learning how to lead and motivate team members is not a task for the faint of heart. It can cut a leader to the quick and this client had been brought to tears by the struggles. I listened and tried to share some of my own experiences leading teams.
Have you figured out how all these examples relate to my question of what makes a small business successful and thrive? Here’s my theory: the single best predictor of a small business thriving is that they open themselves to helping others on a personal level. The business owner who is willing to connect emotionally with their customers, clients, patients, etc. creates a dynamic relationship that goes beyond the professional one. I believe our clients or customers feel valued—and they are. They know they aren’t just another number or customer. I truly do want to help my clients and believe many other successful small businesses do, as well. Their customers don’t simply represent a dollar value; they are part of a network who helps each other.
I don’t intend to oversimplify my theory of what makes small businesses thrive. Clearly there is a profit motive for all of us. I think that profit motive may not be quite as sharply honed for those thriving small businesses. Profit is not what drives all decision making for those businesses. Sometimes we make choices like spending “off-the-clock” time with our clients because they need it at that time. If driven by profit, the smarter choice would be to cut the call as short as possible, bill the client for the time and move onto the next paying client.
I know I want to extend a helping hand to my clients as I am able and believe the other small businesses in the above examples feel the same way. We are all connected and we can extend our hands. Remembering this at the dawn of our Independence Day weekend and celebrations seems meaningful to me. We wanted our independence and our country is a melting pot comprised of people from all different backgrounds. Part of what makes our country so great is that independence to lend helping hands to any and all. We help each other to become stronger and better. That can only help all our small businesses grow and thrive.