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Most of us, whether we acknowledge it or not, have some idea in the back of our heads about what it means to us to operate a “successful” small business. It doesn’t really matter what the idea is. It doesn’t have to be grand, it doesn’t have to be the kind of thing that is likely to change the universe. It just the flagpost on the road that tells us that we have arrived at wherever it is we decided we wanted to go.
Because when we can consider our small businesses to be “successful”, we will have reached a goal.
For most of us, that goal is pretty simple. Last month’s Wahmpreneur SOHO Poll asked readers this question. Most could not even be bothered to answer it but, among those few who did, the vast majority said that a successful small business is merely one that provides its owner with a decent living.
That is probably one of the main reasons why microenterprises — which is to say, most small businesses — generate revenues of around $40,000 per year, on average. In most places in the country, $40,000 a year will get you a decent living, even after you pay your business’s expenses. That is particularly true if yours is a multi-income household, as so many of them are.
And, because most microbusiness owners want nothing more than that, once they get there they are satisfied. If they weren’t, those non-employer business statistics would be different.
It is interesting that more people don’t identify the “successful” small business in terms of large amounts of revenue, since that is the way we are conditioned to view success. That is certainly the way the media portrays success. It is the way our nation’s leaders seem to view it as well — which only serves to underscore the degree to which many of them are completely out of touch with the rest of us. I guess when you get used to dealing with the responsibility of managing the budget of the world’s largest consumer, you forget that earning $40,000 a year with your business can be considered in some quarters to be a reasonable and even admirable goal.
A few of us, however, want more than that.
There are some who want fast growth, big companies that employ business models they’ll be teaching at Harvard Business School in a decade. They want to turn their industry, or their society, or maybe even their world upside down with the efficiencies they’ve discovered. They want to be Bill Gates when they grow up.
Of course, Bill Gates wasn’t really all that much of an innovator. He recognized the viability of the personal computer market, and he realized those personal computers would need operating systems that were less geek-oriented than plain DOS (remember DOS?). He was also a shrewd marketer. He understood that he would gain more market share cutting deals with hardware manufacturers than trying to peddle the software to lay people.
Can’t you just hear him? “If you pre-install this software, your computer will be that much more user friendly and you’ll sell more of them to just plain folks. Trust me.”
Then there’s the ten percent or so of us who believe that success will come when we are earning a living with our businesses, providing jobs to our communities, giving back to the community in other ways and generally making the world a better place. Those goals sound better, but they’re not really. Sure, it is grand and selfless and all that to “give back to the community,” whatever you decide that means. But the microbusiness owner who successfully earns a living that gets and keeps her off welfare is doing precisely that, even if she doesn’t quite see it that way.
The bottom line being that, whatever your goals are, they’re good goals. They accomplish the betterment of the community and the country and the world in ways that you have perhaps never even paused to consider. And because of that, it may be that you have bought into the notion that your accomplishment when you can consider your small business to be “successful” is really nothing to brag about.
It’s only natural for many small business owners to feel that way, surrounded by a culture that is looking for “the next Intel or the next Federal Express”, the next little business that transmorphs into a corporate giant.
Of course, that doesn’t matter to most of us, either. For one thing, we’re just too busy. Even if we wind up feeling as if we should be more ambitious or we should be aiming to make more money, we keep doing what we’re doing. Why? It must be because, as shamefaced as many of us are about it, the fact of the matter is that most humans really don’t need very much to make them happy.
We started and operated our business with relatively little help. We kept it going often through sheer will, and unremitting toil. We overcame the odds to reach a point where we were not only making money, we were able to afford some extras, contribute to our households in important ways and make our lives quite a bit better. And most of us do all that more or less by ourselves.
If you stop and think about it, that’s quite an accomplishment.
Just between you and me, it gets tiresome the way the power brokers fawn over those folks who represent vast sums of money. In some ways, the survival of any small business is a matter for wonderment and celebration.