Archive for the 'Entrepreneurship' Category

Small business ethics

While talking with an attorney friend of mine, our topic of discussion was about professional behavior in the marketplace. She reminded me that attorneys have very specific ethical and professional standards that are published, plus a well developed monitoring organization, complete with sanctioning authority.

The story is quite similar for CPA’s, architects, medical doctors, or any securities representative such as stock brokers, financial planners, etc. Much of the behavioral track these professionals run on is pretty well spelled out for them. Not that the members of these groups need to be led or coerced into good professional behavior. It’s just that, when in doubt, they have published guidelines with which to refer.

Small business owners operate in the same marketplace as the so-called professionals. Indeed, they are often our clients and customers. We serve the same businesses and consumers as other professionals, plus we enter into similar relationships, contracts and agreements. And we often find ourselves perched precariously on the same horns-of-a-dilemma as other professionals. But here’s the difference: The Universal Small Business Code of Professional Conduct and Ethics doesn’t exist.

Small business owners, like all humans, ultimately behave according to their own moral compass, sense of fair play and inclination to deal in good faith. When we find ourselves in a quandary over how to respond to a difficult situation with a customer that is in the gray area of a contract, we’re on our own. When we are faced with an ethical issue that would challenge King Solomon, there is no sanctioning body or support group to dial up, or to whom we can email a “scenario.”

There are many ancient codes small business owners can turn to for behavioral guidance in the marketplace, such as the last three of the Ten Commandments. But in terms of a handy guide, I think philosopher and 1957 Nobel Prize winner for literature, Albert Camus, may have given us the best ethical vector when he wrote, “Integrity has no need of rules.”

Wise small business owners know that life is much simpler, and exceedingly more rewarding, when we just do the right thing.

On top of a fence post

A while back I heard someone accept an award by telling this story. He said, “I once saw a turtle on top of a fence post. The first thing that struck me was that the turtle surely had not gotten there by himself.”

The gentleman went on to accept the award on behalf of all those who had helped him get to the top of his “fence post”.

If you are the owner, employer, and/or manager of a team of people, next time you find yourself “on top of a fence post”, make sure that you recognize the others who helped you to reach your lofty perch.

Not only is it the right thing to do, but remember, Newton’s law of gravity is especially active around fence posts. It’s handy to have people around who will want to break your fall in case you find yourself experiencing Mr. Newton’s law in an untimely descent from on high.

A little knowledge can make you smile

Training is everything. The peach was once a bitter almond, and cauliflower is nothing but a cabbage with a college education.- Mark Twain

After all these years there has been no one to compare with Twain, and the light of his wisdom has not dimmed.

No matter what we do or where we go, owner or employee, and now more than ever before, we must continue to study, train, and learn. Everyone in your organization. Everyone. Everyday. Lifelong learning.

Are you feeling threatened these days - maybe even frightened - because of all the changes brought on by the advent of the information age? Me, too. Sometimes it seems we’re like Alice - we have to run as fast as we can just to stay in one place. And in our Wonderland, everything is changing so fast that what we learn today may be obsolete tomorrow.

The irony is that the thing that is creating so much potential for anxiety - technology - is also the thing that can help you stay competitive. And the unprecedented wealth of information available on the Internet is a two edged sword: one side cutting for us, and the other for our competition.

When I feel threatened by all of the new information and capability that’s emerging, I just make a point to learn something new, with emphasis on e-commerce, or the Internet, or how my industry is adapting to the virtual marketplace. And when I acquire that new understanding or capability, I smile like Alice’s Cheshire Cat.

Learning makes me feel stronger, as if I’ve gained a little ground in the marketplace. Maybe today I’ll put the heat on somebody else.

Advantage: Me.

Give it a try. The only thing better than your garden variety smile is one that comes from knowing that you just got a little smarter.

I have to say, however, cauliflower does not make me smile.

Focus On Your Gauges

In his book, This Is Your Life, Not A Dress Rehearsal, Jim Donovan said:

One of the chief characteristics of virtually all highly successful people is that they make decisions quickly, and rarely, if ever, change them.

This might seem like a rigid, perhaps even arrogant attitude - to refuse to change a decision - but there is something else at work here.

One of the keys to success is to be able to make things happen. In order to do this, you have to make a lot of decisions. If you know what you are doing, you will make most of them correctly. Incorrect decisions aren’t so much failures, as they are examples of what doesn’t work.

When you learn to fly an airplane on instruments (when you are in the “soup” and you can’t see outside of the plane), as you monitor your gauges and controls, you are taught to make little corrections when you see the plane drifting off course or out of your assigned altitude. You must make lots of little corrections, and you must make them constantly.

My instrument instructor told me, “Focus on your gauges, trust them, and make little corrections - constantly.” The result is that your plane never gets too far off course, or into an unsafe attitude.

Successful people do the same thing in their businesses. They make lots of decisions. And while it may seem that they rarely change a decision, it’s really more a matter of moving on and making the next decision with new information. Little corrections, but lots of them. Constantly.

Sometimes it feels as if we are managing our businesses in the soup. And just like a pilot on instruments, it’s natural to freeze up at first. When you get this feeling, focus on your gauges - the decisions that have to be made. Then make lots of decisions, and trust them to either lead you to success or the next decision.

Good flying.

Before that I was a drudge

He was a remarkable individual. In addition to being a composer and piano virtuoso, Ignace Jan Paderewski (1860-1941), was also a former Prime Minister of Poland.

Following a command performance on piano before Queen Victoria, she exclaimed, “Sir, you are a genius.”

Alluding to all of the effort required to earn such adoration, Paderewski said, “Perhaps, your Majesty, but before that I was a drudge.”

Webster: drudge - a person who does hard, menial, tedious work

This story reminds me of a successful small business owner. People see the business doing well. The owner, as seen in the community, appears to be prosperous. Everything coming up roses, right? This must be a really smart person!

Here’s the real story: Five, maybe ten years ago, the establishment associated with this entrepreneur may not have even existed. Going in and out of that business thefirst couple of years, you would have had the privilege of meeting its first janitor, first truck driver, first receptionist, first inventory clerk, first accountant, and first salesperson. No, you didn’t make a bunch of new friends - just one. They’re all the same person: our genius small business owner, and first CEO.

Of course intelligence contributes to success in business. But I don’t know any bright and successful small business owners who don’t know what the Prime Minister meant about being a drudge.

Next time you compliment a small business owner on his or her business’ success, don’t be surprised if the response sounds like, “Perhaps, your Majesty, but before that I was a drudge.”

Top 10 reasons to love small business

Continuing the spirit of Valentine’s Day, here are the “Top 10 Reasons To Love Small Business,” as proposed by our friends over at the Office of Advocacy of the SBA.

10. Small businesses make up more than 99.7% of all employers.

9. Small businesses create more than 50 percent of the nonfarm private gross domestic product (GDP).

8. Small patenting firms produce 13 to 14 times more patents per employee than large patenting firms.

7. The 22.9 million small businesses in the United States are located in virtually every neighborhood.

6. Small businesses employ about 50 percent of all private sector workers.

5. Home-based businesses account for 53 percent of all small businesses.

4. Small businesses make up 97 percent of exporters and produce 29 percent of all export value.

3. Small businesses with employees start-up at a rate of over 500,000 per year.

2. Four years after start-up, half of all small businesses with employees remain open.

1. The latest figures show that small businesses create 75 percent of the net new jobs in our economy.

It’s true: Small business is the heart of the American economy, and it’s why I really do love small business owners.