Characteristics of a Successful Small Business Owner

It’s the American dream.  Owning your own business.  Being your own boss.  Calling all the shots.  For me, business ownership has been one of the great adventures of my life.  It’s awesome!  But, it’s not for everyone.

Probably you all know a story of the greatest chef/clothing designer/carpenter who went into business for himself (or herself) but ultimately failed because he or she did not have a knack for handling the business end of things.  That’s not the issue I am addressing here.  You can learn business.  

What I am talking about is the personality type that lends itself to being a successful Small Business owner.  You can be a great business person, have an amazing idea, or be outstanding in your field and still fail as a business owner.  Listed below is my completely unscientific, self-composed list of characteristics needed for a Small Business owner.

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1.  A Small Business owner is comfortable with insecurity.   A lot of would-be business owners complain about the drone-like existence of cubical life.  Meetings on Monday, reports on Tuesday, projects on Wednesday, customer calls on Thursday, and payday(!) on Friday, followed by a weekend, then repeat.  Although this seems boring and dull, it is predictable…and stable.  All bets are off when you are on your own, especially in the beginning.  You have no certainty that you will have customers to call on or that payday will come.  In our state various legislation is being introduced and debated that will require Bottle Washer and I to completely rethink our business in ways we haven’t yet imagined.  Right at the same time our lease renews.  Talk about insecurity!  Unless you can be comfortable with a degree of uncertainty, you will never be able to relax as a Small Business owner.  

2.  A Small Business owner can deal with the unexpected.  Murphy must have had his own business, because his law, “If something can go wrong, it will” is like the subtitle of Small Business ownership.  If you are unable to react quickly when things don’t turn out as expected, then owning your own place isn’t for you.  Like this past week, for instance.  Bottle Washer and I have had a problem staffing up for our busy summer season for about seven years, resulting in us having to give away business to a competitor every summer.  Wow!  But, this spring we finally had a great crew lined up, until… of our key employees broke her hand playing soccer, which means she will not be able to handle a big segment of her job.  We had to quickly rethink our task allocation plans to be able to still capture that market share.  Mental flexibility is key in business ownership.

3.  A Small Business owner must be able to take responsibility:  I will never forget the first time I walked into our office and a customer was at the front desk giving one of my employees a hard time about a bill.  My first reaction was to slip past the awkward conversation and retreat to the safety of my office, thinking “Man, I sure am glad I wasn’t up front when she walked in.”  Whoa – wait a minute!  Suddenly I realized this was my responsibility.  The buck stops with me.  I couldn’t hide in the back while my hapless employee got reamed out for something that wasn’t even her fault.  I went back out there to address and resolve the situation.  Was it fun?  Not particularly, but when you are the owner you need to take responsibility for everything that happens at your place of business – the good and the bad.  (And, by the way, your employees will love and respect  you for it!)  A shirker has no business being in business.

4.  A Small Business owner is a timely decision maker: This one is the hardest for me.  I am a horrible decision maker.  I spend a lot of time gathering every bit of information that might possibly be relevant to the situation.  I conceive of all the possible outcomes for all the possible courses of action.  I make “Pro” and “Con” lists of  each of the options.  I obsess over which is the optimal choice.  I drive Bottle Washer crazy.  And I stall for so long that I frequently miss out on a great opportunity.  Bottle Washer is different.  He can assess a situation and make the best decision based on the information he has on hand.   Usually his decision is a good one.  Sometimes it’s not and we deal with the result.  This isn’t to say that you should make major decisions by the seat of your pants, but a business owner makes dozens of decisions every day, frequently without the luxury of knowing every single relevant piece of information.  There is a saying that says “Don’t let the perfect get in the way of the good.”  If you can’t confidently commit to an action without the assurance that it is the most perfect choice, then don’t quit your day job! (Or, get a good partner with this skill like I did!)

5.  A Small Business owner likes to work:  I saved the best for last.  Frequently when I go back to my home town and see old friends they make some sort of comment like, “Wow, Chief, having your own business – that must be great to have someone else do all the work.”  If they only knew.  Owning a Small Business is the most labor-intensive job there is.  My brother Dan is an engineer for a car manufacturer and well, you know those test tracks that they show on the commercials?  That’s what he does – wrench on cars and drive on test tracks all day.  Several of his mechanics have left The Company to start their own custom shops.  Dan loves cars, so I asked him why he didn’t do that.  He looked at me like I was on crazy pills.  “Are you kidding me?”  Dan asked.  “I would never go out on my own.  I hate to work.  I love coming home on Friday and knowing I have all weekend to do whatever I want.  All my friends with their own businesses work all the time.  They have no life.”  Uh, yeah.  So, if you want to hang out on the deck like Dan every weekend this summer,  maybe business ownership is not for you.

That’s my list of the five most important characteristics of Small Business ownership.  But these are only from my own experience.  What about you?  What personality characteristics have helped you be successful?

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