This past week I had the privilege of traveling with my parents. We spent significant time in the car, just the three of us. Or, should I say, just the four of us. My parents have owned a small business in New Jersey for thirty-seven years. As all children of entrepreneurs know, the business is a full-fledged sibling.
We romanticize small business ownership as a life of freedom to be one’s own boss, make one’s own decisions and set one’s own priorities. Owners are entrepreneurs, driving our local economies, providing jobs and creating wealth. And all that can be true.
Entrepreneurs are a special breed. They fuel growth, innovate and drive our country’s prosperity. Entrepreneurs make something out of next to nothing, using whatever capital they can get their hands on to fund an idea. They risk everything. Sometimes they fail. Sometimes they change the world.
Sometimes – with the right combination of work ethic and luck – they eke out just enough money to raise a family and pay their bills. That is when everything goes well. Sometimes things don’t go so well. Daily “crises” lurk around every corner, putting the owner’s family at risk.
Most independents think about their businesses 24/7. Not because they are obsessive control freaks. Rather, they know that so much is outside their control. Over time, all good owners develop a hawkish eye and taut reflexes, able to spring into action immediately to solve whatever problem arises.
No matter how well you plan or how terrific your employees are, something unexpected will happen. Every day. You need constant vigilance to spot and solve the relentless stream of issues. At the same time, you watch for long term trends that could impact the entire business model.
Small independent operators are called “mom and pop” shops. This past week reminded me why: my parents are mom and pop to a business. As parents, they live each day just a bit on edge. They nurture, guide, feed, discipline, obsess, comfort, celebrate and hope.
And they take the business on road trips because, after all, it is one of the family.