Anita Campbell, CEO, Small Business Trends, LLC, April 16, 2010
I'm Anita Campbell and I’m an Internet publisher. I publish information on the Internet, on the Web through a variety of different websites I’m probably best known for my flagship website which is Small Business Trends at smallbiztrends.com and that’s a site I’ve been publishing for about seven years now. We have a variety of other sites as well and we have an Internet Pod cast show too, every week, where we introduce small business owners or small business stakeholders in the small business market.
Answer: [00:00:50] I am very passionate about small business, that’s what I’m about. I chose that seven years ago when I decided to focus on publishing on the Internet and that’s what we spend our time on. We don’t get into anything else unless it’s got a connection with small business or entrepreneurship. I really consider entrepreneurship and small business to be pretty much interchangeable.
Answer: [00: 01:19] I think it’s so important today to be entrepreneurial in your attitude, no matter what type of role you have. Whether someone employs you or you work in government, whether you are self-employed or you run a small business. Whatever it is, I think that’s an attitude that flows through everything you do. What it says is that you take responsibility for your success or failure, you’re not looking for hand outs, you’re not looking for “bailouts” – that’s a term we hear a lot these days – it’s really just about saying, “I’m going to do what I’m going to do to control my existence and put myself out there and be as successful in a business context as I can be.” So, I think that’s what’s made America great and continues to make America great. When you have that attitude, you are willing to try new things, you are willing to innovate, and you don’t run scared, and that’s so critical. So, I think we all have to have that kind of attitude and I think there’s a lot of it going on. There’s really a “hidden” economy today of entrepreneurs who are working at a variety of different businesses that they have; and today we are lucky these businesses can be very small in footprint, but they are very big in their economic impact. It doesn’t have to do so much with jobs as it has to do with putting business in the stream of commerce; it’s about buying services, selling services, buying products, selling products, and those are the things that have an economic impact and I think we need to be thinking about doing this at all times as business people. And, like I said, that’s what makes America great! I think that’s the key to success in the business world for so many of us. So, no matter what you do, adopt that attitude. Take it as something that you’re going to approach life and your business that way.
Answer: [00:03:55] Well, the last seven years on the Internet have been a sea change if you will. I can’t emphasize enough the importance social media has had on what we do. People talk about this a lot, there’s a lot of hyping going on, and people are enthralled with it, but you know what? Even if you strip that out, it’s still extremely important. What it has done is it’s opened us up to broader networks, broader connections across the world and it’s let us move away from being stuck to geography. Even if we have primarily a local business, we can make connections, develop business partnerships, and get clients and customers from a distance. It used to be that small businesses followed a pretty certain approach to growth. You would start out locally, and then once you got a foothold and some success there, you might expand regionally, and the you would get success there, and then when you were really successful you would go national and then international. Well, now you see a single person business leapfrogging all of that and going international from day one; literally, that’s possible today. You have various stages of leap frogging going on and you can do that today because of telecommunications being inexpensive, shipping and mailing being inexpensive, the world just gets smaller as the Internet and the Web and all of these communication vehicles make it smaller and allow us to connect in different ways. I think social media has really loosened us up. It’s made us freer about reaching out and connecting with people even if we haven’t met them. Now, I know more people I’ve never met I think, than people I have met in my business. I certainly have connections. I feel close to them because I’m communicating with them, I’m hearing what they say, I’m learning from them and sharing information back and forth; and, I think we can all do that. I don’t really care what kind of business you’re in, you can do that today and you may not even understand the significance of the connections you’re making at first, but, over time, you’re going to have the potential to grow that relationship or find a way for that connection to be directly beneficial. Maybe it’s beneficial now because you’re learning from that person and you’re gaining a broader understanding of the world; but, it’s possible at some point in the future it’s possible that that connection will be directly beneficial to your business and could lead to opportunities: you could end up working for someone, or they become a client of yours, or vise versa. So, that’s probably the biggest change: social media and communications!
Question: What do you see for the future?
Answer: [00:07:25] I see that there are more and more opportunities for small businesses and entrepreneurs, including opportunities for my business. I speak with so many people who say, “I have so many opportunities. It’s just a question of picking which ones to go after.” Especially when you are hearing this constant refrain of negative economic news. You turn on the television and everybody’s talking about recession, recession, and recession. After a while, it can really drag you down and starts to make you assume everything’s going to be bad or that you’re just not going to have good sales no matter what. The reality is, there are businesses out there that have done really well even during this recession. There are those who have not done very well either. It’s very hard to generalize, and you don’t want to generalize, because you do have people in these varying positions. I think there are a lot of opportunities out there, I think that enterprising entrepreneurs and small businesses will focus on niches and look at a narrow niche that is not being filled today. So, instead of thinking about a very broad market, let’s say you are in the business of selling knitting supplies and yarn. So, rather than trying to sell everything that Wal-Mart sells in a very broad sense, picking a niche where you can focus in on perhaps luxury yarns or unique yarns, or organic yarn; and also creating a community around your business so that it’s an experience for your customers to come and buy from you and so it’s not just a matter of them buying on price, they going to come to you because they enjoy this community and you’re sharing your knowledge so they’re going to learn from you, so they get this benefit over and above the goods themselves. That’s how small businesses and entrepreneurs are competing and some of them are competing very, very well because of doing that. So, I see a lot of opportunities, but I also think it takes creativity and it takes observation, it takes resourcefulness to spot these niches and decide you’re going to go after them and figure out what you’re customers really value from you and it may not be the thing that you sell. They may value that sense of community or the informational and educational resources that they get from you or the fact that you have exactly the sort of thing they like that they can’t really get from a Wal-Mart because you focus on the niche.
Question: What category of the Innovation Framework do you primarily invest your time and attention? Brainpower? Networks? Quality, Connected Place? Dialogue and Inclusion? Or Branding Stories?
Answer: Innovation and Entrepreneurial Networks
[00:10:44] I spend a lot of time looking at trends as they relate to small businesses and entrepreneurs. We’re looking at them from an anecdotal standpoint and just from a sense of listening to faint signals: what’s going on out there, what is changing, and things that don’t always get picked up in official government statistics, for example. As a result, I tend to spend the majority of my time dealing with networks of entrepreneurs and small business owners, managers, and leaders, of one kind or another. There is a lot of sharing going on, a lot of networks among entrepreneurs and small businesses in a large part, because, when you work in a small business you don’t have a lot of people around you that you can draw on as you might have in a large corporate setting, and so you tend to look externally a lot for education, for information, for identifying resources or vendors, for moral support, and just for social ability, and particularly for small businesses and entrepreneurs who work out of their homes and there are so many of those today. By one set of figures, 12 million, other estimates have it higher than that but it’s in the millions, in the double digits of millions. So, that’s a lot of people who are working in a very isolated setting and I think that’s in part why social networking and social media have caught on because it’s a way to reach out even though you are working by yourself, like I am in a small corner here, but I feel I’m reaching out to the entire world because I have my Internet, I have Skype, I have my cell phone, I have a variety of ways to reach out and I see that a lot with small businesses. We tend to look at these networks, we participate in them, we’re in the midst of them, and we see them going on. Some of them are geographic, and some not necessarily; but even the geographic networks, we all tend to reach out to others. So, for instance, there is a fairly well known, well, I wouldn’t say ‘well known’ is not the right word, but a fairly well developed network of entrepreneurs and small business owners in Northeast Ohio. We communicate with one another, and we support one another, we show up at events and we see the same people. Those of us who are big into social media, or the Internet, or the Internet publishing ones, or we see each other on line, and we’re in the same circles there and we support and help one another because we feel like it’s kind of like us against the big institutions, so we’ve got to support one another, we can’t necessarily expect big companies who are necessarily going to be in a position to help and support us, so why shouldn’t we help one another? A lot of that goes on, but also outside of those geographic networks, you find that we know people across the country, across the world, we’re communication with them, we’re introducing one another. So, let me give you a concrete example: I attended a conference in Columbus this past weekend, and as it turns out there were several people from Northeast Ohio who were there, it was a pet Bloggers conference and even though I’m not a pet Blogger, I was asked to moderate a panel on monetizing blogs and websites. It was so interesting to see how many people from Northeast Ohio were there along with people from across the world and what the connections were, how we knew one another. We might know each other from Northeast Ohio, but we also know this person from Silicon Valley, or this person from Colorado, or this person from Florida and we’re connecting back and forth. Those kinds of networks are so important and it’s like this whole other world that goes on and I’m not sure it’s really captured in official statistics or even economic development reports and monitoring. It’s all beneath the radar, but these are very strong networks of connection that go on and we help on another. It was interesting that someone said to me, “You know, there’s a pretty well developed group of well known Bloggers and social media people from Cleveland, isn’t there?” And I said, “Yes, there are!” They said, “I wonder why that is?” I said part of that is we connect and we support and help one another and I think that has a lot to do with it. So, I think those networks among entrepreneurs and how we share ideas and how we support and help one another, I think that’s so, so critical.
Question: What secondary categories are you interested in?
I would say the second network is probably more of a Brainpower network in that there is a lot of innovating that goes on between small businesses and entrepreneurs. If you look at some of the technology that’s out there to, in certain areas, it’s actually being driven by the small business market before the larger corporate market jumps on it and that was very different a couple of decades ago. Technology used to be so expensive that it always started from government or very large corporations and then only after a period of time would it become inexpensive enough that it could be scaled down, maybe a ‘lite’ version made for the small business market. It was very complex, it was very expensive, very difficult to implement, and I think unfortunately small businesses got the unfair reputation of being technology averse. But I think that’s changed dramatically now and I see small businesses and entrepreneurs at the forefront of leading a lot of this technology. Small businesses were on Twitter and Facebook and blogs and taking advantage of them well before the Fortune 500 were to a large degree. I think you see that with a lot of the software as a service applications that are out there. A lot of them are geared toward the small business market and small businesses are out there…you take something like Skype, it started out as a consumer thing and then small businesses started using it and you know I think there have more use of that by small businesses than certainly consumers than by large corporations. So, you see a lot of this innovation taking place at an entrepreneurial level. It often doesn’t get much credit, it’s like Roger Dangerfield, it gets no respect! Because small businesses and entrepreneurs tend not to use big words like, “innovation” that sounds like too big a word. And actually there was a study done on this, the Intuit Small Business Report series looked at this and found there was a lot of innovation going on but it tended to be described as if it was like no big deal, like tweaking, we “tweaked this”. Or, we had a problem so we did this to solve it. It was actually a very innovative type of solution going on but the business people implementing these just thought it was like part of what they did everyday. It was matter of fact, nothing big about it. A lot of this innovation is going on all the time in small businesses, very, very exciting but it’s just not, I don’t think it’s spoken about in the big “awe” filled terms like, “innovation”. But it is! It may be “tweaking” but it’s really innovation!
Question: Which category would you like to collaborate with next?
[00:20:05] Well, another area I do focus on is branding. And had you asked me ten years ago if branding was an important issue for small businesses and entrepreneurs I would have said, “Well, yeah, it’s important except that most of us can’t afford a branding campaign so it’s really out of reach.” But I think that’s one of those things that has dramatically changed again because of the Web and because of social media taking hold and opening up world’s and doors for us and I think also because the cost of technology has just come down and there’s a whole do-it-yourself marketing movement, actually a bigger do it yourself type of tools movement going on. It’s huge in the world of small business. I can’t emphasize enough how important that do-it-yourself tools approach is. If somebody were to invest in something that could impact small businesses greatly, it would be in providing more and better tools, those do-it-yourself tools. So, I’m thinking everything from you go on the Internet and you can order a logo to be created inexpensively, or you can even in some cases use a tool that is interactive tool on a website and create a logo for $99.00 dollars (US) or a couple hundred dollars. Well, ten, twenty years ago, creation is very, very expensive – well, now you can create multiple logos for different products, for different websites, it’s not nearly the barrier it once was. It’s very easy to create do-it-yourself websites, blogs, any manner of tools landing pages; you can create banner ads very inexpensively. Beyond that, you can get brand visibility in social media like nobody’s business. I mean, if you just choose your screen names appropriately for a Twitter dot come account or a Facebook account and you upload your logo, every time someone interacts they are getting reinforcement of your brand. So, I like to say today, it’s like with social media and the Internet, you’re in a twenty-four seven branding campaign as a small business and it’s costing a fraction of what it might have cost ten, twenty, thirty years ago. So, suddenly, small businesses can create brand and they can reinforce brand and they can grow brand without going bankrupt in the process! So, I am very excited by that and I spend a lot of time on that and there’s a lot of interest in that topic too, just judging from people who come to my websites to read about or they share their own blog posts, they are spending a lot of time on whether they call it branding or not it really is about creating that presence, that strong presence that they can use for marketing on line. I think it’s huge in the world of small businesses. Huge.
C. TOPIC – Strategic Doing
Answer: [00:28:21] I’ll give you a perfect example: if you are someone who starts a business, let’s say you start a consulting business, and you might be working out of your home, you haven’t bothered even to incorporate, you haven’t created an LLC, you’re just a sole proprietor, but I mean you could be doing really well. And then you may be subcontracting work to other consultants, to a variety of them, actually quite a lot of them. And you need products and services for your business and you’re going out and buying all sorts of things, you’re hiring a web designer to create a website for you and a corporate identity package and getting a logo done and you’re buying software you’re buying Quick Books and Internet software and you’ve got email software and you’ve got all these things that you’re creating and then you’re investing in other things, you’re investing in computer hardware, you’re going out to trade shows and maybe even doing some exhibiting, and on and on and on. My point is that you can be this single person business working out of your home and who’s not even incorporated and putting hundreds of thousands of dollars into the economy well worth a number of jobs, but none of this really gets captured very well. And that’s where I think the big companies are selling to the small business market. You see, they’ve figured this out they know it could be a sole proprietor, people spend money on this and it has nothing to do with the number of jobs. So, I do tend to focus a lot on looking at that type of thing that’s going on out there, that type of way of operating is, I think is, really quite common, but it’s not captured in official statistics and I would like to see more attention put on this too. I would like to see people take a bigger view of the value of entrepreneurship. And, it’s not about high growth companies either, a lot of this is being done by individuals working out of their homes who are doing quite well, thank you very much!
C. TOPIC – Strategic Doing
Question: Collaborative Leadership
Answer: [00:30:42] Well, I definitely participate in collaborative leadership. You there are a lot of ad hoc teams that get created among entrepreneurs and small businesses and you can be involved in dozens at any given time and a lot of this collaboration is happening via email and phone and maybe through some document collaboration over the Internet, but a lot of it is going on. I find that small businesses and entrepreneurs who partner tend to get farther, we are stronger when we stand together and that is why that collaboration is so critically important, but I think it tends to be more ad hoc, more less well defined than what you might see in a more traditional corporate setting or a university setting where you might have people with defined titles and defined departments and defined roles doing things; whereas I think entrepreneurs are much more fluid and moving in and out of this and you might be together working, collaborating for a short while and then not collaborate with them again because you just wanted to work on a particular project or you just wanted to get something done. It could be something as simple as, we see a lot of people coming together for conferences, small business conferences, and so while you are organizing that conference and the speakers are coming together and there’s a lot of collaboration until you get the conference done and then it’s over and done with. Or, you see that a lot when it comes to participating in guest blogging, or something like that on line. You have a little team and you’re collaborating on something and when it’s over, it’s over. Or, it may happen from time to time but it’s just the very loose type of working together. I think it suits small businesses very well; it’s just a really powerful way of expanding your reach as a small business. I urge every small business entrepreneur to find someone to partner with even if it’s just very loosely, you don’t have to be an official legal partner, but get together on some things because it’s tough when you’re the sole person out there. You can’t accomplish that much because you’re limited in the amount of time you can spend on things, you don’t have enough mind share, you probably don’t have all the skills that you need to accomplish everything, so the more you can communicate and work with others, collaborate on these loose partnerships here and there, the more you can get done, the bigger footprint you can have in the world, the better branding you can have, the more well known you become.
C. TOPIC –Strategic Doing
Question: Information Sharing
Answer: [00:34:02] For the type of information I share, I would freely share of my knowledge with others, I would certainly share of pointing out resources, and I would even provide resources. If it’s a matter of a presentation I’ve done or something like that I’ve been very much known to say, “Hey, feel free to use it”; if you can use it, download it and just give credit where credit is due, but if you can use this and put it to great use, I’ll be very happy to have you do that. I think there is a lot of that collaboration and sharing going on today even among those who might be considered competitors. I mean if you would look at what I do, you could say every one of the millions of small businesses out there writing a blog are a competitor of mine, but I don’t view it that way. I view it as, we’re all in this boat together, we’re sharing information and we need to share information. That said, I do think it makes a great deal of sense for small businesses to think about what they’re revealing in this world of social media. You can be too open. You can be too open in the sense of signaling to your competitors things that you really should, that have to do with the way you run your business, and those are things that as business people, we should keep to ourselves because we work hard to create our business. Why do you want to tell the world everything about how you run your business or everything there is to know about your business? That doesn’t mean you’re at odds with anybody, it just means, know where the line is; and know that, sure you can help someone, but there are some things, you know there are statistics about your business, about your business performance better kept internal. If you have proprietary know how about how you accomplish your business, some specific business processes that you’ve developed through a lot of blood, sweat and tears, and probably a lot of pain and money that you’ve spent and time that you’ve spent, that is the essence of your competitive edge and shouldn’t be revealed, shouldn’t be revealed easily, so just know where to draw that line. I’d also say, personally, way too many people are revealing way too many personal things out there on the Internet. And it’s everything from revealing your birth date, which you never want to reveal your birth date because it can be used for identity theft and certainly not your social security number. But, it’s other things too; it’s bad behavior that we just sort of put out on a clothesline like we’re hanging clothes to dry. Just because you can say something negative or whine and complain on a social media site, doesn’t mean you should. You have to think about what is that saying about you as a small business, a small business owner, as a professional, as an entrepreneur? I’ve even seen people complaining about clients on social media sites and I’m thinking, “Why in the world would you want to do that, because if I’m a client, even if you’re not naming the client, I’m going to be sitting there wondering, “Are you complaining about me?” So, I would just say we have to all step back and think about how much are we really revealing here and some things are “too much information” – “TMI” – don’t reveal them.
C. TOPIC – Strategic Doing
What networks are you building? Why? How?
What is your criteria for mapping knowledge networks?
What criteria do you use to identify best practices in those networks?
Answer: [00:38:06] Well, there are people who I’ve been connected to who I really enjoy being connected to, and social media has for a large part been responsible for opening that up. That has included people at big companies who provide products and services so that what it does is it gives you a chance to give them a little feedback so that hopefully they can improve their product to serve you better. I think that’s great. I also think that some government officials, lawmakers, being on line and involved in social media helped a lot because now they can hear first hand. I would like to see more, I would like to see policy makers who deal with small businesses, instead of talking at small businesses, instead of using phrases that are global and all encompassing, to say, all small businesses do this or are in that vote, to actually talk with small businesses and make a better attempt to understand that there are differences, you know, we are not some homogeneous whole I the world of small businesses, we are not all the same, we don’t have all the same backgrounds, we don’t think the same about every issue, we have different circumstances. So, I’d like to connect more with policy makers in an attempt to have them understand that. It becomes kind of annoying for small business owners that you’ve seen conferences or I’ve seen video interviews on TV and they’re talking about small businesses and it’s all, like, bureaucrats talking and there’s not a small business person to be seen anywhere, you know, within 10,000 yards of this and nobody is actually talking with people who matter most. I would like to connect more with that; I would like to see more connections that way back and forth. Don’t talk at, but talk with and really understand and understand the differences, and make these various distinctions among small businesses. And not assume everybody’s in the same boat. A perfect example is the financing. Supposedly, we have a credit crisis and it’s just terrible for small businesses. Well, what I would say is, the evidence is, there’s a percentage of small businesses who need financing, but it’s not by any means all of small businesses. So, to lump us all in and assume that all we need is another Federal loan program or something like that, and everything will be fine and dandy. It’s not even on the radar screen of 80% of small businesses. The rest of us are worried about getting customers. We’re not worried about getting loans and going into debt. There are that percentage that need that money, they need it to stay in business and definitely things should be done for them but let’s not assume everybody’s in the same boat and I feel that’s just a lack of understanding and a lack of communication back and for the with policy makers when I hear things that suggest they don’t really realize that this isn’t affecting the whole population, it’s affecting a certain portion – yes, deal with it – but don’t assume that that’s going to satisfy everyone or that that addresses what everyone else needs to have addressed. So, I would just like to see a lot more of that connection going on back and forth with the people who are making decisions, you know have the ability to put in place programs, and a little less emphasis on loans and the high growth businesses everybody wants to focus on and more emphasis on the everyday small business, the one that’s out there really getting stuff done and is really buying and selling in the stream of commerce and is making things happen. For that group, there’s a dearth of support and assistance to you know too much focus on the small niches and not enough on what the core group really needs. I would love to see more of that connecting going on and really listening back and forth.
Q: Who would you like to be connected to who you are not?
Answer: [00:43:09] The networks that I focus on are the networks of other entrepreneurs and small businesses and I think those work really well, I think we’ve figured out how to get together with one another to communicate and we find common interests and through those common interests we make connections and I think that’s really been beneficial. I’d like to see more of the networks going on with policy makers and perhaps with like, Senators, those who are in charge of keeping the statistics so that we get a really good view of what small businesses look like, you know, what would really support small businesses? I would like to see more, one thing that I don’t see a lot of tools out there and support for people who are working remotely. There’s a lot of talk about remote workers and among the small business and entrepreneurial population, there’s a lot of that going on. And while we have more tools than ever, we still don’t really have really good tools when it comes to some things. Video conferencing and so on, I think, is still not as advanced as it needs to be. I think that the email, we tend to do a lot of our business in email and it’s a terrible, inefficient way to do business, nobody’s really never come with a good substitute for, you know, I mean I run my entire business out of email and it just drives me nuts. It’s just driving me wild and it’s a terrible way to run your business, through email. There are no real systems in place that are kind of plug and play for small businesses to drop in to their systems to be able to do things. I think networks of local resources; sometimes finding local resources is harder than finding national level resources because at a national level they tend to show up in the search engines better. It’s hard to find resources at a local level that show up and because they tend to be resources that one group or another group does, there isn’t a lot of play back and forth. So, I’ll give you an example: I know that there are let’s say like local grant programs to help small businesses like the Civic Innovation Lab, is one example here in the Cleveland area, but I run across so many people who don’t know about these programs and it’s hard to find information. I know they’re out there; I know they’re attempting; I’m not saying they’re not trying to be known or anything. It’s just if you’re sitting in your office and you’re an entrepreneur and you work every day in this office in your home or in a small office in your local community, you may not have any way of knowing that there is such a thing out there or that there may be other things like that out there, or foundations that are willing to support a particular endeavor. So, I think it’s harder to find out about the local resources and I wish there were better ways to find that out, central places to do this.
C. TOPIC – Strategic Doing
Questions: Align for Enterprise
What is the next enterprise opportunity that you see? Why?
How much time would you like to spend on this opportunity, from idea to execution?
Whose insights and guidance do you/would you engage?
What benchmarks and measurements do you use in your work?
Answer: [00:47:17] So, the next frontier! I’m committed to online Internet publishing. I think it is getting harder in one sense but I think there are other opportunities. It’s harder in the sense, a couple things are happening: one, more people are publishing on line. If you just look at blogs for example and how much content is shared on video, on social media sites, a lot more of that today than ever before and certainly more than when I first started out. Also, there are some big companies that have gotten very good with technology, scraping content or they actually get people to create content for ridiculously low amounts of money and it is very generic content but it’s ‘made for search engines’ content, I like to say, and so you’re competing against that. So, that’s kind of the challenge, but I think the opportunities are that if you stay out there and you stick with it, if you are persistent and you work at it you can develop a foothold that you can grow from and once you have developed a core following, a community, if you will, you can grow that and you can build on that. So, that’s what I plan to do, is to build on what I have done. So, one of the things I did was I bought a website last year to add to my portfolio called “BizSugar” and with BizSugar it’s a different approach from Small Business Trends. It’s a way for people to share their own content in one site, in one web site. It expands the reach to be able to serve those who might not necessarily want to read all the content that is on Small Business Trends but they want to share with the world or find other sources of content. They can do that at a site like BizSugar. So, we are always looking for other opportunities we can go after all related to small business information, entrepreneurial information, but ways to grow and to grow our reach. We also think about content as not just being on our own websites but as content we put out there in feeds and that is available at social media outposts around the web, so when I go on Twitter, I use that as publishing information and just have that be really short information, 140 characters, but it’s putting information out there and it’s also building networks and connecting. So, I just see building off of what’s already there is the biggest strength that entrepreneurs and small businesses have is, what they know and what they do now. I strongly believe that if you focus on what you know and what you do now, that’s an asset you can build on and you don’t need to go off on something completely different. Even if you’re not where you want to be today with that, you can build on that, you have something to build off of you’re farther ahead than a start-up that’s just starting out today because you already have something in place. I view the world being a place full of opportunities and the only limitations often are my own thinking so, I try to stay very positive, very glass half full because I find I’m able to be more receptive to the opportunities, spot them and go after them.
Q: Whose insights guide you in your work?
Answer: [00:51:45] So, I look at the world as whole to identify insights, information, whatever I can learn. I do a lot of reading on the Internet. I just think it’s wonderful because there’s just so much information there. But, I must say, I also get a lot from reading books. We actually have a feature on Small Business Trends where we every weekend do at least one business book review, small business book, or something that appeals to small businesses. Some weekends we even do two, and we have even done the awards now, two years in a row, or best Small Business Books. It is all focused on books for entrepreneurs, small business leaders, and managers. Just a few of the books that have had an impact on me recently, Scott Belsky’s, “Making Ideas Happen”, this is about, how do you innovate? How do you take that idea and turn it into something that is, you know, that actually happens? So that it doesn’t stay locked up here, but it actually turns into something you can realize. In the business world that means something that you can sell and make money off of and so that is a key one. I’ve always been really big in building on what small businesses do, so my friend John Jantsch just came out with, “The Referral Engine” and this is about, how do you get referrals from other businesses and it’s so important in the world of small businesses because you look at survey after survey and you find that most small businesses get the majority of their business from referrals from existing customers, past customers, friends, and colleagues. In the world of small business that’s huge and think that that is a very big point of difference with larger businesses that you have so much of such great proportion on getting business from people and from connections, and relationships. So, there is a lot to be learned in that type of book. I’ve also been really big on small businesses learning to do better and learning to run our businesses better. This is an area where more could be done. There are a lot more resources that could be provided, more systems and tools that could be provided. When you look at what’s available out there to help small businesses, well, first of all, we are very fortunate that we have more than we’ve ever had before. But if you look at, probably 80% of it is focused on starting business. There’s an over weighted amount of information that’s all on the process of starting a business and getting it off the ground. I think that’s great but I think where the real impact can come from taking the existing small businesses that are out there that are maybe just getting by, they’re doing okay but maybe the quality of life is horrible for the business owner because they are working way too many hours and things are harder to accomplish than they need to be. I would like to see a lot more effort put on tools and resources to help the existing business that has maybe been out there for five years, ten years and maybe has a million or five million in revenue but maybe needs to know how to get to that next level and needs to be more than the business owner worrying about whether they’re going to make payroll this month because all the customers have paid on time and worrying what’s going to happen if some big customer doesn’t pay on time. That’s a real reality for many small businesses and very few resources are placed on that type of help and that type of situation.
Answer: [00:56:42] There have been some great books in the last year or two written to help the business owner who is much more of an existing business owner, to get to that next level and have a quality of life where they can enjoy life a little bit and all of the hard work that they’ve put in comes to fruition before it’s time to retire, and also that they can do better for their employees. Before I tell you about two of the books I want to point out, I will say that the Guardian Life Insurance has done an interesting index called the “What Matters Most Index” about small businesses. What they attempt to measure is emotionally what matters to small business owners, and it turns our what matters most to a business owner in an existing business is pretty different from what an entrepreneur is motivated by. So, the entrepreneur tends to be motivated by, “It’s all about me, I want freedom, I want to build this business, I have a vision.” And those things don’t go away, but they tend to take more of a back seat as the business grows. What becomes important for the business owner is satisfying my customers, that my customers appreciate me, that we do a good job for our customers, that we do something for our employees, that we’re positively impacting employees and others, not just employees but business partners and the community. And so, it becomes much more about caring for others. I think that’s another element, there’s a psychic satisfaction, an emotional satisfaction that comes from being a business owner and knowing that you have the potential to positively impact other people, employees, and others, and their families in a very positive way and there’s a sense of responsibility that comes with that. But, what tends to happen is the sense of responsibility tends to weigh and if you’re too busy working in your business and can’t step back to work on your business, you get into a vicious cycle. You’re spending long hours just trying to keep things a float, you can’t step back and do what it takes to grow the business and do even more for your community, your customers, your employees. And so, there are a couple of books that I found particularly helpful among this crop of books geared toward the existing business owner and one of them is, “Built to Sell” by John Warrillow and this is kind of parable, if you will, it’s a book that is about a business owner who wants to sell his business but he can’t really sell it because it’s really just him. He has employees but it’s not the kind of ongoing enterprise. It follows his journey as he turns it into the type of enterprise that has value over and above his daily toil and that a buyer would appreciate. And another one is, “The Highest Calling” and this one had a really important impact on me and this is by Larry Janesky, the CEO of Basement Systems, which is a $60 million company he built from scratch. The Highest Calling is again, it’s a parable, a novel, but it has business lessons and it really should be viewed as a business book about an existing contractor, home contractor, and his growth to develop his business to the point where it is much bigger, more stable business, and he doesn’t have to have the worry everyday of whether the business is going to stay afloat or that he can’t rely on his people or whatever it is. The reason I spent this time talking about these books is because right now these are some of the few resources out there for the existing business owner who is trying to get ahead. You have a few organizations like the Young Entrepreneur or the Young President’s Organization and so on, but there are not a lot of organizations that really give you that kind of help that will help you overcome the challenges, the very difficult challenges that you have today. I’d love to see more resources on that, more attention focused on that. That is what I am drawn to as I grow my business, I look to books they seem to be one of the best sources for getting some of that information and I get ideas from them of things I can change, what I can improve, and of course I draw on people I know and people I come in contact with through my networks, it’s very important.
C. TOPIC – Strategic Doing
Questions: Execute and Educate
What next steps do you envision to pro-actively respond to the powerful topics affecting communities and their regions, such as: climate change, green job creation, water, land, energy, technology, and health care?
How do you/could you pro-actively participate in innovative education, economic and workforce development?
How will your research/business serve the sustainability of communities and their regions 50 years from now?
Question: What next steps do you envision to pro-actively respond in education, economic and workforce development?
Answer: [01:06:10] My dream is to do some research on the types of issues I’ve been talking about here today about small businesses. I’m really focusing in on things like, what is the value of a small business at a certain stage of its life to the stream of commerce? How much are they actually putting in the stream of commerce according to the products and services that they buy? Also, trying to get a better handle on the number of small businesses out there at early stages, the start-ups. I fear our U.S. Census Bureau does not do a very good job. I’ve seen things where they’ve been very dismissive with “Well, a lot of these sole proprietor’s are just hobbies.” Or, part time enterprises. I don’t even know where to begin to tear apart those statements and just the assumptions inherent in that that are not supported by fact. I just think it shows a not very good understanding of what the real situation is for entrepreneurs today and how people make money. It may have a very different look from what someone at the Census Bureau thinks but it’s probably not about starting a manufacturing business its probably about dealing in information in ways that may seem very nebulous and hard to pin down but they could be, they’re substantial businesses out there that deal with information. Just think of Google. If Google were a small business trying to explain itself to the Census Bureau, it’d probably be dismissed as a hobby, instead of the behemoth it’s become, the most profitable business ever, on the planet. I just would like to see perhaps more research done to truly understand the circumstances and the impact of entrepreneurs and small businesses, that I don’t feel is being captured. It’s not about how many jobs they create; let’s get off of that. There’s more impact to the economy than just the number of jobs, not that that’s not important, but it’s only one facet of how small businesses contribute to the economy.
Question: How will your research/business serve the sustainability of communities and their regions 50 years from now?
Answer: [01:08:55] I think fifty years from now, businesses, small businesses will still have a key role to play in communities we will always have that entrepreneurs won’t look very different; I can’t predict exactly how they’re going to look. If you look at what’s happened, not everything turns into a large corporation. And in fact large corporations go through these processes where they shed, kind of like a snake shedding it’s skin, and maybe they divide up and become smaller entities in some cases, but even in large corporations they do a lot of hiring of entrepreneurial people and roles begin to get very narrow and you need specialists in certain areas and I think there will be these needs for this. What I really would like to see is a community like the Cleveland area develop expertise in certain areas and actually recognize that expertise and not bad mouth about itself. One of the disappointing things is when leaders talk in negative ways about how awful things are here and I sometimes sit back and think, “Are we in the same community?” “Is it really that bad?” Every place has problems and every place has things that are not great about it and I’ve traveled enough to see them. This area has a lot of things to recommend. We should see the good in the area and really appreciate what we have to offer in terms of technology that’s here, in terms of the vibrant entrepreneurial spirit that is in this area and just the whole expertise that we have, the knowledge that we all have, it’s phenomenal. We’ll still be contributing as entrepreneurs and small businesses and it’s going to be exciting, fifty years from now, one hundred years from now, two hundred years from now.
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