By Tom Dorr
Director of the Center for Economic Vitality
Owners of small businesses have one of the loneliest jobs in the world. As owners, they have no one to complain to, and they are constantly solving problems. It’s easy to get discouraged and frustrated with declining sales and escalating costs. Our current economy has tested even the most seasoned manager and owner. What worked a year or two ago doesn’t work today and it is easy to get discouraged and frustrated.
When something good does happen, it often gets overlooked because there are so many other things left to do and pressures to cope with. As an owner it is easy to get bogged down in those things that aren’t going well with your business and overlook or diminish the value of what is going well. I challenge you to not diminish your successes and victories, big or small. Celebrating these victories is important because it helps you keep perspective on those reasons you started the business, what your broader goals are and gives you a chance to recognize others. Celebrating generates positive energy, both physically and mentally, and translates to more successes. Everyone wants to be apart of a winning team, so show your employees that successes are important and that their contribution to these victories is appreciated.
John and Danielle have owned a parts manufacturing company here in Bellingham for more than eight years. Over the past two years they have lost market share and sales, and placed 18 of their 22 employees on Shared Work, an Employment Security program designed to support businesses to reduce labor hours without laying off employees completely.
John and Danielle had the typical challenges of most small business owners: cash flow management, cost containment, labor scheduling challenges, and declining sales. One day they got a call from one of their competitors wanting to talk to John and Danielle about purchasing their company. The CEV helped them through the process of evaluating the opportunity and getting clarity on what John and Danielle really wanted from their business. They were convinced that the economy was going to pick up, sales would improve and they would be able to keep 22 employees employed through these tough times and beyond.
It was important to them to consider their employees’ needs, as they had stuck by them through their growth stage and challenging times. They were clear that they couldn’t sell the company to a larger, impersonal company that is just focused on the bottom line. After numerous meetings, hours of thought and discussion, and many sleepless nights, it became clear that John and Danielle did not want to sell the company. John and Danielle felt a little down after spending so much time and effort investigating this opportunity and with little to show for their efforts.
However, there was a little victory that they were not seeing. John and Danielle had been working extremely hard for more than eight years; they did not realize how strong a reputation their company and products had in the industry. Their small victory was that they had been approached by a larger competitor to purchase their company. Someone who knew the market and industry felt their company had value and they wanted to buy it! What a great validation for all their hard work.
Here are some examples of victories I’ve seen around town recently. Most of these victories have been helped by the Center for Economic Vitality:
• Successful Saturday market vendor grows by expanding with new retail presence in downtown: After of years of creating a demand for their products by market goers, a group of business owners is opening a business based on their food products. Celebrate the victories!
• Manufacturer books more than $800,000 in sales in one month, a new record for the company. Celebrate the victories!
• Another manufacturer cuts labor costs 20 percent through the use of Shared Work: a parts manufacturer has turned challenges with cash flow and labor costs being excessively high into a positive by implementing the Employment Security Department’s Shared Work Program. This program has allowed the company to retain their entire trained workforce and generate positive cash flow and even profits during the recession. Celebrate the victories!
• New race track opens in Sumas: A world class race track has opened in Sumas, actualizing a dream of an international race kart manufacturer to bring events and entertainment experiences to Whatcom County. Celebrate the victories!
• Manufacturer of construction supply products has two month backlog of orders, while their competitors are closing their facilities. Celebrate the victories!
• Dry cleaner sells business, allowing owner to retire and pursue new interests: A family-owned dry cleaner sold their business after working for years to find the right buyer. Customers will continue to be serviced well and greeted with a smile. Celebrate the victories!
• Owner buys out partner: A distributorship was having ownership conflicts. One partner wanted to get out of the business while the other wanted to continue. After getting bank financing and developing a business plan, the one owner was able to buy out his partner and now controls 100% of the business. It was very difficult to see a 49-year-old relationship end. The transition wasn’t easy. However, the owner was able to accomplish his goal of purchasing the business and taking it into a new direction. Celebrate the victories!
• New employee hired: A local contractor was falling further and further behind in getting his bookkeeping done, bills paid, and financial statements generated. He became more and more frustrated until he hired an outside bookkeeper. He is now able to focus on what he does well. Celebrate the victories!
Other examples of little victories that should be acknowledged include: gaining a new customer, paying off old tax liabilities, meeting sales projections, finding a new vendor, gaining control of your inventory, getting a difficult customer to pay their outstanding bill, handling a tough personnel issue, positive customer feedback, earning a large tip, getting a loan, having the cash register balance at the end of the day, making a profit, or being able to pay yourself.
Some days just surviving is a victory.
Small business owners don’t take enough time to celebrate the little victories that happen each and every day. This month, make a commitment to yourself and to your company to celebrate and acknowledge the little victories in your business. If you have something you’d like to share, please email me. I’d love to hear it.