John Koten, the Editor of the always helpful Inc. Magazine, has just brought up a wonderful set of questions in his Editor's Letter in the May 2005 issue.
John writes, "Obviously there's nothing wrong with small businesses per se. I just don't like the label. 'Small business' is diminutive. It's belittling. It understates the vast creativity and importance of the American entrepreneurial economy. Worse, when the economy is divided into big and small, it becomes dangerously easy to dismiss the concerns of the very businesses we ought to be paying the most attention to - in everything from crafting the case studies taught in business schools to drafting important pieces of federal legislation."
I've always loved the way John focuses his writing. He's right, of course. Yet when I'm around a bunch of people, in or out of business, and the subject comes up of what we all do for a living, I end up saying something like, "I help run a small business." What follows is usually close to pity. The unstated impression of what they seem to want to say is..., "Gosh, sure hope you can work that into a big business or a real job someday."
Big business? Small business? In the end I think the measure of a business should include the quality of life these businesses generate for the folks working with them. I'm just as tired after our 18-hour days as someone in a "big" business, but probably a lot more fulfilled by it. I'm just as elated over battles won.
John Koten's topic of labeling is important beyond what we all probably understand. In a cool new book by the writer Malcom Gladwell called " Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking," Gladwell posits how enduring and powerful first impressions are. The term small business does set a pejorative tone that doesn't really reflect our perspectives from the inside of these enterprises.
Look, I don't want people to think of all small business people as automatic heroes or titans either. We're just doing our jobs in the way we're called to. Some are great; some are idiots.
John Koten closes his Inc. editorial this way..., "Size does matter, but it's not all about revenue and capital formation. Sometimes what matters most is the size of an entrepreneur's dream."
If control over your time and efforts matters, if quality of life issues have a place in the definition, the next time I'm asked what I do for a living I might just answer that I help run one the coolest businesses they never heard of.
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