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What Small Businesses Do When the Going Gets Tough

Tom Sullivan

Vice President, Small Business Policy, U.S. Chamber of Commerce

Small businesses are the backbone of our nation’s economy. From the fifth-generation owner of the manufacturing plant to the refugee turned entrepreneur to the owner of Waban Hardware, who inspired my love for small business as a child, these folks contribute to the national economy every day. They infuse money back into local economies and promote vibrant and diverse communities across the country. Yet they consistently need to overcome challenges. 

Through my work, I often meet with these creators and innovators, the ones keeping a family business alive or dreaming up a new way of life and opportunity. Businesses, no matter their type, size, or location, share many similar challenges. Their struggles are real, but so are their paths to success. Here are four ways they keep going. 

Find your tribe

I admire the hard work, grit, and can-do attitude of entrepreneurs. But I know they don’t and can’t do it alone. It takes a village, board, or tribe. Whatever you want to call it, small businesses need and are always looking for trusted and honest advice.

I am biased, but the first place to look may be your local or state chamber of commerce. Or consider national organizations like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce or trade-specific associations like the National Retail Federation and the National Association of Manufacturers.

When choosing your informal “board,” look for furrowed brows rather than constant head nodding — typically, constructive criticism is more helpful than praise. And then, meet in person as much as possible to build trust.

Focus on values

Hiring folks that share your company’s values gets you one step closer to having happy and fulfilled employees. 

It’s no secret that there’s currently a workforce shortage. But did you know that according to LinkedIn’s Workplace Culture report, 86 percent of millennials are willing to take a pay cut to work at a business that aligns with their values?  

Each of your employees is your brand. Happy employees and those that feel vested tend to stay longer and are better for your brand and bottom line. 

Know when to let go

One of the hardest things for a founder to do is to let go of the reins when the time comes for a different type of leader to manage the business. A key to success and growth is knowing when to allow vision and ideas take a back seat to operations and execution. Look to your “tribe” or informal “board” to help keep you honest and inform you when it’s time to give up the reins. 

Don’t think of it as letting go. Instead, see it as an opportunity to let your company grow.

Get involved

Often, small businesses feel too overwhelmed to get involved with political matters and policy debates. My advice is that they can’t afford not to be involved. I like to say that business owners can have a seat at the table or they can be on the menu. It’s a choice.

The most successful entrepreneurs I know are involved at the local, national, and sometimes global level. From making decisions on where to put a stop sign to national debates on minimum wage to global debates on climate change, there is a need for small businesses to share their views, experiences, and insights. 

Entrepreneurs are wired to solve problems, and this extends to policy where their voices help solve problems that will benefit their businesses, employees, and communities.

Small business owners have a distinct opportunity to tell lawmakers the impact their decisions in Washington have on Main Street. Get involved and do your part to ensure that the voice of small business and entrepreneurship is heard loud and clear in the crucial debates shaping the future of our country.

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