Small business owners: if you’ve been watching the Olympics, you may be getting the wrong message. I’m here to tell you that you’re already a winner, even if you never get the business equivalent of an Olympic gold medal.
For the past week, I’ve been mesmerized watching amazing athletes: Katie Ledecky making it look easy to break world swimming records. Sprinter Usain Bolt running faster than any man on earth and smiling while he does it. Those amazing, strong, fearless gymnasts, led by Simone Biles, who courageously twist and turn up in the air, risking lives and limb.
But one aspect of Olympic media coverage that always frustrates me is when a correspondent asks a silver or bronze medal winner if they’re disappointed since they didn’t win the gold.
Most of these fantastic athletes react the way American swimmer Nathan Adrian this year did when asked whether he was upset that he “only” got a bronze. He rightly looked surprised at the question, then, with an endearing grin from ear to ear, he reminded the correspondent that hey, he was at the Olympics and he won a medal. How great is that?
Watching the Olympics on TV, you’re left with the idea that if you don’t win gold, you haven’t accomplished anything. The media covers business much the same way they cover sports: whose stock is highest, whose company is being acquired for the most money, who has the biggest market share. It’s often viewed as a game, there’s one winner and lots of losers.
In real life, in real business — especially small business — there can be many winners, even if you’re not number one.
If you own a small business, you’re like the Olympic athlete who comes in 28th in dressage (an Equestrian event). You’re a hero to your friends and family, but no one else knows your accomplishments.
Smaller companies typically survive, even thrive, without being number one. Even if you’re the 25th most successful real estate agent in your community, the 16th biggest marketing firm in your industry, have the 42nd biggest hair salon in a big city, you can still be making a living and achieving a lot.
So if a small business owner is never going to get the “gold medal” what drives them?
* To be your own boss: Many people start businesses because they get tired of seeing management make stupid decisions, of working in companies where they have little influence, or where there’s little job security. Things may not always work out when you’re your own boss, but at least your mistakes are your own.
* To create something: It can be a new tool, a new software application, a better service for customers, but the drive to fill a need that is not being addressed is often a great entrepreneurial motivator.
* To do a better job: Nothing is more frustrating than working for a company that’s doing a lousy job. Knowing you could serve the market better — improve the product, give better service, cut costs, treat employees more fairly — is often a great motivator.
* To use a talent: Many entrepreneurs are driven by a desire to employ and expand their creative talents, whether starting a clothing company because they’re great at design, a restaurant because they love to cook, a custom cabinet company because they’re a skilled carpenter
* To have more time for family: In today’s world, it’s hard to balance the desire or need to spend time with your family and most jobs. By owning one’s own business, it may be possible to be more flexible with how you use your time.
* To create jobs: If you want to make the world a better place, one of the things you can do is create jobs for others. There’s justifiable pride in building a business that’s big enough to give other people work so they can feed their families, go to school, or pay their rent.
So if you’re willing to put up with the challenges of running a small business and you still manage to make a living and help others make a living too, then you’re already a gold medal winner.
Copyright, Rhonda Abrams, 2016
This article originally ran in USA Today on August 17, 2016