Are you the Scrooge in your small business? Remember “A Christmas Carol”—Charles Dickens’ tale of a miserly business owner visited by the ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future. Let’s imagine the story with a contemporary small business owner who’s a stingy Scrooge.
It’s a blustery Christmas Eve, and you’re Ebby Scrooge, a small business owner, who’s closing up shop. You remember past Christmas Eves spent with your business partner, Jacob Marley, and your wives, but Marley died seven years ago pulling a heavy safe from his burning home.
At home, all alone, you pour yourself a scotch, and quickly fall asleep. The sound of clanging wakes you, and you see your business partner, Marley, chained to his soot-covered safe.
Startled, you knock your glass onto the floor. “Look what you made me do, Jacob! That was Glenfidditch!”
“I see you’re still a jerk, Ebby,” says Marley. “You rip off customers, underpay and bully employees, cheat on taxes, lie to vendors, and post nasty tweets about competitors. Unless you change, you’ll end up like me—shackled to your money, alone, unhappy for eternity.”
“You need to learn, my old friend. So tonight, you’ll be visited by three other ghosts,” Jacob says and vanishes.
You imagine you’re seeing things, but you pour yourself another drink, fall back asleep, when a different ghost appears.
GHOST OF SMALL BUSINESS PAST
“I’m the Ghost of Small Business Past,” the apparition says, “and I’m taking you back to your shop on opening day.” Suddenly, you see your store on your first day of business. It’s full of happy faces—customers, employees, you, and your business partner Marley.
“We had so many customers!” you say.
“Yes, because you treated them and your employees well, were honest, were willing to change when needed, and had a sense of purpose and passion,” says the ghost. “And you managed a work/life balance.”
“Ah, but that was before voracious online retailers cut into my business.”
“Excuses, excuses, Scrooge. You didn’t change with the times, innovate. You voted for politicians who promised tax cuts instead of investing in education and health care and infrastructure. When all you do is cut, look what results.”
Suddenly, the ghost of Christmas Past whisks you to your house. It’s the day your ex-wife left. “All day long, you stare at your phone and check your bank balance,” she says as she walks out the door. “You work seven days a week. You have no more friends. You’re going to end up alone.”
“Enough!” you cry, realizing she was right.
GHOST OF SMALL BUSINESS PRESENT
Once again, it’s the present and you’re at your empty home, the snow whipping the windows. Another ghost appears.
“I’m the Ghost of Small Business Present. Let’s see what your business looks like now.” And immediately, you’re at your office. You see yourself earlier that day, calculating how much you’d save if you cut the hours of your sole remaining assistant, Bob Cratchit, in half.
“You can’t grow a business without good help, Ebby,” the ghost says. “You made Cratchit a contractor instead of an employee to avoid payroll taxes. You don’t cover Cratchit’s health insurance, and he can’t afford the medical bills for asthmatic little Timmy. Timmy will be dead soon.”
“Okay, okay! Get me out of here!”
THE GHOST OF SMALL BUSINESS FUTURE
A third ghost appears. “I’m the Ghost of Small Business Future.”
Suddenly, the ghost transfers you to the front of your business, which is now shuttered, with a sign saying “Closed.”
“Your business was already in trouble when a hurricane hit due to climate change. You’re in debt and your credit score is below 500,” says the ghost.
“What’s worse, you now live with your know-it-all brother-in-law who launched a startup that was bought by Google.”
“No! Anything but that!” you plead. “Have mercy! For god’s sake, what do I have to do to change the future?”
“It’s not too late, Scrooge. But you have to learn how to be fair and honest. To treat your employees well. To embrace change. And support policies that build our country’s future, not just enrich the rich. You have to protect the environment. And to never, ever, send a nasty tweet again.” And the ghost disappeared.
Merry Christmas, small business owners everywhere.
Copyright Rhonda Abrams, 2018
This article originally ran in USA Today on December 19, 2018