By Sherron Lumley
There’s an age-old debate about the meaning of life: Is it being loved and helping others, or is it licking the middle out of Oreos and racing speedboats? Whatever credo one chooses—altruism, hedonism, or a happy place in the middle—the personal fulfillment that comes from achieving life goals can be possible through small business ownership.
Of course, people go into business for many reasons, be it to gain more personal freedom, enjoy some extra income, or simply to follow a wild dream. However, as the amount of time and life invested in a business grows, its existential importance to the owner often begins to grow as well. Suddenly the enterprise becomes something more than just a way to pay the bills or an answer to that age-old question: “What do you do for a living?”
Instead, business owners increasingly come to see their firms as a way to create something wonderful, an opportunity to make the world a better place, a source of personal contentment, or as the start of a family tradition. Perhaps it’s no surprise then that many people thoroughly enjoy their work and that, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration, two-thirds of Americans now plan to work into retirement. With years of experience, maturity, and plenty of energy, today’s “workers are increasingly finding financial and personal fulfillment in running their own small businesses,” the organization says.
The thrill of the hunt
Julie Hunter looks like the girl next door, but when she dons her glittered helmet, short-shorts and roller skates, she enters the roller derby arena under her stage name “Glitterotica,” co-captain of the Hellcats, a TXRD Lonestar Rollergirls team in Austin, Texas. “If you remember how Christmas was when you were a kid—the most exciting day of the whole year—that’s what it’s like,” she says of the rough-and-tumble contact sport. Hunter’s small business, Medusa Skates, sells roller skates and derby gear online to customers throughout the U.S. and internationally. “I started the business because I love derby so much,” she says. “I plan to skate until I fall apart.” But even after she lines up for her final jam, the sport will still be a part of her life.
“It’s a way for me to stay involved with the demographic,” says Hunter, who credits the all-female roller derby, billed as “the most entertaining sport in the world,” for teaching her leadership, marketing, and advertising skills, not to mention assertiveness. “I don’t look tough,” she says, “and a lot of the girls are quiet and shy at first, but derby helps people a lot. I used to be deathly afraid of public speaking, but now being in front of 3,000 people or on TV is nothing,” she says. Medusa Skates is a way for her to help people learn about the sport that she has played for the last five years. For Hunter, enriching oneself literally goes hand in (gloved) hand with empowering others.
Celebrating success when hard work pays off
Chris and Susanne Carlberg, who just celebrated 33 years of marriage, launched their wine vineyard Christopher Bridge Cellars in 2001 after Chris retired from teaching high school. “It’s our labor of love,” Susanne says of the business, located in the Willamette Valley of Oregon, a cool climate region known for fine Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir wines.
“We have to know every aspect of our business and there are many challenges,” Susanne notes. “People see a beautiful bottle of wine and it looks glamorous, but it comes from years of sacrifice and working very hard.” She and her husband operate the vineyard together, with Susanne doing the marketing and communications and pitching in with production at crush time and Chris making the decisions such as when to stop fermentation and which oak barrels to use, elements that give the wine its unique characteristics. Still, she says that some of her business’s biggest payoffs involve the intangibles. “It’s twice as good when you work side by side as we do and you’re so happy.”
A triple bottom line
More and more, owners of for-profit enterprises of all sizes are adopting the new concept of a triple bottom line (TBL or 3BL), where they seek to meet social and environmental goals in addition to the normal financial ones. The triple bottom line breaks down into three P’s: profit, people, and planet.
“Companies that focus solely on profits are out of sync with the times,” says Tim Sanders in his book Saving the World at Work. Sanders, who was the chief solutions officer at Yahoo from 2001 to 2005, helps develop next-generation business strategies. His book heralds a new business era that he calls the responsibility revolution, wherein people want to make a positive difference, thrive, and achieve significance, ideas that strike a chord with many of today’s entrepreneurs.
Leveraging social and environmental differentiation is a way for small businesses to take advantage of what many are already doing—fulfilling personal goals for a better world through the decisions they make for their companies.
Susanne Carlberg agrees. “Our business has gone in the direction that is the most environmentally friendly,” she says. “We are creating momentum closer to home and want our wines to be known in the local community. Because of this, we try not to be extravagant in our pricing.” As a result, the Carlbergs’ white wines start in the $14 to $18 range and their reds in the $20 to $30 range, in sync with what is affordable locally.
Because social responsibility and helping others is a big part of the Carlbergs’ personal philosophy, they also promote several causes such as Doctors Without Borders and the Wholistic Peace Institute in Portland, Oregon, which brings in Nobel Peace Laureates to speak to local students. “Education has always been a top priority for us,” says Susanne, noting her husband’s former career as a teacher. They also support many local charities with various tastings and small events to boost the fundraising. “In the end, everyone wins,” she says.
And back at the roller derby in Austin, Texas, helping people is equally important to Hunter and her teammates. “TXRD has always been involved with the Austin community through local events and by donating our money, time, and swag to many charities including BACA (Bikers Against Child Abuse), GENaustin (Girls Empowerment Network) and SafePlace. And while Hunter clearly enjoys the experience of running her own small business, she also relishes its role as part of something larger. As the TXRD website puts it: “We love our town and our fans, and it shows.”