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Body_LongSecrets.jpgby Erin McDermott.



New businesses start every day here in the land of opportunity, but how many last?


A new report from the Census Bureau and the Kauffman Foundation shows a decline in the number of business startups last year as the nascent economic recovery continued to challenge U.S. entrepreneurs. At the same time, closings have increased, with some 1.5 million small businesses shutting their doors in 2009 alone.


So how is it that so many small business owners manage to defy the odds and keep their ventures going decade after decade? What’s the secret to maintaining the creativity while navigating the daily operational obstacles that all small businesses face?


“In a way, you almost have to be a little bit naive at the start,” laughs Jo Kling, president and co-founder of Landry & Kling, which plans events at sea for businesses and will celebrate its 30th anniversary in June. “If you saw ahead of time what you’re up against, you might have second thoughts about starting a business.”


Here’s what Kling and more small-business owners have to say about the secrets to their longevity:

When times are tough, consider taking a risk

As the economic downturn accelerated in 2008 with mounting layoffs and a tanking stock market, consumers became much more careful in how they spent their money. For Tracy True Dismukes, owner of Collage Designer Consignment, a clothing consignment business, it became go-time. To promote her three locations around Birmingham, Alabama, and lure customers back, she bought a 30-minute slot on her local CW TV station affiliate. The result: “Consignment Chic,” a fashion TV show she produces that highlights her high-end clothes, with a new emphasis on value.  The show won its timeslot, led to a new ecommerce site that has a national focus, and even offers a bus tour for consignment-savvy customers. With more people also focused on recycling and reusing clothing as a greener alternative, everything has come together for Dismukes at an otherwise shaky time.


PQ_LongSecrets.jpgShe views her decision to create her fashion TV show as an important lesson in the importance of risk-taking in business. “When you throw small business owners a curveball, we’re going to find a way around it, or over it or under it or whatever,” she says. “It’s either that or you’re going to go down. You have to keep innovating and finding ways to survive.”


Look for an edge

Every small business owner gets in a rut. What sets successful entrepreneurs apart is how they get out of it. Karen Port and her husband, Dale, have been selling hot tubs since the late ‘80s at their St. Louis shop, Mirage Spa. The past few years have been a struggle for many sellers of luxury items, and their business was no exception. About 18 months ago, the situation became so dire that Dale had to leave Mirage Spa to get an additional job. “We knew we had to keep going with our company—for health insurance,” Karen says. So how do they keep up their enthusiasm for the business? Dale still attends important industry gatherings and gets rejuvenated by new products and ideas from others in the industry.


For Karen, it can be something as simple as a cool new technology that makes it easier to engage customers. For instance, she recalls recently standing in a local yogurt shop when she noticed that it offered customers Getpunchd, a smartphone app that digitizes business-loyalty punch cards. Karen says she ran right back to her shop, signed her business up for the app, and, ever since, has been offering loyal Mirage Spa customers a free enzyme pack after 10 purchases of hot-tub chemical supplies—a feature that’s proven to be popular. The lesson for her: Even the smallest bit of an edge can matter to your customers.  “Finding little ways is exciting and gets my brain going to look for other options,” Karen says. “We don't have an advertising budget, we are five people and I have to find a way to get our name out to the public without spending a dime.” 


If it’s not broken, break it

Believe it or not, reality TV may good for businesses other than gyms, tanning salons, and laundries.  Pawn shops have seen a resurgence, too, as cable favorites like “Pawn Stars” and “Hardcore Pawn” have shown the world of loans-for-goods in a new light.


Robbie Whitten has been in the pawn shop business since 1979, when he started buying gold and silver as the billionaire Hunt brothers tried to corner the market. Now the founder and chief executive of Columbus, Georgia’s Money Mizer Pawn & Jewelry, Whitten says he has seen some of his stores’ revenue triple in the past few years. His secret to staying afloat: Adapting to changes in the economy, technology, and his clientele. He’s opened three new franchises (with five more in the works) and started a new online foray,, where shop-shy, white-collar customers can negotiate prices from afar and then ship to Whitten’s site for free. Next up: a smartphone app that takes a picture of an item and then helps to calculate a price for it. “I absolutely love what I do,” says Whitten. “Traditionally, the image is that our business takes advantage of people. In reality, we’re helping people get the money they need when don’t have any other options.”


Find the right partner

Kling and her business partner, Joyce Landry, left the cruise line Holland America they were working for in the depths of the 1982 recession for the high seas. No, they didn’t become cruise directors. The duo found a market niche by linking meeting planners and corporate clients (Aflac, Motorola, Harley-Davidson, and Miller Brewing to name a few) with an entirely new venue for company events: cruise ships. Along the way, they hauled in a roster of household-name clients as travelers and broke ground with a “floating hotel” concept that helped Jacksonville, Florida, land the Super Bowl in 2005. In addition, they launched an ecommerce site,, which functions like a Travelocity-type search engine for cruise meeting planners.


“Looking back at the challenging times, we were confident or patient that things were always about to turn around,” says Kling “And we used it as a perfect opportunity to innovate and do things differently. The technology creeps up on you and change happens in every industry. So you can either get out in front and anticipate change or get run over. Look at Kodak or BlackBerry.”


And the journey also depends on your travel companion—in this case, your business partner.


“We’ve been through economic downturns, wars, 9/11, several weddings, deaths, divorces, moves—but we’re resilient. It really is a blessing when you’re working with someone who’s equally committed,” Kling says. “It’s our mind-set. That’s what makes it interesting. We can back each other up and share in this satisfying experience. There is nothing finer than sharing success.”

It is part of the American Dream: The desire to be your own boss, chase your true passions and leave your job behind to start your own company. Steve-Strauss--in-article-Medium.pngWhile many people do this and love it, others find that this entrepreneurship stuff is not what they anticipated.

Is entrepreneurship right for you? Well, that depends on how you define “entrepreneur.” There are all sorts of descriptions:


  • “A person who organizes and manages any enterprise, especially a business, usually with considerable initiative and risk”
  • The World Entrepreneurship Forum: “Creators of wealth and social justice”
  • One successful entrepreneur (and my favorite definition): “A person willing to take a risk with money to make money”


Whatever definition you choose, the bottom line is that you better be ready for uncertainty because that is a big part of the gig. It takes a very specific and sometimes unique set of skills to be a small business owner. These include the willingness to take a risk, the ability to live without structure, the support of your loved ones, the disposition to work very hard and remain committed to your business, creativity, business skills, interpersonal skills, marketing skills and that’s just for starters.


Click here to read more articles from small business expert Steve Strauss.


In fact, according to a recent Bank of America Small Business Owner Report, a semi-annual studyexploring the concerns, aspirations and perspectives of small business owners across the country, maintaining a small business causes small business owners twice as much stress as maintaining a healthy relationship with a spouse or partner, nearly three times as much stress as raising children and more than four times as much as managing their own personal finances. However, despite challenges and sacrifices, the survey uncovered small business owners remain committed and optimistic about their future.


Don’t get me wrong - entrepreneurship is exciting and fun but other words equally describe the life of the small business person: nerve-wracking, liberating, challenging, joyous, overwhelming, and fulfilling; there’s a wide range of emotions and complexities tied to running a small business. So, how do you know if owning a business is right for you – if you have the DNA of a small business owner?


There are all sorts of self-assessment tests out there, but here is my no-frills, no-mistake entrepreneurship test that helps anyone see whether they have what it takes to be a small business owner:


Pull Quote 5-22-12.pngThink about your job, its benefits, the consistent paycheck, the company health care plan, the boss – everything. Now think about leaving that job (for whatever reason) and its security, and starting your own business. How does it make you feel?


If the idea of starting your own business excites you more than it frightens you, then you are probably an entrepreneur. But if you are more scared than excited, you likely do not have the DNA of a small business owner. It’s that simple, and either answer is fine.


The important thing is that you be completely honest with yourself. There is no point in concluding you should be running your own business if in fact you should not be. Starting a business without the requisite fire in the belly and related business skills will likely cause you a lot of financial and emotional grief.


When did you realize that entrepreneurship was the best decision for you? What advice would you give to somebody who is looking to start their own business? Share your thoughts with the SBOC community below.


About Steve Strauss

Steven D. Strauss is one of the world's leading experts on small business and is a lawyer, writer, and speaker. The senior small business columnist for USA Today, his Ask an Expert column is one of the most highly-syndicated business columns in the country. He is the best-selling author of 17 books, including his latest, The Small Business Bible, now out in a completely updated third edition. You can listen to his weekly podcast, Small Business Success, visit his new website TheSelfEmployed, and follow him on Twitter. © Steven D. Strauss

You can read more articles from Steve Strauss by clicking here.

Body_HealthyImage.jpgby Iris Dorbian.


Like many small business owners, Ceres “C.C.” Opanowski has had an unusual career trajectory. After spending a decade as a paralegal, she jettisoned the corporate lifestyle to become a certified Pilates instructor. Recently, the 35-year-old Opanowski opened her own studio, Rivertown Pilates in Tarrytown, New York where she now works 50 hours a week giving classes and running her own business. Recently, writer Iris Dorbian spoke to Opanowski about her new venture and why a healthy body can contribute to a healthy business.


ID: What prompted you to go into business for yourself?

CO: I had been working with Pilates since 2007 and really fell in love with it. It’s a form of art rather than exercise. As I began to get deeper into it, I thought I would like to teach this. I didn’t really love what I was doing; I just felt myself shifting from being involved with law and wanting to be involved with something that was about my health, my wellness, and my body. When the time was right and I managed to get enough students who were interested in my teaching and the way I taught Pilates, I decided to go out on my own and work for myself.


PQ_HealthyImage.jpgID: Do you agree with the sentiment that a healthy body makes for a healthy business? You think there’s a link?

CO: Absolutely. I think when you’re taking care of your body and yourself, that tends to fall all across the board. You’re going to feel better. You’re going to be more likely to have the endurance to build and to grow and to keep the outlook the same as you would for yourself. Being in business, you have to nurture it in order to grow. And you have to do the same thing for your body. It generally follows that if someone is not taking care of him or herself, they’re not taking care of their business and vice versa.


ID: Do you have clients who are small business owners? Do they come to you with health issues they want to work out?

CO: I do. If they have sedentary types of jobs and they’re not moving around, they tend to have lower back issues like sciatica or neck and shoulder tension. Then if you have clients who do move around—such as those in construction or different kinds of hands-on jobs—they come in with a whole set of other issues. I really see a wide spectrum of people come in. But, listen, every industry is going to have something negative—we have body patterns. Our bodies move in a repetitive manner [based on the] regular things we do every day—the way we sit, the way we eat, the way we sit in a car, the way we work. All of these things create imbalances in the body. So yes, people come to me and they have issues: Some of it is caused by work.


ID: Many small business owners tend to be workaholics. How can they prevent burnout and still do what they do effectively without destroying their health?

CO: I think the first thing is [to realize] you didn’t go into business because you wanted to work 100 hours a week and you didn’t want to take a day off or not take care of yourself. Most likely, you said, ‘Hey I want to go into business for myself because I want to golf more.’ That may sound silly, but that’s someone’s passion, just like I said, “Hey I think I’m going to go into Pilates because I like Pilates so much I want to do it all the time.’ In fact, I not only want to do it, but I want to teach others so they can do it too. You got into [your business] for a reason, so keep why you opened your business in your mind. That was your goal and it should be at the forefront. When you’re trying to work too hard or you’re overstressed, you really do have to take care of your body. You can’t expect that your body is going to take care of you if you’re not giving it the right exercise or the right nutrition or the right health benefits.


ID: How has Pilates helped you manage your own small business better?

CO: Pilates helps me keep my head in order when managing the business. The advantage to owning your own space is the ability to work out and get into your "zone" when things get stressful and overwhelming.

Body_BusinessCoach.jpgby Susan Caminiti.


Marsha Egan is no stranger to business coaches. She used one back in 2005 as she was planning to leave her job as a senior vice president with a Fortune 500 insurance company to strike out on her own. Now that she’s running her own business, Egan is once again using the services of a coach, but this time it’s to help take her company—, a workplace productivity firm—to the next level of growth.

“My business is going okay, but it’s not where I want it to be given the time and effort I’m putting in,” says Egan, whose Nantucket, Massachusetts-based company works with leaders of small- to medium-sized firms. “A coach helps me understand what I can do differently to get better results. Basically, she’s helping me see what I’m not seeing.”


Providing that kind of guidance—or handholding, depending on the client—has become a big business. According to the 2012 Global Coaching study done by the International Coach Federation (ICF), the industry’s leading network and certification organization, and PriceWaterhouseCoopers, nearly 48,000 coaches worldwide are generating a staggering $2 billion a year in revenue.


Before trying to figure out whether a business coach can sharpen your leadership skills or help goose productivity, it helps to understand what coaching is and—perhaps more importantly—what it’s not. Coaching is not therapy. True, you will need to be extremely candid and honest with a coach about your management weaknesses and trouble spots (and yes, some of the very traits you’re trying to change may have roots in childhood). But unlike in therapy, there is no expert/subordinate dynamic that exists in business coaching, says Janet Harvey, president of the ICF and a coach herself. “The coach/client relationship is peer to peer,” she says.


Nor is coaching the same as consulting. For example, if you want someone to come in to implement a performance management system, call a human resources consultant. However, if you want to become more effective at motivating your employees, that’s where a coach can help, explains Harvey. “Coaching is all about working with the client to help them recognize their blind spots and then figure out ways to do what they’re doing better and more effectively,” she says.


PQ_BusinessCoach.jpgWhat to Look For

Choosing the right coach to work with is similar to establishing other business relationships: you want solid credentials, good references, and the feeling that the two of you fit well. Karyn Greenstreet, founder of Passion for Business, a small business coaching and consulting firm based in Reading, Pennsylvania, advises entrepreneurs to do their homework when selecting a coach. Among her tips for finding the right one:


  • Check that the coach is a member of the International Coach Federation
  • Select someone who has experience in coaching a business of your size. If you’re a one-person shop you don’t necessarily want someone who’s used to dealing with owners of companies with 100 or more employees.
  • The initial consultation is free. A good coach will make that offer so that the two of you can get to know each other and determine what you’re hoping to accomplish.
  • There’s a comfort level. Do you feel positive after speaking with this person, or dragged down? If you’re energetic and the coach is more low-key (or vice versa), are you okay with that? As Greenstreet points out, you will be spending a lot of time together.
  • Discuss the fees upfront. The cost of coaching varies widely and is determined by the experience of the coach and the length of the contract. Don’t be shy about asking the coach to break out his or her prices and be clear about what you’ll be getting for your money.


Finding the Right Arrangement

The methods and styles used in business coaching are rarely the same from client to client, says the ICF’s Harvey. Some entrepreneurs can handle a one-hour session every other week, and then want to be left alone to mull over the ideas, she says. Others prefer a more intensive two- to three-hour session once a month. The point is to figure out what you’re most comfortable with, and that the coach is flexible enough to change it at your request.


Working in person or over the phone is another area to clarify at the beginning. Julie Cohen, a coach specializing in work/life balance issues, has herself used a coach to help redefine her business as her own life changed. “What I’ve recognized from being a coach is that we typically can’t see our own blind spots in business,” she says.


Cohen, who started her company in 2000, says she operated with the belief that as a successful coach, she should cater to both individual and corporate clients. The work involved in servicing both areas was becoming overwhelming, she recalls. “I wasn’t sure what my business was and it was killing me,” she says. “Here it is that I’m talking to clients about work/life balance and I had none.”


After working with her business coach for a few weeks last year—all by phone—Cohen was able to finally admit that she really didn’t like working with individual clients and derived more satisfaction from her corporate clients. “Having a coach help me get to that realization was just so freeing for me,” she adds. Cohen promptly redesigned her website to emphasize her offerings to corporate clients and was able to dedicate more time to them.


Measuring Results

One of the often-heard criticisms of coaching is that it’s difficult to measure its value. Not so, says Marsha Egan. She advises being very clear from the beginning about why you’re hiring a coach (improve your company’s visibility, increase morale, be a better boss, for instance) and then look at the results at the end of the contract.


“I knew when I hired my coach that at the end of our time together I want a new tagline for my business, a new blog, and a redefinition of what I’m doing,” she says. After each one-hour phone session with her coach, Egan does a sort of homework assignment where she implements the new strategies she’s learned and then she and her coach discuss the results. “There’s no guess work here,” says Egan. “If I was happy with the way things were going with my business, I wouldn’t be using a coach. To me, this is an effective way to bring about changes that are going to make me a more productive and happier business owner.”

When it comes to attracting and retaining talent, small business owners often wonder how to show their employees appreciation for a job well done. Steve-Strauss-155px-Mirror.jpgThe good news is that there is no shortage of ways to reward great performances, and none of them need to break the bank.




1. Money: It is no secret that money motivates employees; we all know that. Holding sales contests, offering bonuses, dangling raises—these are tried-and-true approaches that are effective.


But these things also beg the question: Why does it take money to motivate an employee? The answer is that the possibility of making more money transforms the employee into an entrepreneur, and entrepreneurship is based on the premise that hard work and ingenuity will be rewarded.


Isn’t that how you think? “If I implement that plan, we could increase sales by 10 percent!” Well, that is precisely what an employee thinks when offered a money motivator. “If I sell more than anyone else this month, I win that trip to Hawaii!” So the secret to motivating with money is to tap into this mindset for mutual benefit:


  • First, you can always link an employee’s pay to performance. That is exactly how commissioned salespeople work.
  • Similarly, you could link bonuses to desired outcomes. For example, you might offer your director of operations a nice bonus if he can reduce overhead by 10 percent for the year. A manager might receive 10 percent of any increased revenues for his store for the month. There are many ways to structure such a compensation program.


But remember this too: when creating a money-motivated system, it is important that the reward be linked to an outcome that the employee can control. The director of operations can directly affect overhead, but he or she cannot increase sales, so a reward based on increased sales would not be an appropriate incentive. If the reward is based on overall company performance, the employee will be motivated to try harder only if he or she can affect that performance. As long as the reward and the desired action are linked, the motivation will be there.


Click here to read more articles from small business expert Steve Strauss.


2. Contests: The use of contests is closely aligned with the normal money motivation system. Contests are an excellent way to build excitement and create desired behaviors and outcomes. Successful contests use realistic and achievable goals, are limited to a short period of time, have desirable prizes, link rewards to performance, and have uncomplicated rules. Additionally, they reward peak performance directly.


3. Show appreciation: Thanking employees for a job well done is so simple, yet so effective. A “thank you” can take many forms. Mary Kay Cosmetics gives every employee a lunch voucher for two on their birthday. Other alternatives include: a pat on the back from a manager, a call from the president, a special parking spot for a week, a night out with your team, an extra vacation day, a massage and facial or a round of golf. People love to be appreciated.


4. Recognition: Letting everyone in the office know that a particular employee has done something exceptional is another way to reinforce that behavior and reward the staff member at the same time. Making people aware that a team member did a great job works wonders.

Pull Quote.png


A 2011 Society for Human Resources Management study found that 92 percent of employees believed that management’s recognition of employee job performance, in relation to job satisfaction, was important or very important. At Blanchard Training in Escondido, California, praise from customers and managers is reprinted in the company newsletter. What about sending a press release regarding an accomplishment to your

trade journal? How often do you see a plaque naming the employee of the month?


It’s all the same, and it all works.


5. Time off: Employees who do something above and beyond the call of duty can be given an afternoon off, or the ability to telecommute or have flextime. At H. B. Fuller Company in St. Paul, Minnesota, employees get a paid day off on their birthday.


What are the different ways you show your employees appreciation? What have you found works exceptionally well? Share your thoughts with the SBOC community below.


About Steve Strauss

Steven D. Strauss is one of the world's leading experts on small business and is a lawyer, writer, and speaker. The senior small business columnist for USA Today, his Ask an Expert column is one of the most highly-syndicated business columns in the country. He is the best-selling author of 17 books, including his latest, The Small Business Bible, now out in a completely updated third edition. You can listen to his weekly podcast, Small Business Success, visit his new website TheSelfEmployed, and follow him on Twitter. © Steven D. Strauss

You can read more articles from Steve Strauss by clicking here.

Body_ManagingGrowth.jpgby Sherron Lumley.


When Goldilocks of fairytale fame first launched Three Bears, LLC, the small start-up company was a long ways from where she wanted it. “Oh no, this business is too small!,” she complained. Right away she set about making things happen, working day and night to build the business of her dreams. However, after a period of rapid growth and expansion, she was struggling to meet customer demands, sacrificing quality, scrambling to fill vacancies and feeling stressed out by finance payments on the loans she took during her growth-at-any-cost mania. “Oh no,” she found herself saying one day, “this company is too big!”


Managing the pace of growth for your small business may feel like the proverbial Goldilocks tale, an eternal struggle to find just the right size for your business that avoids the pitfalls of being either too big or too small.


The scenic route

Brian Easter launched Nebo, an Atlanta-based interactive marketing agency with his brother Adam Harrell, in early 2004. For Easter, coming from the global telecommunications field, his previous experience within a large multinational was not a fit with his personal values. The company he pictured as his ideal was one that was smaller, where human relationships would be seen as important.


The business model he created wasn’t about maximizing profits. “It was about doing great work,” says Easter. This emphasis on being a small company with strong values and a focus on doing good work led to dozens of marketing awards and a strong client base with steady growth of approximately 20 percent per year for the first seven years.


Then last year, the business grew 57 percent in net revenue, which brought up an unusual question for the brothers. “For our business, we asked, ‘Why do we need to grow?’ We don’t believe in taking a project for a paycheck,” says Easter, adding, “sometimes, no is more powerful than yes.” The decision to turn away some projects was a deliberate move to stop runaway growth while focusing on doing more high quality work with their best clients.


So what is the driving force for Nebo now, eight years after start-up? “One of the things I want to do is grow revenue without growing employees,” says Easter. “I want to focus on the people in the room, to raise their skill set and earning potential. I want them to grow in terms of salary and quality of work,” he says. This de facto curbing of growth by putting the brakes on hiring is one good strategy for keeping growth in check. 


PQ_ManagingGrowth.jpgCritical velocity

“We want to do great work and be professional, but we are also trying to defy gravity,” says Easter.


Many small business owners understand what those words mean. Defying gravity represents doing the seemingly impossible, such as maintaining high standards during periods of rapid growth and expansion. But the reality is, if defying gravity were really that easy, then everyone would do it. For some small businesses, conquering growth is more like learning to ride a bike, if you don’t pedal fast enough, the bike falls over and it’s try, try again.


This was the case at a marketing firm in a galaxy, far, far away—not really, just the suburbs of Chicago— where an altogether different approach did not work so well. “For my small business the struggle came in the form of having plenty of clients, but not enough workers,” says Ruth Ann Weisner, founder of Raw Marketing. “Within a few months of formation I realized I must hire help or there will be no chance for the company to grow,” she says. 


However, in a rush to hire people to meet quickly growing demand, she took on staff with the wrong skill sets, hoping that with the proper training it would all somehow work out.  “I went about it the wrong way,” she says, “after several months it was back to square one...lesson learned.”


Gathering a team

Philip Noftsinger is the Business Unit President for CBIZ Payroll, Inc which provides professional business services to help clients manage their finances and employees. Noftsinger is responsible for creating CBIZ’s monthly employment index, which highlights small business employment trends and brings a deep understanding of small business growth (or lack of growth) and connected dangers.


Noftsinger’s experience with outsourced payroll and HR services for 5,000 clients gives him a unique perspective on the success or failure of small businesses. “I know for certain in the last three years, there is an increased ability to be more agile,” he explains. First, with regards to human resources, he sees a lot more 1099 professionals (e.g., contractors and freelancers) and more temporary workers.  A fluctuating workforce means small businesses today are better able to meet changing demand than the small businesses of the past. Secondly, he sees small businesses embracing the idea that Main Street companies need lean production, looking at the cost structure of the labor and resources that go into their production process in the same way that large companies do.


Financing for growth—and when to say no to demand

“Small business owners, when they are first looking at growth, often it’s because they have a great product, and in that case, demand will outstrip capacity to produce,” Noftsinger says. “When demand is outpacing supply, for large companies that’s easier to deal with,” he adds. Small businesses, on the other hand, have to look at how much investment capital is available to meet demand and whether that money will come through debt financing or growth through profits. “Occasionally, a small business has to deny demand and walk away from sales,” he says.


Easter describes his financial strategy as conservative. He and his brother decided to fund the start-up of Nebo from personal savings and without the help of outside investors. “It was a reaction against the industry,” says Easter. “I’ve seen one of our competitors lose control of his company, recklessly taking investment dollars,” he explains. 


Happily ever after

“It didn’t happen overnight,” says Easter. “There are no short cuts,” echoes Weisner. 


When it’s time to expand your small business, consider the company culture you want, then set a deliberate pace for growth.  Don’t be afraid to deny demand or spend the time and money to hire appropriately if you feel those strategies best fit your long-term plans. After all, it’s about finding the pace that’s just right for you.


Managing growth – first steps for small business owners
  • Create the company culture you want. Establish core values and a company mission.
  • Forecast for growth. Plan ahead for the next three years and revisit the plan often.
  • Maintain standards by setting a deliberate pace for growth.
  • Understand the ramifications of financing growth; know your cash flow position.
  • Say no to demand when necessary. 

Steve-Strauss--in-article-Medium.pngIn the late 1930s, George de Mestral went for a walk in the woods. He wanted to catch some damselflies to view them underhis new microscope, but the only thing he was able to catch were scores of sticky burrs in his sock. De Mestral decided to look at the burrs under his microscope to see what made them stick. He discovered that each burr was covered with hundreds of tiny “hooks” that grabbed onto anything with a loop, such as clothing fiber, animal fur, or even human hair.


And that is when George de Mestral had his big idea – his “aha” moment.


If he could figure out a way to duplicate the hooks and loops found in microscopic nature, he could have a new product that would fasten things together without the use of a zipper or button. And so his quest to figure out how to make this happen began.


Being creative usually does not come easily. The very nature of innovation is that the creator sees something extraordinary when others see the ordinary. George de Mestral is a prime example of this. As he took his idea around Lyon, France, every weaver concluded that his hook and loop fastener idea was not feasible. De Mestral persistently continued, and finally found one expert who was willing to try to recreate the burr’s hooking mechanism.


It took almost 10 years, but the inventor finally succeeded in creating this new type of fastener, butthe product still needed a name. De Mestral liked the sound of “vel” derived from the French word for velvet, “velour” and “cro” from the French word for hook, “crochet,” and the name “Velcro” stuck.


Entrepreneurs get ideas all of the time, but how do you, like George de Mestral, take that idea from inspiration to innovation? Several years ago, I wrote a book on that very subject called “The Big Idea.” In it, I examined how great, creative businesses are born. Through my research, I found there are 6 rules for innovation and they are as follows:


1. Think of things that never were and ask, “why not?”: Bobby Kennedy’s famous motto, adapted from George Bernard Shaw, is an apt description of the first ingredient necessary to be creative and innovative in your business. Terrific businesses come from inspired ideas, and it is important to remember that inspiration can strike at any time.



Click here to read more articles from small business expert Steve Strauss.


2. The power of one: The second lesson in business creativity is that one person makes a difference. Whatever business or product you look at, you will invariably find that there was some man or woman behind it who worked hard to make  it a success.


3. Keep it simple: When you create a new product or offering , you are asking people to give up something tried and true. So, the simplier it is to understand and use – the better.


4. Try, try again: The path of creativity is not always easy. Getting a business right often takes trial and error, followed by a few mistakes, perhaps a couple of bonehead moves, and only then, maybe, a homerun.


When Dr. Percy Spencer noticed that the chocolate bar in his pocket melted after standing near a magnetron tube, he realized that something unique had occurred. Yet the first microwave oven took years to develop, and even then was 5 1/2 feet tall, weighed over 750 pounds and cost more than $5,000. It would take years of trial and error before Raytheon was able to create a “radar range” that could be used by the public.


5. Creativity in business requires risk: If an entrepreneur is a person who takes a risk with money to make money, then being a business innovator must make one an uber-entrepreneur. It will not be an easy path. Will it be exciting, crazy, fun, exasperating, rewarding, frightening, and challenging? You bet. But it won’t be easy, and it will require risk.


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6. Synergy is necessary: Synergy, a word coined by Buckminster Fuller, is generally thought to mean that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. In business, creative solutions usually require joint effort.


M.H. Lawrence wrote this in his book The Scottish Himalayan Expedition, “The moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred . . . I have learned a deep respect for one of Goethe’s couplets: ‘Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it.’”


The bottom line is this: To be creative, you have to be bold. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. How have you been innovative lately? Or, how do you plan to increase your small business’ innovation? Share your thoughts with the SBOC community below.



About Steve Strauss

Steven D. Strauss is one of the world's leading experts on small business and is a lawyer, writer, and speaker. The senior small business columnist for USA Today, his Ask an Expert column is one of the most highly-syndicated business columns in the country. He is the best-selling author of 17 books, including his latest, The Small Business Bible, now out in a completely updated third edition. You can listen to his weekly podcast, Small Business Success, visit his new website TheSelfEmployed, and follow him on Twitter. © Steven D. Strauss

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