In the past, business owners were often dismissed as people who might do “anything to make a buck.” This is not the case today. One of the best things about small businesses is that more people understand the value of entrepreneurship.
Indeed, entrepreneurs and small business owners are far more likely to be seen as hard-working dreamers, creative problem solvers and pragmatic idealists than ever before. Whether we are talking about Steve Jobs or Richard Branson or the woman down the street who opened that new restaurant, entrepreneurs are people to emulate and envy. They are truly inspirational leaders.
The latest issue of the Bank of America Small Business Owner Report (SBOR) is accompanied by a cool whiteboard video that shares the story of George Montilio, a 3rd generation baker and owner of Montilio’s Baking Company in Massachusetts.
What I love about Montilio’s story is that he didn't create the “Next Big Thing” or an innovative Internet startup. Instead, he simply lives the American Dream - He is his own boss, runs a successful small business, treats his employees well, creates a valuable (and by the looks of things, very tasty) product, and is part of a family-owned business. That is what it’s all about.
It got me thinking about the four small business owners that that have inspired me throughout my career:
Barbara Winter: Barbara Winter changed my life. About two years after I finished law school and was working at a big law firm, I was ready to break away and start my own practice. But I couldn't figure out how. Then one day I wandered into a bookstore and picked up a book called “Making a Living Without a Job” by Barbara Winter. Barbara’s book explained how anyone could become, what she called, “joyfully jobless.”
How sweet does that sound?
Her secret is that to stay joyfully jobless, you must create “multiple profit centers.” This means that to keep customers interested in your company, you must have multiple products and services to sell them. Think about Starbucks: When coffee sales are down, CD sales may be up. When CD sales are down, food sales may be up.
Multiple profit centers are the secret.
AJ Leon: I just met AJ a few weeks ago when I interviewed him for my podcast, and he jumped to the top of my list of favorite entrepreneurs. About five years ago, AJ was a finance executive in Manhattan with a six-figure income and a bad attitude. He hated his career and who he had become.
As AJ tells it, on December 31, 2007, he quit his job and decided to live the life he always wanted, not the one he had been “programmed” to live. He wanted to travel and work and do something that made a difference in other people’s lives. Today his “nomadic design shop” has no home office, but employs nine people around the globe. He will be spending the next few years circumnavigating the globe with his wife, while running his remote business remotely, on his terms.
AJ’s story taught me that entrepreneurship requires taking risks and pursuing a career that you are passionate about.
Stone Melet: My friend Stone is a serial entrepreneur, who used to be a television anchorman. One day, he decided to, moved west, got some VC funding and he started a dotcom business in 1998. But unlike so many others at the time, when the bubble burst, his business survived because he had concentrated on creating a real business with real products. In the end, instead of going bust, he sold his intellectual property to eBay and has since stared several other businesses.
Overall, it is important to create value in your business to be successful.
Kah Walla: Kah Walla is a woman I know from the country of Cameroon, who may be the most dynamic person I have ever met. She owns an international consulting company from her base in Africa, and ran for President of her country last year. She recently spoke at the Clinton Global Initiative and is constantly in demand.
Kah is a reminder that entrepreneurs see opportunities where others see obstacles, and it is people like Kah Walla, Barbara Walter, AJ Leon, Stone Melet and George Montilio who inspire us with their examples of how to change the world for the better.
What have fellow small business owners taught you about running your own business? Share your story 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