Between my column at USA TODAY, work with first-rate businesses like Bank of America, and my speeches, I get to meet a lot of small business owners. Almost all of the people I hear from or meet are good small business owners – they work hard, make a nice profit, run a fine business, are good employers, etc.


But every now and then I run across someone who can only be described as great or exceptional. It happened again recently and it got me to thinking: What exactly is the difference between a good and a great small business owner?


Based on my experience, these are the key differences: 


Good small business owners market as they always have. The great small business owner innovates: Most entrepreneurs figure out a marketing strategy that works and they use it, over and over again. The problem with that it is you are not getting in front of new people by using old ideas.


Great small business owners understand that we are in the middle of an amazing moment for marketing – social media, pay-per-click, and mobile marketing. They try out and adopt new ideas to reach new people.


The good small business owner may lead through intimidation. The great one always leads by cooperation: Remember your bad boss? Did he or she have what you would call a great business?  Of course not.


The old saying, “you catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar” is an old saying for a reason – because it’s true. Great bosses create great businesses because people like working with and for them. And when employees are happy, they treat customers well, and happy customers become repeat customers.


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Good small business owners don’t worry about learning anything new. Great ones continue to sharpen their saw: In his excellent book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey shares a tale about two woodmen getting ready to cut down a tree.


Both start with dull saws, and the first guy starts in on his tree right away. It’s slow going with that dull saw. The second woodman sits down and takes time away from the project at hand to first sharpen his saw. He seemingly falls behind the first guy. But then, sharp saw in hand, he gets started and finishes the job in no time, leaving his cohort in his (saw)dust.


The point should be clear. The smart small business owner will take time to sharpen his or her saw, to hone his or her skills and learn new ones, knowing that it can only help the business in the long run.


Good small businesses resist technology. Great ones embrace it: The need to be up-to-date with technology should not be surprising. The exceptional small business embraces that, especially because today technology is a game changer.


The good small business owner works too much. The great one takes time off (and their staff does too!): According to one survey, Americans work 137 hours more than the Japanese, 260 hours more than the Brits, and almost 500 hours more than their French counterparts.


Of course hard work is important and makes for a strong business. But there is also such a thing as taking a good idea too far. No, you don’t need to take Labor Day per se off, it is the idea that is important: Taking time off doesn’t cost, it pays.


So go ahead, give yourself a break, you deserve it, and by taking that break you can rest assured that you are in good company with all of those other great small business owners.


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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