Small is successful

There’s a lot of talk about success these days, at least on my channels, and how it is measured. I think success is a personal thing: it’s likely not the same for everybody. Yet, all the success stories we hear about in the business world are of one of two types: small businesses that were bought out by the Googles and Facebooks of this world, or small shops that have grown enough they join “the big leagues”. Especially in my line of work, programming and IT, it’s as if the goal when you start out is to get insanely rich.

I don’t want to be a millionaire: I just want to make a decent living, and feel like I’m making a difference, feel like I’m helping people out. That, to me, is success. When one of my client tells me I’ve made their lives easier, I feel successful. Is that bad? Am I just being lazy, or not thinking big enough? Do I lack vision?

Don’t make the mistake of thinking I am without vision: buy me a beer some day, and let me tell you about the tons of dreams and ideas I have for my business and my future. I have vision. It just doesn’t include getting a truckload of cash and a house so big I can’t take care of it myself. I don’t love taking care of my home, most of the time – but it keeps me grounded, it gets me to try stuff I wouldn’t have done otherwise. And I appreciate that.

A friend of mine has similar goals and values about her business. She attended a big, glitzy networking event not so long ago and came out of it devastated. She’s been at her business for a while now, she knows what she brings to the table, she knows what she is doing and why. She’s solid. But that evening with all the serial business card collectors, bathed in so much biz talk and slick exchanges, it brought her all the way back to when she started off. She felt insecure again. The weird one in the room. The noob. She’s coming to a turning-point with her business, one where she will have to decide if she keeps her business human-size, or goes after the all touted “success” – which, unfortunately, usually means money and lots of clients and employees. But that’s counter-intuitive to her: that’s not who she is. And that evening, surrounded by so many entrepreneurs of “the other kind”, it felt like she had to join their ranks if she wanted to move forward. Like it was the only way forward. As if staying true to her values, and everything she’s worked very hard at the last few years, would be limiting herself. Would be refusing to be successful. Would be failing.

I love small businesses, and I’ve always tried to work in or with them. I find them innovative and nimble. I find they genuinely care about their clients. Some bigger companies also innovate and care about their clients, sure. But you can’t offer the same level of service, the same personalized customer experience when you handle a handful of clients, versus tens or hundreds or thousands of them… I want to get to know my clients, and be part of their small team. (sometimes a heroic team of one) And I am not alone in this. I know because I have had the privilege of meeting like-minded entrepreneurs. They exist. They are just hard to find. That’s the problem, isn’t it: us human-scale entrepreneurs, we live in a smaller world. We are quieter. We don’t broadcast as much or as widely. Dare I say it, we’re not as interesting to the media as our more conventional counterparts.

We need to find some way to know about one another, so we don’t feel we are totally off our rocker. There are times when you are tired or sad or whatever, and these are the times doubt creeps in. We need a support group. As my friend said to me one day: as adults, most of us loose that guidance we get as kids, someone to tell us we are doing good. And we need role models. But all this is hard to find in our world because we are not as visible. And because, unlike the conventional business world, it’s not one big world. It’s more like a bunch of smaller worlds. Pockets of people doing business the same way, working together.

So, small business brethren, how do we share our success stories? How do we encourage our culture to thrive, and how do we let others of our breed find our small, local community? And how do we do it all in a way that respects our human-scale?