Some believe that good things come in threes, so, in a bit of a departure for this column, I am going to cover several different topics. Let’s start with a message from the top; the top of the Small Business Administration, that is. On Wednesday I interviewed SBA Administrator Karen Mills, who is excited and “optimistic” about the future of small business. There actually is good news out there and we entrepreneurs should be taking advantage of it.
In just under five months, the SBA has approved almost $6 billion in loans to small businesses, and 840 banks that hadn’t made loans since at least October 2008 have started lending again. Increasing the SBA loan guarantee to 90 percent has certainly helped generate this level of activity. More entrepreneurs are seeking counseling from the SBA “family,” which includes 14,000 advisers from SCORE and the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) networks.
Mills emphasized what we all know, that small business is the “backbone” of the American economy and that her agency, as well as the entire Obama administration, is committed to helping us entrepreneurs grow. She urges all small business owners, both those on Main Street as well as the high-impact, high-growth firms, to be innovative and ask ourselves, “How can I deliver more value?”
According to the SBA, we small businesses are already “the drivers of innovation in America.” In fact, the SBA Office of Advocacy studied businesses that issued more than 15 patents from 2002-2006 and found that smaller companies actually produced about 14 times more patents per employee than large companies.
As the latest GDP numbers show, the economy is headed back in the right direction. We entrepreneurs have historically been the creators of most of the nation’s jobs, around 70 percent. Now is the time to step up our game, take action, and stop abdicating our responsibilities.
Many of us became business owners because we wanted to seize control over our lives. And you can’t do that if you do not make your own decisions. As the iconic Katharine Hepburn once said, “When I’ve been unsuccessful, I’ve been controlled. When I’ve been successful, I’ve been in control.” This is a crucial point and you must never forget it. We all have (or should have) business advisers. And that’s smart. We should also listen to financial advisers, lawyers, accountants, colleagues, friends, and family. Some of you may even decide to jump on the hire-a-coach bandwagon. There’s nothing wrong with any of this, but sometimes this cacophony of voices can make it hard to hear ourselves.
Nothing is more important to success than listening to your own inner voice. I recently heard a business coach say that business owners not only need to hire a coach, but “must” do everything the coach says. He argued that there was no room for disagreement. This is so wrong! While most of us could stand to delegate more work, you should never delegate your authority. This is your business, not anyone else’s. You’re the one who has invested the time, energy, and money; you’re the one who has sacrificed most of your personal life; you’re the one who will have to pick up the pieces if things don’t work out. So you’re the one who has to make the decisions. Listen to others? Sure. Follow their advice? Absolutely, but only if it makes sense. If you’re willing to let someone else tell you what to do, if you’re ready to blindly follow orders, it’s a lot easier and cheaper to be an employee than an employer.
Finally, there’s a lot of noise out there regarding health care reform. I do not want to get political, but this is an issue that is crucial for many business owners. In my company, we are currently shopping for coverage and I am really not pleased with our options. I will be no less healthy on November 1 when my COBRA coverage ends, yet my insurance premiums will nearly double (and that doesn’t include the dental or vision coverage I currently have). Whatever you think about public options or government programs, the status quo is simply not good enough for most of us small business owners. Tell your congressional representatives and senators what you need. It’s true we are the backbones of the economy, but sometimes even backbones need a little support.
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