A couple of months ago I completed an online driving course. Two days ago as I was filling out an application for auto insurance I realized I had misplaced the certificate I needed from the driving school to get a discount on my insurance. The school´s website advertised 24-7 support. Without a great deal of hope, I opened a chat window. At the top of the window was a notice that said, "For faster service, call this number "?¦" Ok, I thought, I´ll call the number and submit a request for online help and take whichever one responds first. I hunkered down and prepared to waste half an hour on hold.
To my pleased surprise, in less than the time it took to enter the phone number, a message appeared in the chat window, "Hello, my name is Ryan, how may I help you?" Before I could type an answer, a cheery voice answered the phone, "Hi, this is Ryan."
"Hey" I said, "Are you the same Ryan who just responded in the chat window?" He was. In less than a minute he got my certificate number for me. Such prompt, friendly service with an almost homey feeling leads me to believe that the driving school is a small business. I could be wrong. Maybe it´s an exceptionally well-run large business. If so, it´s very, very rare.
Given the amount of time I spend dealing with call centers, sitting on hold or trying to converse with poorly trained staff who apparently loathe their jobs, it often seems as though huge, impersonal companies are taking over the world. To some extent, this is true. For example, huge companies control the banking industry and therefore have an influence on most individuals in the world. But there is still opportunity for the person with a certain level of intelligence and energy to be his or her own self-employed boss, or to build a business that provides jobs for others — jobs that are often more meaningful, if not more lucrative, than positions with large companies.
According to the 2003 United States Census figures, 39,479,466 U.S. residents were either self employed or worked for businesses with fewer than 20 employees during the report year, and non-employer firms were growing faster than firms that had employees.
If anyone reading has longed to start his or her own business but has hesitated to take the leap, because it seems as though the day of the small business has passed, think about those numbers. Small employers and self-employed individuals are contributing a substantial amount to the economy, and I´d be willing to bet they´re contributing an even more substantial amount to the general well-being and happiness of the United States and the world as a whole. Here´s to 2007 — let´s make it a great year for small business!