Are You a Small Business Owner or an Entrepreneur?
Welcome to National Small Business Week, an entire week dedicated to celebrating the typically uncelebrated version of the American entrepreneur.
Drive through the heart of any downtown in this country and you will pass small business after small business -- laundromats, restaurants, gas stations, clothing stores and more. Small businesses are the glue that holds American communities together, but we seldom label those business owners "entrepreneurs."
For example, when a plumber comes to fix your toilet, do you think of him or her as a small business owner or as an entrepreneur? We have been conditioned to believe that the entrepreneur title should only apply to people like Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos or on a small business scale, the founder of a cool startup that just sold for millions of dollars.
The fact is, all business owners are entrepreneurs. The size and the nature of the business is irrelevant. We have enough division in this country right now. Why not strive for inclusion? The main goal of the article I linked to above was to highlight the differences between small business owners and entrepreneurs. For example, the author makes this distinction:
Small business owners have a great idea -- Entrepreneurs have big ideas
Those are both big, and somewhat elitist, generalizations. As entrepreneurs and small business owners, we can change this way of thinking by investing time in better understanding one another’s businesses. Did Ross Black, founder and CEO of Simple Box Storage and the 2019 Small Business Person of the Year for Washington state, only have a great idea when he came up with Simple Box Storage? Or, did he implement big ideas into the creation of Smart Storage? I’m guessing it is the later, based on the fact he just won a fairly large award and his company is growing like a weed (no pun intended).
A recent article argued “entrepreneurs and business owners have a different relationship with their companies. Entrepreneurs view their companies as assets. Something to be developed, shaped and readied for market. And then sold for a profit so that they can move on to the next “Big One.”
So Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard doesn’t qualify as an entrepreneur because he never sold out? Why not ask him? Chouinard answers that very question in his book, Let My People Go Surfing, which should be required reading for all entrepreneurs.
I am a small business owner of a retail cannabis operation and growing lifestyle brand, and I definitely consider myself an entrepreneur. I do focus on the big picture and plan at least six months out. I do think risk is essential for success, and I am constantly figuring out better ways to scale. I am not sentimental about my retail store, a small business owner trait pointed out by both articles linked to above. Rather, I’m passionate about my brand, which exists beyond the brick and mortar.
All entrepreneurs have one really important thing in common: we don’t like working for the man (or woman)! We want to be the man! Our desire to run the show means we each believe we have the vision and ability to take an idea from a concept to a reality, then nurture it over a sustained period of time. It doesn’t matter if you are selling books online or selling them from a brick-and-mortar store, or both.
Every entrepreneur I know needs to wear 15 hats, from brand visionary to accountant to marketer and customer service. The cannabis business is no different. I feel like I’m stuck in meetings all day! What is different from your typical small business or startup environment is that the cannabis industry is highly regulated but not yet federally legal, so I have to take extra steps to accomplish tasks that my neighbor at the coffee shop, for example, doesn’t.
Simply because of the slow pace of the legislative cycle I might plan even further out than the founder of a startup tech company. Not only do I have to plan ahead, I have to plan for sudden and often highly impactful changes. I have a plan A, Plan B and a Plan C just to cover my bases.
Every entrepreneur struggles uphill. Most of us started our businesses because we were tired of following someone else’s dream. We set our own course and that is what really matters. The tactics we use and whether or not we have an exit strategy are just variations of the entrepreneurial journey. Dividing small business owners and entrepreneurs into two distinct categories is silly and smacks of old-school elitism.
Let's label every business owner as an entrepreneur and keep it at that. Simply fold the SBA’s Small Business Week and its resources into Congress’ National Entrepreneurship Week initiative and boom, everyone wins. Best of all, this would allow all of us to get to know one another’s business’ better and an opportunity to practice inclusion instead of exclusion, which can only be a good thing.