One Isn’t the Loneliest Number for Entrepreneurs: Celebrating Business Survival

Ok, this post is not about twins turning 100. I just couldn’t resist using this priceless photo as a featured image. No, what I really want to talk about is businesses reaching milestones and what celebrating them means, so in some weird way, this picture really does fit. Stay with me for a sec.

When is a birthday or anniversary a big deal and how far should a business go in celebrating one? Not a rhetorical question here, I’m really asking.

KLCreative Media is celebrating five years as a full-time consulting agency this month, and in preparing the announcement, it occurred to me that in business, just like life, the longer you survive, the more the “rooting for you” factor diminishes. (At least until you’re really old and pretty darn cute like these twins, and are being praised for sheer tenacity.) Why is that? When a business opens its doors, we gather to cut ribbons and high five, and congratulate on all the hard work. And rightly so. We talk about that NEW business. “Have you been to that new place over on Main St.? What did you think?” Business organizations give start-up grants, provide training, and freely deliver lots of promotional assistance to new businesses. There are newspaper articles and TV spots. Lots of rooting for you going on.

When a business closes its doors, there are condolences, “better luck next time”s, and media stories about how many and why small businesses fail.

But when a business has survived the well-documented 50% failure rate before five years, well, let’s be honest here. There aren’t many balloons, or newspaper articles or high fives. No one is saying “Hey, you hear about that place downtown that’s been there five years? What do you think, pretty impressive that they beat the odds, huh?” Maybe a “congratulations!” or two, but really nothing like the support given in that first year. Unlike Three Dog Night’s iconic 1969 song “One,” (showing my age here), YEAR ONE is far from the loneliest number in entrepreneurship. YEARS TWO THROUGH FIVE are what separate the survivors from the dreamers. Years two through five are what make an entrepreneur, but they sure can feel pretty lonely sometimes.

I’ve written a bit about the entrepreneurial struggle (see The Gauntlet Year and Authenticity in Social Media) and attempted to show some love to the ones that are making it (see Uniquely Local Virginia), but what really stands out from my five years in the trenches with small businesses and organizations is how we should be celebrating when a business beats the odds. Given that the Small Business Administration reports the following statistics on their website:

Small business is BIG!

  • The 28 million small businesses in America account for 54% of all U.S. sales.
  • Small businesses provide 55% of all jobs and 66% of all net new jobs since the 1970s.
  • The 600,000 plus franchised small businesses in the U.S. account for 40% of all retail sales and provide jobs for some 8 million people.
  • The small business sector in America occupies 30-50% of all commercial space, an estimated 20-34 billion square feet.

Furthermore, the small business sector is growing rapidly. While corporate America has been “downsizing”, the rate of small business “start-ups” has grown, and the rate for small business failures has declined.

  • The number of small businesses in the United States has increased 49% since 1982.
  • Since 1990, as big business eliminated 4 million jobs, small businesses added 8 million new jobs.

…I’d venture to say that keeping the huge impacts that small businesses make on the economy and the trend of decreasing small business failures is a milestone well worth celebrating in a much bigger way.

Lots of ideas for celebrating business anniversaries abound, mostly centered around having a big sale or some form of customer appreciation, which certainly is on target. Making it through years of business is all about the loyalty and patronage of great customers. Yet somehow in working with lots of businesses and organizations (70+ in five years), and being an entrepreneur myself, I know it’s about so much more than that. Some say it’s luck. Or timing. Or perseverance. Gallup research indicates that it’s a mix of 10 talents needed to start and grow a business, and I’d have to agree all of these traits matter:

  • Confidence: You accurately know yourself and understand others.
  • Delegator: You recognize that you cannot do everything and are willing to contemplate a shift in style and control.
  • Determination: You persevere through difficult, even seemingly insurmountable, obstacles.
  • Disruptor: You exhibit creativity in taking an existing idea or product and turning it into something better.
  • Independent: You are prepared to do whatever needs to be done to build a successful venture.
  • Knowledge: You constantly search for information that is relevant to growing your business.
  • Profitability: You make decisions based on observed or anticipated effect on profit.
  • Relationship: You have high social awareness and an ability to build relationships that are beneficial for the firm’s survival and growth.
  • Risk: You instinctively know how to manage high-risk situations.
  • Selling: You are the best spokesperson for the business.

All that being said leads me to this: Starting a business is wonderful and should be applauded. But SURVIVING in business should be celebrated in a big way. Yes, because entrepreneurs are tenacious and resourceful. But most importantly because small business matters to all of us every single day.

SO I’M CELEBRATING ALL MONTH. Not just because KLCreative Media has reached a milestone, but because I’ve had the privilege of working with so many entrepreneurs and support organizations that deserve major kudos for what they do for our communities, for our economy, and most of all, for our hearts. Small businesses are BIG, and being a small part of these companies and organizations has made all the challenges of entrepreneurship PRICELESS.


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