Thriving in the new economy
Last year, I set out to update my book on business owners and their money, which was first released in 2006. Things have changed much since then, so listening intentionally to the voice of today’s owners seemed critical to reflecting the new economic reality in the second edition of my book. I decided to survey, interview and dialogue with business owners to learn about their views on ownership since the economic shift of 2008.
The survey asked owners how their perspective on ownership has changed, about the risk of ownership today versus the rewards, and about the message they wanted to share with our nation’s leaders. It wasn’t scientific, just real-world listening.
Their responses come from across the U.S. The majority of respondents have been in business more than 5 years, many of them for more than 10 years (73.4 percent). They are sole proprietors as well as employers of dozens. Most are between 40 and 60 years old (57.4 percent). They are in service industries, distribution and manufacturing, technology, retail, health care, entertainment, transportation and more. This is not a homogenous group, except in their role as owners.
Their responses are encouraging and discouraging, angry and hopeful, determined and uncertain and insightful.
I want to share the insights and conclusions I’ve drawn. Conclusions that I strongly believe are critical to recovering, even thriving, in the new economy.
A cause worth fighting for
First, three key findings from the survey and interviews.
Business owners are not a single-minded political voice, but they do share a common belief that private enterprise is more vulnerable today than they can recall. Our political landscape may seem different, but there is a strong sense that we have a common sentiment that private enterprise is our nation’s economic backbone.
Business owners have a sense of entitlement that is uniquely ours. We believe we’re entitled to a government that supports our best interests as job creators, and not just the special interests of billion-dollar corporations or people and families caught in a disintegrating middle class.
Business owners, having seen private enterprise threatened, value it more than ever. Very, very few are ready to walk away from ownership.
My conclusions are many. But one big one is this: Business owners have a rallying point with the potential to cross political and ideological boundaries—the value of private enterprise as a force for innovation, creativity and financial freedom. And we have the strength in numbers to create impact around this common belief. But our voice is fractured.
The time has come for business owners to acknowledge that we have a cause worth fighting for and come together to make our voices heard.
Claiming our collective power
Owner after owner who participated in my survey talked about the regulations and tax codes and other policies that make it harder—impossibly hard, it sometimes seems—to be profitable. Among the issues mentioned as the biggest threats to private enterprise today, 44.7 percent mentioned the cost of health insurance; 19 percent mentioned other types of government interference. And their comments are telling.
“Get out of the way of my success,” wrote one respondent. “Don’t make decisions for us. The more we fail on our own, the stronger we become. The more you fail on our behalf the more we lose faith. Can we have the reins now?”
Another said, “Stop stacking the deck in favor of mega-business.” And many echoed the sentiments of the owner who said, “Open the flow of money to small business.”
With so much common ground, why don’t owners have a stronger voice in the public dialogue about our nation and its issues? I believe it’s because we are more inclined to narrow our focus to our own companies. We are often renegades and one-gun-slingers, convinced that no one else has our interests at heart in the same way we do.
And that’s true, of course. So business owners and entrepreneurs have never stepped up to own our collective power. We’ve allowed corporate Goliaths to set political agenda, to impact the outcome of elections and public policy with the outsized checks they write and the unchecked influence they wield.
As a result, the playing field tilts in their direction.
Regulations and tax code and power structure favor the corporate structure. This behemoth receives the attention of (corporate-owned) media and (corporate-indebted) elected officials.
Business owners, in contrast, have settled for a small, fractured voice.
Stacking the deck in our favor
In my 2012 survey, owners like you told me in high percentages that they were hoping, post-election, for government leadership that would become their champion in our nation’s capital. Instead of joining together to champion our singular issue—the power of private enterprise—we continued to speak with our fractured voices. We complained a lot and we voted without much effort to create unity and we crossed our fingers when we exited the polls.
Here’s my message: We can continue to blame or we can own our power for finding solutions. The hope is in finding solutions.
What if the next major grassroots movement in the U.S. isn’t the Tea Party or Occupy Wall Street or the Left or the Right?
What if the next major grassroots movement in the U.S. is the Owner’s Voice? The United States of Business Ownership? Job Creators United? What if we set an agenda that reflected not politics, but healthy economic choices that have nothing to do with Wall Street or Washington and everything to do with restoring the strength of private enterprise on Main Street?
Content contributed by Sam Frowine, an author and coach to business owners, a role he has filled for owners across the U.S. and Canada for almost 20 years. For the complete results and a white paper on the specific conclusions of Sam’s Ownership Survey 2012, visit his website at www.SamFrowine.com or email him at Sam@SamFrowine.com.