What commonalities do you notice about the small businesses that stand out from the crowd? What makes them different than their competitors? Rhetorical questions, perhaps, but worth considering as you plan your own small business strategy for approaching the marketplace.

While I haven’t figured out that one “secret ingredient,” I have discovered that the character of small business owners is often more indicative of success than their education or experience.

Character Trait #1: Willingness to Collaborate

Competitiveness and self-motivation may close our minds to the needs and values of collaboration. Worries about holding your cards close to your vest or where your next dollar is coming from can lead to a creeping paranoia.

A unique quality of the American character is that it is open to the future and driven to change for the better. Self-determination has driven our history – in curious harmony with an extraordinary culture of volunteerism.
Our success is your success, a fabric of personal relationships, employee teams, management consultants, concerned vendors, and demanding customers. Success begins when small business owners realize they cannot do it alone and, instead, embrace networking for its diverse input and its mutual self-interest.

Character Trait #2: Committed to Self-fulfillment

Successful small business owners plan for the short and long-term at the same time. Workers in structured corporations or established bureaucracies labor day -to-day. I don’t mean to suggest they are unhappy in this, but work-time for them occurs rather passively. Entrepreneurs, on the other hand, have their heads “in it.” Focused on cash flow, prospect development, customer service, and employee retention, small business owners are constantly focused on success.
As a consequence of their persistence and focus, they bring enthusiasm and shared vision to their operation – if they want to succeed. They discover that, while it may be their habit of focus and persistence that drives the strategy, there is no success unless it is shared with all the relationships that got them there.

Now, the entrepreneurs I work with sometimes tell me that they just want to have the satisfaction of providing value. They want to work at something they love to do. While this motivation is personal, it needs to serve a community in order for self-fulfillment to bring success.

Character Trait #3: Respect Solid Support Systems

Small business owners bring discipline to their commitment. While they are the only one in the business, that’s okay. They need to make their calls, keep their appointments, and work extra hours. But, success will elude them until they start to “download” their habits; record their goals and achievements; put language to job descriptions, policies, and procedures; publish strategic business plans, and the like. There is no “well-oiled machine” if you are the only wheel in motion.

Developing strong support systems, among staff inside and vendors/colleagues outside, relieves you to focus and think, to innovate and deliver. When you have built systems that wave red flags when wolves are hungry, you are better prepared to keep them from the door.

They don’t teach these virtues in management school. You can develop and build them, but you need something of this character to distance yourself from the likelihood of small business failure. Develop a plan. Hire a mentor. Devise a system. Grow personally, and watch your business do the same.


By Steven Schlagel