By Guy Browning
There’s no denying that running a business is tough at the moment, unless you happen to be selling PPE. So we should remember just why we do it.
If you have the sort of business you lock up at the end of the day, lockdown was hard – so it’s a good time to remind ourselves why running your own business is still and will always be a good thing:
‘Line manager’ is one of the dullest phrases in the English language, right down there with ‘sofa cover’ and ‘hoover bag’. You don’t have one, which means you’ll never be appraised by someone who spends their time not doing their job and making yours more difficult. You’ll never have to ask your manager to raise your salary in line with your effort. You’ll never have to worry about someone else taking your credit or giving you the blame. We can manage by ourselves.
If you’re an investment banker, you can earn a lot of money – but to your children (who you never see) you will only ever be ‘something in the City’. Try inspiring your kids with stirring tales of short derivative swaps (is that a thing?). But offer the tastiest sausages in Derbyshire or the finest tattoos in Strathclyde and your kids will know, understand and respect what you’re doing.
Silent spreadsheet pleasure: that satisfying feeling you get when you’ve put all your business data in your spreadsheet, itemised every cost down to the last hairpin, and then the final figure in the bottom right hand corner is positive. You’re in profit. You’ve made money. Who was responsible for that? You. Yours truly. Yourself. Give yourself a bonus.
Running a small business is no different to running a big business: things change and decisions must be made. Who makes decisions in big companies? It probably isn’t you or anybody you know, and it might well be someone who lives in a different time zone and doesn’t speak your language. In small businesses we make our own decisions, big, small, day in, day out. In fact, I might make a little decision right now, just because I know I can.
At primary school you learned to read and write, but the things you took home were the things you made – the egg carton stegosaurus. In business, you learn how to buy and sell and make money, but what you’re most proud of is what you’ve built. You’ve created a business, a useful service, a beautiful product and a livelihood. It’s right up there with the stegosaurus.
In the large office, gossip is one of the main recreational activities. In a small business, word of mouth is your lifeblood. To win a new customer because one of their friends has personally recommended you is sweet. The knowledge that you’re trusted, respected and sought-after is like getting a small lifetime achievement award every day of the week.
All SME people have one thing in common: they’ve had a go. They’ve given themselves the challenge of running their own business. They’ve also had the challenge of a global pandemic. We know what a challenge looks like and how to deal with it. It’s what we do. That’s why we’re special, why the whole economy depends on us and why you can be absolutely sure that, given time, we’ll get it up and running again.
Guy Browning runs the design agency Smokehouse.