In my previous post, entitled, "Be Conservative," it's possible to interpret that as supporting a political philosophy. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Honestly, I have to admit I lean heavily to the middle, and find the ridiculous partisanship to be offensive. Like most sane human beings, there are parts of both the Democratic and Republican platforms that I agree with. And there are other components, from both, that offend me to the core. The truth is though, you can run a successful business regardless of which way you lean.
Aside from the political conservative side, there is also the issue as to whether one is personally conservative or risk averse. Like the political perspective, this has little to do with the potential success of an entrepreneur... as long as the extremely conservative nature can be curbed slightly when it comes to the business. A small business owner must take some risks, no matter how small, or the business will never get off the ground. An excessive amount of risk can lead to either quick ruin or potentially mind shearing success. Extreme conservatism will lead to a slow death, and that's really about it.
One of the things to realize as your business grows though, is that the perception of you as a business owner, may be vastly different than the reality. However, that's because your reality changed dramatically, while that of your friends and family did not. As the business grows, we begin to deal with numbers and decisions that others close to us can't fathom, and so what is perhaps a conservative, low-risk decision to us, can easily appear as a crazy, outrageous decisions to those around us.
I can't tell you how many times my grandfather has asked, "You sure you're OK kid? That's a lot of money..." when looking at the property and renovations we've made to our offices. The idea of paying over $1,000,000.00 for a piece of property is unfathomable to him because he never made more than $50,000.00 in a year (if I had to guess.) That's a risk he just can't wrap his head around. For Big Bang though, the far greater risk was staying where we were, in what would have been an undersized office building. In order to allow the business to grow, we needed more space, and this option cost less than our existing lease space.
Anyone that knows me, would likely not describe me as conservative, personally or professionally. We offer great salaries and benefits to our employees. We have a great campus on five wooded acres with golf and volleyball and disc golf. I have played poker in some of the biggest tournaments around, traveled the world scuba diving, and drive an Infiniti convertible. I doubt "conservative" is what friends and families think of me.
But in business, for the most part I am conservative. But that still means providing the support and materials my employees need to succeed, not nickel and dime-ing them on the small stuff. That means sending them to expensive training courses and tradeshows, so that Big Bang maintains the highest quality of employees. That means paying our bills on time or early so our vendors respect us and want to do business with us, rather than holding off payment for 45 or 60 days.
As Sue, one of our employees is fond of saying, "Make good decisions." Well good business decisions are conservative decisions, that are made for the good of the company, even if they look like crazy decisions from outside.
What's in a title?
As we meet new people in our lives, one of the first questions asked of us is, "So, what do you do?" I think that for a small business owner, establishing a title to effectively answer that question can be very difficult, and the choice must be made with some serious thought.
Going back to my post about "Defining Small Business," there are two small business types we're looking at - the independent consultant versus the small business employer - and they have differing requirements for titles. Let's start with the Independent Consultant.
If the business is a one person shop, I think a business title is not only unnecessary, but out and out deceptive. If you're a consultant, your business card title should reflect that. If you're a painter, a baker, a candlestick maker, it doesn't matter, put that on your card. Maybe even get creative with your title if it's appropriate for the business. What you are not though, is the President, CEO, or even Owner, and I think using any of those titles is disingenuous, and being disengenious is a dangerous practice to get in to.
Small business owners want their companies to be perceived as larger than they are. I understand that, and have undoubtedly been guilty of it over the years. The concern, legitimate or not, is that if we appear small, we may not get the job. Will a potential customer put their faith in us if they know how small we are? Consequently, the title of CEO or President is thrown out there. However, would I want or expect the CEO of Chrysler to build a car? Of course not! It's not their expertise. So, if that's not what I want as a consumer, why would I think my customers are any different?
If my title is President, my customers should rightly believe that I have a team, albeit potentially a small team, that I can bring in. It's going to become fairly obvious fairly quickly that I am really just a consultant if I am the only one answering the phone, doing the work, and sending the invoices.
What it comes down to is this: don't lie to a customer by offering a title that doesn't fit.
And if the independent consultant grows to the point where an employee or two is needed, and an LLC or INC is created, then what? It's likely that when still small, the President or Owner is still going to be doing work. I actively and regularly interacted with customers and did product development and testing for a few years after Big Bang started. It wasn't until we had probably eight to ten employees that I slowly slid out of the "doing" role and into my "management" role. So, is a title appropriate once employees are added? Absolutely. Start with "Owner" because that covers the fact that you both manage the business and work for the business. Once a few employees are added though, the title starts to actually matter more and define what your role is. Here's what I did.
I had two sets of business cards created - one read "President" and the other read "Instructor." Why? Well when I taught courses around the country I felt that the students in the courses reacted differently to "President," and their perception was my reality. So, I went back to using "Instructor" when teaching, which generally made people more comfortable with me in class. On the other hand, when my banker was going to make a presentation to his board of directors regarding our line of credit, being the "President" was necessary. Or is a title necessary for my Marketing Director, or Sales Director? Beyond a doubt, because of who they interact with on a daily basis. It makes their business life easier because that's actually what they do and they need that level of respect and understanding of all the things they are responsible for.
For the small business owner though, my suggestion is to take your ego out of the decision. If I look at a résumé or CV that is filled with multiple self-proclaimed titles of President or CEO, I can almost guarantee that that person is a serial independent contractor, and likely more interested in their title than my needs. My title doesn't matter to me at all, even now as Big Bang grows. Often times when people ask what I do, I tell them, "I'm a geek," or "I work at a small software company." The thrill and ego boost of being President is not what I'm about. The excitement of Big Bang's success is enough for me, and that has nothing to do with my title.
This two-part post started with a quick discussion of some of the small business resources I have used throughout my years as a business owner - books, blogs, people, etc. The goal has been to learn more about all the aspects of the business, determine my own strengths and weaknesses, and improve as a manager and business owner. As the business grows and we continue to add new people, create new products, and take more responsibility for the development and sales cycles, there is always something new to learn - for both me and the staff.
One question that should be considered as well is, "How does the staff learn about business?" They have come on board from any number of different backgrounds. For us, we have men and women of different races, ages, experience, education, etc. Some have owned their own businesses or managed large organizations; some were 23 years old and fresh from college; some are on their second careers. We encourage everyone to attend training seminars, workshops, webinars, tradeshows and conferences, but those are often related to their jobs. It may be technical training on a specific software application or a webinar for the new CRM software, but what about learning about business itself?
In my opinion, small business learning starts with the small business owner. Unfortunately, in my experience, many small business owners are unwilling or unable to talk about business with their employees. There is almost a jealous guarding of all things "business related." I want my employees excited about the business, and dedicated to it. When you have only a small group of people working for you, you need them to understand how their contributions affect the business.
We have done a few things here at Big Bang in order to bring everyone into the fold. First, I will answer virtually any question. Whether it relates to legal questions, banking issues, sales, insurance renewals - it doesn't matter. There is nothing off limits, and we let people know that when we hire them. They are expected to ask questions and to challenge me and each other.
The second thing I try to do is regularly tell the staff what's going on, both verbally and in print. Consequently, everyone know where sales are at for the month, or how close we are to exceeding the previous year's sales. I do a brief email newsletter every one to two months that summarizes everything that's going on in the business - Sales, Marketing, Development, Support, profitability, travel and construction schedules, etc. I can't take credit for this idea - blame it on the business blogs - but it seems to be very well received.
Finally - and this will sound odd - everyone here knows that they are welcome to leave at any time for a new opportunity. I want and need employees that are informed, excited, knowledgeable, curious, ambitious, opportunistic, dedicated and well trained. Hiring people, keeping them ignorant and being afraid they will leave is a colossal mistake. I would hate to lose any of the staff here, but Big Bang and the UIU would not exist if I had not learned enough to step out on my own. I want the same opportunities for my employees and they deserve it.
Greetings and salutations,
In my opinion, the purpose of a small business blog is to learn. There is a benefit for me as the business owner to review and discuss some of my thoughts and decisions; and there is hopefully some benefit for you, the reader, to learn how about small business ownership. So often a "mentor" is recommended for small business owners, and I believe that blog postings and the resulting commentary can help fulfill that roll.
That said, I recognize that throughout the upcoming posts, we are going to disagree on any number of things. I will provide my opinions based on my experiences, in a very brief and limited format, undoubtedly without giving all the facts and details. You, the reader, will react to my words based on your experiences, fill in the blanks, and make a judgment. It’s what we all do, and I accept that. Also, along the way, it’s entirely possible that my Midwestern sarcasm may not be interpreted the way I meant it. I accept that as well.
I also realize and expect that my opinions will change over time as my experience grows or as someone else provides a sound argument for a different option. As a small business owner, change is a critical component for success, and I rarely feel that “my way or the high way” is the right way. What this means for you though is that I may well contradict myself occasionally. I apologize in advance. Remember, I'm learning too.
Finally, this is a moderated blog and we do not accept anonymous postings. Why? First, a non-moderated blog leads to people posting "FIRST!" far too often. Additionally, some very small percentage of people feel that commenting on a blog post is license to utterly ignore the inner filter commonly found between the brain and their furiously typing fingers. We would prefer to avoid the rabid, "YOUR AN IDIOT" postings - and yes, I know "your" is spelled wrong. If you have something to ask or say, stand up and do so... with your name attached to it. If you think a posting or comment is idiotic, explain why, but please use proper Netiquette. I have my name out there and will try to provide my rationale, and I ask the same of you. We don't have to agree, but we do have to respect.
So, I thank you for reading, and I look forward to your comments and questions.
About Big Bang Blog
There are many reasons to write a small business blog, we wanted to bring you at least a few reasons to read one. The Big Bang Blog covers the ins and outs of running a small software business, as well as a variety of small business marketing and media topics. Please leave us your comments and questions.
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|About Adam Murphy -
Adam is the President and Owner of Big Bang LLC and espouses a pretty progressive small business philosophy based primarily around hiring the right people and getting the hell out of their way.
|About Nate Bauer -
Nate is the Marketing Director for Big Bang LLC and pretty much spends his days tip-toeing on the pinnacle of how to most effectively implement strategy given the wide open cookie jar of small business marketing possibilities.
|About Kelley Burian - @kelleyburian
Kelley is the Sales Director for Big Bang LLC. Responsible for everything from GSA contracts, resellers and international customers, she has her hands full doing whatever she can to make sure our valued clients are thrilled with our fantastic products.