There are over 28 million small businesses in the US, and they employ more than half of all American workers. That’s right, the proprietor of the little café downstairs, the hipster who sells pencils and A4 notebooks, and the woman who runs that tea shop that smells like old lemons, they all make up huge part of America’s economic engine.
For as much as has been written about America’s small businesses, there are two things we usually overlook.
The first thing to remember about small businesses is that many of them fail. Not only that, but many of the people who start a successful business will have failed before.
The second thing to remember is that the vast majority of success stories aren’t Facebook level, multi-million-dollar affairs.
As consumers, we need to be paying attention to how small business shape our communities . That means paying attention to the stories behind the businesses.
Capterra is a small business – in spirit if not on paper. I’m wearing a hoodie right now. And many of the software buyers and vendors we connect are small businesses, as well.
Each of those small businesses is more than the accounting of its books, it’s a living collection of founders, risk takers, successes, and failures.
In getting Capterra off the ground, our CEO, Mike Ortner, took on about $200,000 in credit card debt. He worked for over a decade slowly building the relationships and systems that would make Capterra a successful long-term venture.
Our vendors’ stories
Our vendors are no different. Consider Rob Cochran, the owner and creator of SS-CMMS. Through the middle of last year, Rob was able to offer SS-CMMS for free, sustaining the work he did on the product with donations and his own desire to make it better.
At the end of 2015, personal circumstances almost destroyed SS-CMMS. When Rob announced the end of SS-CMMS in November, users lit up Rob’s customer support forum with positive responses and offers to pay for the software. You can look back at the company’s – (keeping in mind that “the company” is just one guy) – forums to see how all that hard work turned into a second chance.
A week later, Rob decided to give the pay model a try. He offered SS-CMMS for just $48 per year. Software buyers know that this is basically free. Fast forward to May 2016. SS-CMMS – which wasn’t listed with Capterra in November – is now in the top ten most-reviewed products in the CMMS directory, sporting a 4.5 star rating.
What we all have in common
Capterra and SS-CMMS are successful businesses for wildly different financial reasons and on very different scales. But at the heart of both businesses is a focus on meeting a customer need in the best way possible.
Those sorts of solutions are almost always customer-driven. By building relationships and listening to the feedback of the people you depend on to make a living, you give yourself more chances at success.
This week we shine a light on the small business community with National Small Business Week. It’s a week where smaller businesses can celebrate what makes them special.
I think we can do more though.
I think we can make every week small business week by simply paying more attention to how we spend our time and money.
Anyone who’s gone on a successful diet can tell you that paying attention matters. If you eat whatever you want, whenever you want, things go poorly. If you consider every meal, you end up making much better choices.
Here’s what I’d like to see happen.
Whenever you make a purchase this month, think about the actual choices you have. When you’re heading to Home Depot’s website, consider the hipster-owned Ace around the corner. Before you pop into Starbucks three times a week, remember that you drive right by the lemon-smelling tea shop.
Even when you buy software, you have a choice. Microsoft makes a lot of products I love, but there are genuinely wonderful competitors toiling away in their basements to offer you a compelling alternative.
Being a small business doesn’t mean that you get a free pass and it doesn’t mean that you have any right to people’s business. What it does mean that you’ve put yourself on the line. We as a country get too much out of America’s small businesses to not at least give them us a chance.
Small Business Week is only a week, but take the whole month to listen to what the people around you are offering. What story are they trying to tell with their business? Does it resonate with you?
If you’ve got a moment, I would love for folks to give a shout out to their favorite small businesses in the comments below. I’ll kick it off by sending some love to Vigilante Coffee, a roaster in my neighborhood that has both a fantastic product and incredibly pleasant employees. If you’re ever in the DC area, hunt down a cup and get ready to enjoy.
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