In Praise of Small Businesses

Among the many lessons of our time is the role small businesses are playing in finding creative solutions to one of the most challenging economies in decades. 

While many large companies have taken it on the chin – airlines, hotel chains, large retailers and professional sports are prime examples – big players tend to have deeper resources to weather economic disruption. An article earlier this month in The Atlantic stated that “the great small-business die-off is here, and it will change the landscape of American commerce, auguring slower growth and less innovation in the future.” 

The stakes are certainly high, not only for small businesses, but for their employees and for the nation. Small businesses make up 99.9% of all U.S. businesses and employ nearly 60 million, or nearly half of all workers. 

What gives us hope is that successful small businesses have certain qualities that can show the rest of the economy the way forward: courage, flexibility, creativity and an indomitable spirit. 

While some small businesses may indeed die out during this time, the most successful among them have weathered storms before. They have survived because of an inherently entrepreneurial mindset that allows them to innovate tenaciously in both good times and bad. 

Entrepreneurs have always had to balance risk with the rewards that come with being your own man or woman. Similarly, small-business owners often must respond to unforeseen challenges by fearlessly confronting changing landscapes and innovating in ways that overcome barriers others may see as insurmountable. 

Just look at what is happening now. 

Restaurants almost immediately showed the nimbleness small businesses bring to the table, shifting their operating models from dining room service to curbside or food truck service. Distilleries have switched from making spirits to hand sanitizer. Small businesses not only are finding creative ways to help themselves, but to help each other.  Leon Wengerd, co-owner of Dalton-based PioneerIWS, reached out to other manufacturers in Northeast Ohio to partner on creating and assembling field hospital cots. At least 15 businesses are collaborating on the initiative. 

Facing down obstacles is something small businesses learn to do from the day they hang out their shingles. Passion alone isn’t enough; successful small businesses also succeed by exercising a muscle that develops only by fighting through hardship. They have always had to be creative in anticipation of, and in response to, changing economic environments. Those that can’t do not survive.  

In other words, small businesses continue to embody the qualities that got them off the ground in the first place. Every large business began with those same entrepreneurial qualities, and small businesses in 2020 can serve as an example of how ALL businesses might want to think about the road to recovery. 

So, here’s to the small businesses. And here’s to the big businesses and clients who support them. When the sun begins to shine a little brighter one day, we all will emerge stronger, better and more equipped to weather the next storm. If you doubt one is coming, just ask a small business.