Small Business: The Human Factor

Sun, 11/06/2011 - 1:16pm -- Jessica Baudin-...

Being a small business owner can be tough.... ok that was the understatement of the year, let me try again. Being a small business owner is the hardest thing I have ever done!

And that is on the good days, when your hours upon hours of planning and preparation come together, when your "systems" (that you spent years painstakingly developing) finally flow the way the business experts say they should, and when you don't get surprised by any annoyances, headaches or emergencies.

These days happen about as often as the full moon. Just regularly enough to keep you driven and committed to your vision. Often enough that you don't just give up...

But it is those other times, when real life happens, that test the small business model and the owner. Like a precocious three year old, repeatedly pushing your buttons to test boundaries (and your patience), while you say through gritted teeth" Because I said so that's why....."

Of course it is in these moments that life tries to test you again. Riiiggghht when you are at the limit....And just like parenting a trying, testing three year old, you have a choice. You can freak out, scream, yell, and  lose your stuff!  Which feels so good.... for about a minute....Or you can search inside yourself for that place of zen like calm where you cling to your plans and beliefs long enough to make it through. Without selling your child to the gypsies. Without giving up on your business.

And yes, sometimes a glass of wine is involved. 

Most small businesses fail in the first 5 years.This week was a reminder to me why that happens. Why it can happen to small businesses that have their systems in place, that are prepared and planned. Small businesses fall victim to the very reason I love running a business! The human factor. 

This week my administrative assistant, Athena, who I consider to be in my Framily (friends who are your extended family), lost her step dad to cancer.

I HATE cancer.

Having lost both a grandmother and grandfather to cancer I knew how hard this week was going to be for Athena.

Actually, I didn't. I knew how hard my experience with my grandparents’ battle with cancer had been. How it had affected our family. I can only imagine how much harder it is losing your dad... 

I did what I could to help. What a friend would do. I made homemade meals so they didn't have to worry about cooking (and so they would eat). I stayed in touch via text with Erik (Athena's hubby who is also part of my Framily) to make sure he was coping ok, to see if there was anyway I could help him or Athena, and sometimes just sending a joke or virtual hug. I thought about them everyday, all day.

When your people hurt, you hurt along with them. You hope, wish, pray that things will be easier, gentler. Even though you know it might not be. You wait with open arms and ears for when they are ready for real hugs and conversation. 

That is what Framily is all about.

But what about your small business? What about the realities that you need your administrative assistant, because it just so happens to be the same week you start registrations for your winter programs, one of the busiest administrative times of the year.  Add in the fact that you teach 20 hours of dance a week.  And usually work another 25-35 hours on top of that in program development, marketing, networking, scheduling, etc, etc, etc!  Remember what I said about these things happening when you're right at your limit?

There it is, the human factor. Small businesses do not have the staffing power or personnel to simply call in someone else to cover.  There isn't large bureaucratic systems and services in place for family illness, deaths, emergency situations. Small businesses run based on the motivation and passion of the team. The power of the team's drive is often what determines whether the small business will sink or swim when real life happens. 

J'Adore Dance is highly driven.

This week we made it work. We made it work for Athena, her step dad, her family, for our family, our clients,  for our team. I taught my classes, did lesson plans, wrote proposals, took care of marketing, all while answering phone, responding to emails, taking registrations and manning the front desk. My team stepped up by helping to clean the studio, do errands, and generally get to things before I even had a chance to think about them. 

And there it is again, the human factor!

What makes us vulnerable as small businesses is also what has the potential to make us thrive! We believe in each other, we believe in our vision, we believe that our professional and personal life can work together. It's not always easy. In fact much of the time it is incredibly hard. But it is satisfying when you get it right. When the TEAM gets it right. 

Was it perfect? No. Were there some people who were a bit irritated it took us longer then normal to get back to them? Yes. But when we were honest and transparent about what was going on, most of them understood, were supportive, and rallied us onwards and upwards!

People appreciate that at J'Adore Dance we are vulnerable enough to talk about our human factor, because it is what has always been so special about our programs, our instructors, our studio. It is a place where the human factor is celebrated! 

If at any point in my career my small business grows into a big business I am sure I will enjoy and appreciate the perks of a larger system, a bit more security to fall back on. But I hope we never lose the human factor. I believe that there is a way to run a successful business and retain the joys of humanity. We just have to believe in it together, as a team!