Most small-business owners actually seek meaning, not time off

In a response to an article in The Augusta Chronicle (found here), business owner Jeff Annis wrote this guest column:

On July 5, The Augusta Chronicle published an article titled “Vacations hard to come by for small-business owners.” Citing a recent survey by Constant Contact, Jenna Martin reported that 43 percent of polled small-business owners do not take vacations; 56 percent said they believe they never can be away from their businesses; and 55 percent listed “having enough time” as a top business concern.

HERE IS THE surprising news: Most small-business owners don’t work for the purpose of building wealth, a wonderful retirement plan or vacation time. If they wanted that, they would become school teachers. More than 95 percent of small-business owners would make more money, accumulate better retirement plans and have more time off if they taught in public schools. I know this firsthand.

My favorite local small-business owners do their work for the meaning – not the money, not the retirement benefits, not the time off. How have they survived 20, 30 or more years during ups and downs, deep recessions, economic downturns and inflation? How did they survive increasing over-regulation, hyper-taxation, crippling labor shortages and a tougher-than-ever banking environment?

These business owners have managed to survive operating in a nation that is increasingly ruled by a political class, within both major political parties, that encourages lawsuits and has as a chief priority of creating dependency and entitlement among our public.

Neurologist, psychiatrist, author and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl taught us something in his many books, especially in Man’s Search for Meaning. Frankl wrote that life’s meaning comes from three aspects in life: hard work, unavoidable suffering and love. If you haven’t already, take time to read Frankl’s book, or read The Last Freedom, a novel based on Frankl’s life, by Chronicle Editorial Page Editor Michael Ryan.

TO SUCCEED IN business, you must love your work. You must be a person with a grateful heart. You must be incredibly optimistic, no matter what happens. You must be a person of impeccable honesty and integrity. You must continually improve your knowledge, abilities and skill sets. You must be undeterred by the ups and downs of economic forces that are arrayed against you at every turn. You must make decisions today that won’t show any benefit for a few quarters, or even a few years.

YOU MUST PUT everybody else – your customers and the people on your team – first in your priorities. Your company must provide results that thrill the end user, regardless of the current status of your paycheck or your cash flow. You must be able to get up and go to work for weeks or months on end without pay. You must work hard and smart and, as the article shows, sometimes you have to work long.

When small-business owners falter, the cause usually is one or more of three conditions that Frankl writes about: addiction, aggression or depression. If any of these detrimental conditions take over a person and are not discovered in time or controlled, the business and the person will fail.

Regarding time off, most small-business owners go to work and don’t see that as “work” in the traditional sense. They love what they do. They love their team and customers. Isn’t every day a great day when you do what you love? If a person truly becomes overworked, it is the same for the business owner as it is for anybody else. It may lead to a diminished life, including the onset of depression, addiction or aggression.

Nobody does anything incredible alone. The best small businesses grow great team members who share a compelling, positive company vision that is created
and supported by the owners, leaders, top managers and front-line staff.

FOR A BUSINESS to flourish, the leaders and top managers need to constantly encourage people to do more, to be more efficient and to provide better quality. The level of team-member development ultimately decides the business’ success. Listening to front-line staff by the decision-makers is a secret key to success. Turning front-line people into trusted decision-makers is the Holy Grail that creates business success and long-term growth.

Time off is not what the best small-business owners seek. They strive to see their communities improve as they put all their wealth at risk to provide jobs for their fellow citizens. Since 1998, small-business startup rates have been declining steadily. If small-business owners manage to make a decent living and save a little for their retirement or get a week or two off per year along the way, then they are in the top 5 percent of small-business owners in the United States.

MEANWHILE, IT IS still 80 percent probable that your newly created small business will fail, be sold or cease to exist within five years of inception.

God bless America.

(The writer is a small-business owner at Advanced Services Inc., a pest control company, and a partner at Work Life Advisors, a company that advises and coaches area businesses and professional firms.)

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