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halloween_pumpkin.jpgMy father owned a little grocery store in Western Oklahoma. By any of the standard definitions provided by such entities as the Small Business Administration and the Internal Revenue Service it would be considered a “small” business or even a “micro business”. However, there was absolutely NOTHING small about what Smith Grocery and Tom Smith did. He bought the business in 1971, leaving a promising corporate career for the sake of providing his family the opportunity to grow up in God’s Country, Roger Mills County. He opened his doors every day before 7 am, worked hard serving his beloved CUSTOMERS all day long, then swept and mopped the floors himself every night. And he did every bit of it with a sense of absolute joy that I attempt to replicate, but will never equal, in my own work. And I absolutely LOVE my work!  

It was always very clear that my father loved what he did, but it wasn’t until recently that I gained an appreciation for what his business meant to his customers. I had the unique opportunity to speak at an event at my old high school some time ago. After my talk, I got to talking to some of my friends and neighbors from the old days. I got to hear stories about how these folks remembered the old Smith Grocery and my father. I was amazed at what they recalled or how they so highly valued being a customer of the store. One such memory was how they so looked forward to going trick-or-treating at my Dad’s store when they were young,  or how excited they were when they had kids of their own to take there. Or how sad they were that there wasn’t a Smith Grocery any more for them to visit on Halloween with their kids. Smith Grocery wasn’t just a business, it was a part of its customers’ lives!

The IRS and the SBA can argue over their definitions of what constitutes a “small business” all they want to. My belief is that there is NOTHING small about a so-called “small business!” NOTHING! Any business that delivers value for its customers is a big business. Any business that positively impacts the lives of its customers is a GIANT, as far as I’m concerned.

The artist cannot look to others to validate his efforts or his calling. If you If you don’t believe me, ask Van Gogh, who produced masterpiece after masterpiece and never found a buyer in his whole life. The artist must operate territorially. He must do his work for its own sake.” – Steven Pressfield, The War of Art

The other day we had a problem where our dishwasher was overflowing suds. We knew who to call because we’d used a very good repair service, Dan’s Appliance Repair, when we had a problem with our washing machine. We knew to use Dan’s because when my wife’s sister had needed some appliance problem solved at her family’s house, it was Dan who came to the rescue. Naturally she couldn’t say enough good things about him and she eagerly referred him based on her experience. 

So anyhow, my wife calls Dan with the hope that he could come right out, and he did the next best thing. He asked a few questions in order to diagnose the problem, then suggested that my wife try something before he made a service call. She did, it worked, problem solved, zero expense! That is, no charge to us! I repeat NO CHARGE! 

Care to take a guess who we’ll refer any time the need for appliance repair comes up or who we’ll call when we have a need? 

Dan may not have collected for a service call in this case, but he further solidified his brand. He escalated the level of trust we place in him which will ultimately result in more business for him, and the kind of brand building that can’t be bought. It can only be earned.  

The best way to get MORE business is to do GOOD business!


I know a lot of us who love business spend time reading the biographies of successful people and case studies of successful organizations. One of the things I’ve noticed is that many times, when successful people reflect on the most happy times or most memorable points in their journeys, they talk about the early days of their business, even if those days produced a lot of struggles.

Here’s an example from a good book about Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page:

It has been a dramatic journey from when Page and Brin celebrated milestones by going to Burger King for hamburgers and when they played roller hockey in the parking lot with employees. Those were the good-old-days. Google has moved on to the good new days and to a time when it has enormous responsibility to the public, to employees, and to shareholders.” – Janet Lowe, Google Speaks: Secrets of the World’s Greatest Billionaire Entrepreneurs, Sergey Brin and Larry Page, pg. 247 

I had the opportunity to have lunch a while back with an entrepreneur who is about to celebrate his first year in business. He leapt onto the entrepreneurial path just out of college.  He had worked the night before until 6 am and had grabbed about 4 hours worth of sleep before we met for lunch. He was bleary-eyed, but he was also kind of proud of himself for staying on task to help find a solution to a difficult problem within the deadline requested by his client. I had to laugh out loud because I remember those days very well in my own business. When you’re at that stage you do pretty much whatever you have to do to please the client and wow them enough that they’ll hire you back and refer you to others. It’s about the simplest but hardest marketing strategy there is. And because it’s YOUR business and you’re serving YOUR clients, it can result in a sense of satisfaction that’s hard to describe.

So if you find yourself up against tough odds and you’re burning both ends of the candle, just consider that these could become the days you’ll reflect upon with great pride in the future. With that in mind, why not go ahead and celebrate these “good-old-days” while they’re happening?

When I hear people sigh and say, ‘Life is hard,’ I’m tempted to ask them, ‘Compared to what?'” – Sydney J. Harris

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