Small businesses long predate the advent of large corporations (think blacksmith in medieval Europe). But by the mid-20th century the idea of joining a large company where you could work your entire career and retire with a nice pension became the goal for many.
However, a confluence of factors -- economic, social, and technological -- have led to significant changes in how people now look at their careers. As a result, many people have been forced to explore the possibility of starting their own business while others have made the conscious choice to get out of the corporate "rat race." This recent post about the entrepreneurial mindset of millennials is indicative of the change.
One of the new breed of entrepreneurs is Natalie Sisson, who wrote a book called The Suitcase Entrepreneur. The proliferation of new technology and the dramatic decrease in costs to start a business online has made it possible for people like Natalie to pursue their dreams. Of course many small businesses aren't online at all, but that's a separate post altogether.
The ease of starting a business today also has a downside. At least in the technology world where I operate, a warped sense of what entrepreneurship is all about has taken hold. The success of companies like Instagram, which was purchased by Facebook for $1 billion when the company was less than two years old and without any revenue, leaves everyone with a smart phone thinking, "I could come up with an app and sell it for millions!"
Don't get me wrong, I was raised in Silicon Valley before moving to Vancouver and I love to see entrepreneurs with big dreams. What concerns me is when people build a business with a focus on trying to get big simply based on the belief that "bigger is better" or when those involved with the company view anything other than a multimillion dollar acquisition as a failure.
This mentality loses sight of the reasons why many people pursue entrepreneurship: greater freedom and flexibility in their work, and pursuing something they are passionate about. Of course money matters too, and many small businesses struggle to make ends meet. So we should celebrate those who succeed in creating profitable enterprises, provide valuable goods and services, and create employment opportunities in our communities, even if they aren't the next Instagram.
To celebrate the nearly 1-million entrepreneurs who help drive the Canadian economy, the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC) is sponsoring Small Business Week October 20-26. The infographic below, produced by the BDC, provides a good overview of small businesses in Canada. And if you're an aspiring entrepreneur you can see there is a lot of opportunity for businesses that serve small businesses!
"The best advice I ever received? Simple: Have no regrets. Who gave me the advice? Mum’s the word. "If you asked every person in the world who gave them their best advice, it is a safe bet that most would say it was their mother. I am no exception. My mother has taught me many valuable lessons that have helped shape my life. But having no regrets stands out above all others, because it has informed every aspect of my life and every business decision we have ever made." Source: <a href="http://www.linkedin.com/today/se/bestadvice">LinkedIn</a>
"... I had access to the best guidance available: We all do. In the era of blogging, many of the leading thinkers in the web industry were publishing their thoughts online for free. I learned about venture capital thanks to the insights of Fred Wilson, and got my first look at the world of digital marketing thanks to Edelman’s Steve Rubel. Charlene Li of Forrester Research was unknowingly my mentor in the realm of web trends. Now many of these industry experts have moved to newer platforms like Twitter and Facebook, where they continue to distill their invaluable advice and insights to the world. And everyday (sic), without knowing it, they are actually giving me the best advice: Keep listening." Source: <a href="http://www.linkedin.com/today/se/bestadvice">LinkedIn</a>
"Moving fast and being organized were my strong suits. The more there was to do, the more I felt alive." Who better than me, then, to land a plum assignment working for Jack Welch, Mr. Speed and Simplicity. Imagine my surprise when he called me into his office that day and admonished me for being too efficient. My zeal to do everything on my to-do list — along with my reserved, even shy nature — made me come across as abrupt and cold. I started every meeting by jumping right in and left with every action under control. 'You have to wallow in it,' he said. 'Take time to get to know people. Understand where they are coming from, what is important to them. Make sure they are with you.' I heard Jack loud and clear. But honestly, it took a long time for the impact of his words to sink in, and even longer to change my behavior. After all, those same attributes had led to my being in the role in the first place." Source: <a href="http://www.linkedin.com/today/se/bestadvice">LinkedIn</a>
"The best advice I’ve ever received was from my father when I was 12 years old and willing to listen. He told me that with my personal characteristics, I could, if I set my mind to it, do anything I chose. This advice instilled in me a great sense of confidence, and despite the fact that sometimes I was a little nervous, I stepped out and did what I wanted to do when I wanted to do it. I think it really often is up to the parents to help build confidence in their children. It is a very necessary part of growing up." Source: <a href="http://www.linkedin.com/today/se/bestadvice">LinkedIn</a>
"If I had to single out one piece of advice that’s guided me through life, most likely it would be from my grandmother, Nellie Molonson. She always made a point of making sure I understood that on the road to success, there’s no point in blaming others when you fail. Here’s how she put it: 'Sonny, I don’t care who you are. Some day you’re going to have to sit on your own bottom.' After more than half a century in the energy business, her advice has proven itself to be spot-on time and time again. My failures? I never have any doubt whom they can be traced back to. My successes? Most likely the same guy." Source: <a href="http://www.linkedin.com/today/se/bestadvice">LinkedIn</a>
"As a child, I can't recall a day that went by without my dad telling me I could do anything I set my mind to. He said it so often, I stopped hearing it ... It wasn't until decades later that I fully appreciated the importance of those words and the impact they had on me." Source: <a href="http://www.linkedin.com/today/se/bestadvice">LinkedIn</a>
At a conference in 2006, President Clinton gave Agassi some advice on pricing for market disruption: "'By the time you will convince the rich folks in Israel to try it, then get the average folks in Israel to try it, then bring it to the U.S. for our rich folks ... the world will run out of time. You need to price your car so that an average Joe would prefer it over the kind of cars they buy today — an 8-year-old used gasoline car, selling for less than $3,000. As a matter of fact, if you can give away your car for free, that's a sure way to succeed.' Pricing for market disruption is very different than pricing for a few early adopters. You have to plan your pricing from the target customer's perspective, within the boundaries of your costs." Source: <a href="http://www.linkedin.com/today/se/bestadvice">LinkedIn</a>
"I'm a nerd, seriously hard-core, and sometimes that translates into being a know-it-all. People got tired of that while I worked at an IBM branch office in Detroit in the eighties. My boss told that that it had become a real problem with about half my co-workers. However, he said that my saving grace was my sense of humor. When trying to be funny, well, didn't matter if I was funny or not, at least I wasn't being an a**hole. The advice was to focus on my sense of humor and worry less about being exactly right. For sure, don't correct people when it matters little." It took a while to get noticed, but it did get noticed, and some tension got less tense. That felt pretty good. Source: <a href="http://www.linkedin.com/today/se/bestadvice">LinkedIn</a>
"When I was 20-something ... I walked into my boss’s office, the division leader ... I told him that I felt like on any given day I was facing a tsunami of things I could pay attention to, and there was no way I could work any harder to make stuff happen. I was asking for more resources, as the answer. And he sat me down as he might one of his many kids and gave me this advice: Feed the Eagles and Starve the Turkeys. Feed the Eagles. There are only a few things that matter. Know what they are. And place your energy into them. They aren’t always right in front of you so you need to look up and out more. Starve the Turkeys – lots of things are right in front of you … pecking around, making noise, and demanding attention. Because they are right in front of you, it’s easy to pay attention to them most and first. Ignore them. They will actually do fine without you." Source: <a href="http://www.linkedin.com/today/se/bestadvice">LinkedIn</a>
"'You are not required to finish your work, yet neither are you permitted to desist from it.' This is from Pirke Aboth, or “The Ethics of the Fathers” ... a collection of wisdom from the Jewish Talmudic sages, in this case, Rabbi Tarfon. This particular instruction has resonated with me for years. It’s something I think about nearly each day, and I find myself applying it to everything: My day job, my family life, my long-term hopes, even my sense of responsibility as a citizen. It’s a beautiful concept. It says you have an obligation to labor, to continue trying and making your way through the world, in essence, making a difference. At the same time, the instruction also focuses you on the effort, not the outcome. The main idea is the project, not the success." Source: <a href="http://www.linkedin.com/today/se/bestadvice">LinkedIn</a>
"I received one of my most valuable and sustaining pieces of advice from my mentor Bill Moggridge soon after I started working with him in the late 1980's. He had something called the '10 day rule' that he applied religiously to his own life and suggested strongly that I did the same to mine. The 10 day rule dictated that he was never allowed to travel away from his wife, Karin, for more than 10 days at a time. He would go to whatever lengths necessary to make it back home within the 10 days even if it meant flying the next day to another client meeting. His view was that this design constraint made him more efficient with travel and also reminded him to keep a balance between home and work life. I have found both of these to be true and have applied the 10 day rule throughout my career. I am convinced it has helped me maintain a great relationship with my own wife, Gaynor, for the last 27 years." Source: <a href="http://www.linkedin.com/today/se/bestadvice">LinkedIn</a>
"My father-in-law, the Honorable Steven W. Fisher ... taught me this essential business paradox: when you want something from someone, give them something instead, with no strings attached or expectations. Ask how you can be of service. Act like a true friend, even before you’ve established a friendship. Are you guaranteed to be able to leverage this later? Absolutely not. But that’s not the point – the point is that when you act unselfishly – when you behave as you would to a great friend – trustworthy and trusting, respectful and kind – then more often than not, good things will come in the relationship." Source: <a href="http://www.linkedin.com/today/se/bestadvice">LinkedIn</a>
"'Follow your instincts' was the terse, three-word suggestion I received 25 years ago from Don Valentine, founder of Sequoia Capital. 'Follow your instincts' shouldn’t be confused with 'trust your gut,' 'ignore reality,' 'rely on your sniffer' or 'go for glory.' The rough translation is 'do your homework well, analyze things carefully, assess the options but eventually trust your judgment and have the courage of your convictions – even if they are unpopular." Source: <a href="http://www.linkedin.com/today/se/bestadvice">LinkedIn</a>
"Most of us are trained to believe that practice makes perfect; but the best advice I've ever received preaches the exact opposite: Don’t be a perfectionist. Today I embrace this, but when I first heard this 7 years ago, I refused to accept it." Source: <a href="http://www.linkedin.com/today/se/bestadvice">LinkedIn</a>
"I've heard and read quite a lot of good advice, most of which I've probably ignored, but one thing that I did internalize was a bit of advice about, oddly enough, travel: pack half as much stuff as you think you'll need, and twice as much money. The more I travel this way the more I bring the same attitude to every new project. You can't know what's going to happen, so don't worry — just take what you need, and jump in." Source: <a href="http://www.linkedin.com/today/se/bestadvice">LinkedIn</a>
"My father: 'If you’re willing to take the blame when you deserve it, people will give you the responsibility.' This was perhaps the best advice for the workplace I ever got." Source: <a href="http://www.linkedin.com/today/se/bestadvice">LinkedIn</a>
Thompson's former soccer coach, Bruce Cochrane, told him that losing doesn't matter: "It sounds like a trite lesson now: another version of 'it's not whether you win or lose, it's how you play the game.' But it was much more powerful. He was explaining that there was a certain artistry to what we were trying to do, and a certain dignity that we had upheld even in defeat." Source: <a href="http://www.linkedin.com/today/se/bestadvice">LinkedIn</a>
"The advice came from Clint Williams, an editor at the paper. Near the end of the summer, many of the fellows were figuring out where to focus our job search or weighing job offers. Many of us didn’t know what to do next. What would make us happy? Clint had a rule of thirds for happiness in life. He told me to ask three questions: Are you happy with your job? Are you happy where you live? Are you happy who you’re with (depending on your circumstances that could mean friends, spouse, partner, etc). If you answer Yes to at least two out of three, you found your spot for the moment. If not, you need to make a change to one of them." Source: <a href="http://www.linkedin.com/today/se/bestadvice">LinkedIn</a>
"In my second year at Harvard Business School, I took a career management course because I had no idea what I was going to do upon graduation. At the start of the course, the professor gave me the best advice: That the most important asset I would ever manage would be my career and because of that, I should give it the proper time, attention and investment that it deserved. No other asset I would ever manage would ever come close to the net present value of my career." His specific advice was to evaluate my career status about every 18 months. It's 18 months because that's about how long it takes for a person to master a job — and begin to look for new challenges. Either you find those challenges in the existing job or you have to and find new opportunities. Regardless, that regular evaluation keeps you honest about managing your career, rather than passively going along with the situation that you are currently in." Source: <a href="http://www.linkedin.com/today/se/bestadvice">LinkedIn</a>
"... I received some great advice from Marshall Goldsmith, one of the preeminent authorities in the field of leadership. He told me this: 'If you want to be an effective leader, listen to and accept with humility the feedback that comes from your team.' The most fundamental commitment you have to make as a leader is to humbly listen to the input of others, take it seriously, and work to improve. Again, it sounds simple, but it’s not easy. Leadership, as Marshall always says, is a contact sport, and one has to constantly ask for and respond to advice from colleagues so you can improve." Source: <a href="http://www.linkedin.com/today/se/bestadvice">LinkedIn</a>
"One day, after some petty humiliation, I came home in tears. My mother sat me down and told me, in a voice that I thought of as her 'telephone voice' (meaning, reserved for grown-ups), that I should ignore the girls [from school]; the only reason they were treating me poorly was because they were jealous of me. Therefore I should ignore the chattering crowds and set my own course." Source: <a href="http://www.linkedin.com/today/se/bestadvice">LinkedIn</a>
Pat Riley, President of the Miami Heat, told Guber to never visibly show how upset you are: "You are going to lose a lot! A lot! Get used to it! It’s a crucial part of the process! That behavior doesn’t help you or your team. You’ve got to always remain visibly positive! Managing losses is a challenge you must be up to! You can never give in to it!" Source: <a href="http://www.linkedin.com/today/se/bestadvice">LinkedIn</a>
"You're never as good as your best review, and never as bad as your worst.' I was given this advice by a former boss, and it has since stuck with me as a guide for getting through the best of times and the worst of times. Looking back on my career and all of the places I’ve been, there have been incredible highs and lows at each point along the way. What I’ve come to learn is that life is cyclical and the best way to stay focused is to ignore the swings and instead focus on the long run." Source: <a href="http://www.linkedin.com/today/se/bestadvice">LinkedIn</a>
Follow Ben Pickering on Twitter: www.twitter.com/bpicks