Are You a Good or a Great Small Business Owner?

Between my column at USA TODAY, work with first-rate businesses like Allstate, and my speeches, I get to interact a lot of small business owners. Almost all of the people I hear from or meet are good small business owners – they work hard, make a nice profit, run a fine business, are good employers, etc.

But every now and then I run across someone who can only be described as great, exceptional. It happened again recently and it got me to thinking: What exactly is the difference between a good and a great small business owner?

Based on my experience, these are the key differences:

Good small business owners market as they always have. The great small business owner innovates: Most entrepreneurs figure out a marketing strategy that works and use it, and then use it again, and again and again. The problem with that it is that you are not getting in front of new people by using old ideas.

Great small business owners get that we are in the middle of an amazing moment for marketing – social media, pay-per-click, mobile marketing, and what have you. They try out and adopt new ideas to reach new people.

The good small business owner may lead through intimidation. The great one always leads by cooperation: Remember your bad boss? Did he or she have what you would call a great small business? Of course not. Bad boss / great business is an oxymoron.

The old saying that “you catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar” is an old saying for a reason – because it’s true. Great bosses create great businesses because people like working with and for them. And when employees are happy, they treat customers well, and happy customers become repeat customers.

Good small business owners don’t worry about learning anything new. Great ones continue to sharpen their saw: In his excellent book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey shares a tale about two woodmen getting ready to cut down a tree.

Both start with dull saws, and the first guy starts in on his tree right away. It’s slow going with that dull saw. The second woodman sits down and takes time away from the project at hand to first sharpen his saw. He seemingly falls behind the first guy. But then, sharp saw in hand, he gets started and finishes the job in no time, leaving his cohort in his (saw)dust.

The point should be clear. The smart small business owner will take time to sharpen his or her saw, to hone his or her skills and learn new ones, knowing that it can only help the business in the long run.

Good small businesses resist technology. Great ones embrace it: That you need to be up-to-date with technology should be no surprise, unless of course you don’t care about running a great business. The exceptional small business knows that, especially today, technology is a game changer.

The good small business owner works too much. The great ones take time off (and their staff does too!): According to one survey, Americans work 137 hours more than the Japanese, 260 hours more than the Brits, and almost 500 hours more than their French counterparts.

Of course hard work is important and makes for a strong business. But there is also such a thing as taking a good idea too far. No, you don’t need to take Labor Day per se off, it is the idea that is important: Taking time off doesn’t cost, it pays.

So, go ahead, give yourself a break, you deserve it, and by taking that break you can rest assured that you are in good company with all of those other great small business owners.

© 2017 The Strauss Group, Inc.


Steve Strauss

Steve Strauss is the senior small business columnist at USA TODAY, the Editor-in-Chief here at Small Business Connection, a speaker and spokesperson. He can be reached at

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