By Diane M. Calabrese / Published December 2021
A glad feeling…that’s one definition of joy, a word that came to us from Greek. It’s a good definition because despite the toughest days they confront, when small business owners have an opportunity to reflect, they share a common sentiment: I’m glad I did this.
Take the questions people should ask themselves before starting a business. The answers turn into a good list of the many joys in ownership.
Why are businesses started? Necessity, hunger for self-sufficiency, and control over one’s work and earnings are motivators. So is desire to act on an idea for a product or service.
There is a good feeling in self-sufficiency. It’s got many parallels outside business ownership, such as among avid vegetable gardeners and cooks who never use prepared foods.
Business owners act on their strengths. If they fail to assess their strengths before launching, they do learn them very fast. Top among them is the fortitude to keep working across complicated intervals and long hours.
In the short term, misdirected shipments and a vendor that must be replaced are problems to be solved. Longer term the resolution brings satisfaction to the business owner.
A business owner discovers latent abilities. Interactions among employees can get brittle, and when they do, an owner will be tested. Drawing on reserves, such as recalling what a parent or teacher did when encouraging children to work cooperatively, is one skill likely to surface and be put to good use. Smoothing out rough patches is a joy (in retrospect).
The links a business owner makes—with employees, vendors, customers, competitors, and regulators—enriches every day. The ties offer the chance to learn from many people.
As a business grows and gains a profile in a community, its owner will be tapped as someone who might give advice to students or to answer questions from novices to business. Being able to engage in give and take with people at all stages of their education and work life is a big positive.
Sustaining a business across the changes that occur in the economy is not always easy. Doing it is a source of joy. To be sure, not only sustaining a business but making a profit is the goal. Meeting that goal year after year brings a comfortable feeling. It’s never complacency—just the opposite, the owner is always ready for the next abrupt or out-of-nowhere happening.
Yet being steeled and prepared for (almost) anything is certainly a joy of small business ownership. In the back of his or her mind, the small business owner always carries that knowledge that “if x happens, I can do y” and so on. It’s a resilience that builds with time.
Many of the joys in small business ownership are transient or fleeting, moments to be savored, such as when a new marketing idea strikes. At the other end of the spectrum is the of joy of business longevity.
And then there is serendipity, something not expected but to be relished.
“The predicted job description as a father normally wouldn’t include the anticipation of your children joining you at your workplace,” says Bill Sommers, president, Pressure Systems Industries Inc. — Mist Air in Phoenix, AZ. “At least, not all of them.”
In fact, Sommers explains that he instructed each of his five children to “go out into the real world and learn how to exist.” He adds that he recalled his own father’s advice to pay close attention to the labor others were doing, such as digging holes in a street, because he might someday be doing the same sort of work.
In other words, do and learn and be prepared. Sommers took his father’s advice to heart and became a successful business owner. His children in turn took his advice.
There’s joy in seeing the children become successful, and there’s even more joy for Sommers in having four of his five children working with him. The fifth child also worked with him for a time.
“Encompassing joy” is the term Sommers uses to describe the experience of working with
his children—and even more especially seeing them succeed in their own ventures. He emphasizes that each of his children took a very different path.
What’s clear is that Sommers maintained a steady hand and a flexible approach, both of which have served him well in business. He recognizes the uniqueness of each person, as unique as each of his children.
Every person brings different strengths to a business, explains Sommers. And every person arrives at the business through a different path, including the family members who work with him. There’s joy in all the differences in experience and capabilities.
Sommers cites his oldest daughter, whose life changed when her husband passed away. “She came on board [at the company] and has shown herself to be the hardest worker and most loyal employee I could have ever hoped for.”
A son operates his own business out of the same building where Sommers’ company is anchored. He has six employees and competes with his father’s business in outdoor cooling under the name Arizona Fog Wizards. (Yes, competitors, even within the family, can be a joy. They keep a business owner sharp.)
Another of Sommers’ children approached his father for a job with a bold approach. He just showed up and said he was there to begin work.
“My question [to him] was, ‘What do you know besides school?’” says Sommers. His son presented his diploma and noted he had worked at the company the previous summer. “My reply was, ‘Pushing a broom qualifies and congratulations on the diploma, start in the parts department and learn the language.’”
And today? The young man who was sent to learn the lexicon of the service department is vice president and general manager.
Lots of joy. Most significant, though, says Sommers, is the focus (and quality) of his personal life. “Because of all the things she does, the real joy in my life is my wonderful wife, and then the kids she brought to me.”