Unlike many companies that seem to have a significant gap between espoused principles and actual decisions and effects, big-vision small-business owners may opt to avoid quantitative growth, turn away a profitable account, or forego entry into a hot new market if it means casting aside the core values upon which their business is based. Interviewees for this book aspired toward some if not all of the following guiding principles in their day-to-day decision-making priorities:
PRIORITY #1: MUTUAL BENEFIT
Big-vision small-business owners aim to ensure that both they and those with whom they do business -- be it employees, customers or vendors -- genuinely benefit from the interaction, versus the more traditional "zero-sum" approach, where someone has to lose in order for another to gain. "Each interaction should be for the highest good of the people involved. I try to ask, "Is it in all of our best interests? What's your best interest? How well do I understand what someone else needs, and do they understand what I'm about?"' says Barb Banonis, founder of LifeQuest International in Charleston, West Virginia. "For me, my business is about fostering well-being on all levels."
PRIORITY #2: RIGHT LIVELIHOOD
A term borrowed from Buddhism, right livelihood refers to our desire to do meaningful work, conducted in a mindful way, that contributes positively to the community, or at least does no harm. The concept of right livelihood can be applied to small business, where the heart and soul of the owner infuses the way the business operates, thus becoming the heart and soul of the business.
"There are only so many hours in a week, and we spend a third of that sleeping. We have to make the rest of it count," says Christopher Adamo, founder of Zen Myotherapy Massage and Oasis Onsite in San Francisco.
PRIORITY #3: RIGHT RELATIONSHIPS
Big-vision small-business owners place a high value on relationships, not just as an image-boosting gimmick, but because of a deep respect for others, whether employees, customers, vendors or, in the case of Ellen Kruskie in Raleigh, North Carolina, the furry beneficiaries of her efforts. Kruskie, founder of Carolina Petspace, a pet wash and products store, provides supplies and services that ultimately help people create more respectful, rewarding relationships with the animals in their care.
Iris Harrell, founder of Harrell Remodeling in Menlo Park, California, has a commitment to respectful relationships that permeates the workplace and her company's relationships with customers.
"I don't see employees as pieces of wood to discard when I don't need them," Harrell says. Contrary to the norms in the construction industry, Harrell Remodeling sets itself apart by demonstrating its respect for people in its commitment to providing full-time employment with benefits, and making sure that customers don't have to endure noise, foul language and litter, to name a few of the less pleasant things that are common to most construction sites.
PRIORITY #4: GIVING BACK TO THE COMMUNITY
Whether being available to new business owners, doing pro bono work, donating to local causes, or choosing to work with charitable organizations that might not have the budgets of a for-profit organization, big-vision small-business owners make a commitment to giving back to the community.
PRIORITY #5: ASPIRING TOWARD HIGH ETHICAL GROUND
Many big-vision small-business owners place a high premium on creating a business that's known as being highly ethical and trustworthy. Whether that means admitting a mistake, compensating employees fairly, paying your taxes and other bills on time, or turning away business for which you're not optimally suited, a business known for its ethical nature is built on a series of consistently honest transactions.
PRIORITY #6: RESPECTFUL WORK ENVIRONMENT
Owners of visionary small businesses are driven to create good work environments, using past experience as a guide to what they would or would not do in their own workplace. For some, like Nina Ummel of Ummelina International Day Spa in Seattle, or Jessie Zapffe of Golden Bough Books in Mount Shasta, California, this translates to creating a beautiful, nurturing environment for employees and customers. For others it translates to a participatory environment, offering creative benefits or flexible scheduling, or ensuring family-friendly policies.
PRIORITY #7: A MEANS RATHER THAN THE END
In our culture, the dominant worldview holds that we're in business to make as much money as possible; the more of it we make, the more successful we're considered. That's supposed to be our primary goal, and questions about our companies usually begin with 'how many' or 'how much.' The leader in a big vision small business certainly pursues financial well being, but not frantically or blindly, and not at the expense of core operating values. The numerical bottom line is but one aspect of the operational effectiveness necessary to provide a reliable vehicle for the business owner's vision. The numbers become a means of contribution and quality of life, not an end in and of themselves.
PRIORITY #8: FOSTERING HEALTH AND WELLNESS
Whether literally or figuratively, many big-vision small-business owners envision their product, service or work approach as fostering greater health and wellness in their community, region or the world.
PRIORITY #9: AWARENESS & SELF-RESPONSIBILITY
Some big-vision small-business owners advocate self-responsibility, and, often above-and-beyond the operating necessities of their business, offer information to raise awareness to that end. Carolina PetSpace's Kruskie, for example, stocks and reviews carefully selected books and sees herself as an information conduit, sharing information about responsible animal care and encouraging discussion among her customers.
For Sheldrake of Polly's Gourmet Coffee, promoting awareness and self-responsibility can sometimes mean the difference between surviving the entry of a big-chain competitor or not. Sheldrake has seen several small, privately owned businesses in his Long Beach shopping district fold after the arrival of competing chain stores. He, on the other hand, viewed the new competition as an impetus to take responsibility and refine his operating model.
PRIORITY #10: A DIFFERENT WAY OF WORKING
Small business can be a vehicle for changing the very way business is done. Such is the case with Melinda Moulton, one of two partners in Burlington, Vermont-based Main Street Landing. "We want to make a change in the way business happens, and the way construction is done and people build buildings," says Moulton. "My business card says, 'We're not your typical developer.' We've received a lot of recognition for simply being different in what we do."
For Dagmer Chew, owner of Homestead Real Estate Co. in Cape May, New Jersey, ushering in a new way of working meant what is considered blasphemy in the real-estate business: closing her shop on Sundays so her employees could spend time with their families, go to church and observe other Sabbath rituals.
PRIORITY #11: A HIGHER LEVEL OF QUALITY
Many big-vision small-business owners opt for self-employment so they're able to do their work according to the high standard they believe they and their customers deserve.
PRIORITY #12: BUSINESS AND SPIRITUAL PHILOSOPHIES
For some people, unifying work with one's spiritual or religious life is the ideal goal to be achieved, and running a small business seems a perfect vehicle through which to serve others and refine one's own spiritual practice, or apply wisdom gained from the contemplative life to the more practical tasks of the active life. We often hear of Mary Kay Cosmetics and Service Master as examples of companies where the spiritual principles of the company founder are deeply ingrained in the day-today operations of the company's people. Yet there are countless other businesses, perhaps smaller and less known, that serve as fertile grounds for practices drawn from one's spiritual foundation.
Pursuing Values & Meeting Challenges
As business owners, achieving a balance between lofty values and an inspired vision, and the day-to-day reality of running a business, is no easy feat. Doing so requires total commitment to our guiding principles, even when it would be easier and perhaps even acceptable as the norm, in the short term, to opt solely for personal gain, to maximize our investment, to do the minimum required for our employees and customers, to limit the quality of our product or service to what the market would accept, and to settle comfortably into the status quo instead of doing the work required for a more noble, if more exacting, business tightrope. This is perhaps the real distinguishing factor of the big-vision small-business owner, who has multiple bottom lines and chooses The Work over expediency or short-term material gain, and in doing so allows his business to sand away his rough edges and refine his ability to serve his family, his employees, his customers, his community, and through them and with his like-minded colleagues, the world.
Communicating Your Business Ethics
As with anything else, bringing your highest ideals to fruition in your business requires more than just saying "We're an ethical business" or "We do business with integrity." Mindfully communicating your ethics and highest ideals for your business will help you make sure that your organizational actions speak as loudly as your words.
This article is excerpted with permission from the book:
Big Vision, Small Business
by Jamie S. Walters.
About the Author
Jamie S. Walters is the founder and CEO of Ivy Sea, Inc., an organizational consulting firm based in San Francisco. The firm's award-winning public-service web site (www.ivysea.com) was chosen as a content partner for Inc.com; and was recognized by About.com, Entrepreneur's Edge and other business website portals as one of the best sites for leaders and entrepreneurs on the Internet. Walters is the author of Big Vision, Small Business: The Four Keys to Success & Satisfaction as a Lifestyle Entrepreneur.