Andy is the author of “Focus. Accomplish. Grow… the Business Owner’s Guide to Growth.” He is also a noted small business coach, consultant and speaker who has been interviewed on CNN, Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Entrepreneur, and Fortune Small Business.
Andy is a colorful guy who doesn’t hold back. His incisive, get-to-the-point remarks make for interesting reading. He talked about the U.S. Presidential election and why the election really doesn’t matter much for small business.
Small Business Trends: What did you think of this last U.S. Presidential election for small business?
Andy Birol:It was bitter sweet.
Whoever was going to win, I knew there would be a lack of impact for the small business market. Although President Bush is said to be a bit more small business friendly, the reality is: small business has no friends and few advocates.
There is only one unifying issue in this country for small business owners: health care. Beyond health care there is no unity of interest among small businesses.
Small business is really “Everyman.”
Take the steel tariff a couple of years ago. That helped one set of businesses and at the same time it hurt others. Their interests were not all the same, and so it didn’t affect all businesses the same. The issues were more complex.
Have you ever heard the Paul Simon song “One man’s ceiling is another man’s floor”? For every action in favor of one small business, it means something against another small business.
Small Business Trends: Would it have made much difference if small business owners had gotten involved in politics and lobbied?
Andy Birol:I’m not sure that spending time and effort on the elections would have done small business owners much good — unless they happened to be printing companies with a contract to print bumper stickers or ballots.
This election dumbed us down. All the issues are so much richer and more complicated than the way they were presented.
The trial lawyer issue is a great example. On the one hand everyone would agree that in the case of the woman who burned herself sipping hot McDonald’s coffee, trial lawyers took advantage of that. But without trial lawyers we would not have gotten padded dashboards, seatbelts or airbags nearly as fast as we did.
A small business owner can’t afford to unilaterally add safety items. Small businesses can only do so after the industry has adopted these and prices reflect them. And it took the trial lawyers to force big business to implement these safety features first.
Small Business Trends: You said “small business has no friends and few advocates.” What about small business advocacy associations, such as the National Federation of Independent Businesses (NFIB)?
Andy Birol:Many associations just create co-dependence.
The entrepreneur is a hunter gatherer. Entrepreneurs don’t make money when they’re together. They make money when they are out in the marketplace.
I have a little saying. “Business owners should get their lovin’ at home.”
Associations can’t be effective lobbying for legislation because there is little legislation that impacts small businesses the same across industries.
Big companies can lobby for laws or special consideration, but small biz can’t do that. A small business is selling only 1% or less of whatever market they’re in.
Workers comp is not a small business issue, it is a business issue. So guess who legislation will be designed for? Big business.
Small Business Trends: Talk to us about outsourcing trends. Do small businesses outsource much?
Andy Birol:Tons of outsourcing is going on — tons.
And yet in this election you had all this ranting and raving about bringing jobs back to the U.S. But that’s not the way business works today. It was another oversimplified issue.
I am a one person company and I outsource nearly everything. I have at least 20 service providers.
Outsourcing offshore is the only answer for any commodity business. Small manufacturing companies are outsourcing production to China. I advise all my small business clients to move the commodity portions of their business offshore.
Right now I am imploring an accounting firm to consider moving its 1040 personal tax return work — the type of work done by H&R Block — overseas. How can a small accounting firm compete against H & R Block’s prices? Anyone who tries is suicidal.
Small Business Trends: What one thing does every small business need to do today to be successful?
Andy Birol:At the end of the day business owners have to move from ambivalence and apprehension, to confidence and conviction. The single biggest destroyer of business is lack of confidence.
I’ve been working with small business owners my entire professional career. I started out working in Corporate positions and ran a $40 Million unit of New England Business Service, now a division of Deluxe Corporation.
Then I realized I am unemployable and proud of it. So I started my own consulting business.
The lesson I’ve learned is… you have to walk the talk. I eat my own dog food — I’m a small business owner and I follow my own convictions. That’s why whoever is in office as U.S. President doesn’t really matter. Business owners have to find their own confidence and convictions.