What small business taught me: the importance of enthusiasm

Posted by Don Mercer
Small Business Banking

Enthusiasm! In a word, that is what working as a small business banker for over 25 years has taught me. For anyone thinking of starting a business, a key ingredient is and has to be enthusiasm.

Young, smiling man wearing an apron and holding a pen while sitting at a table and talking to a business woman.Just ask a business owner, “How did you get started?”

Usually, the response is filled with infectious enthusiasm. (And, let me just add, it never hurts to get your banker enthused about your business.)

I see it time and time again, whether I’m listening to a violinmaker outside Kansas City or a bicycle shop owner in Southern California, I am always inspired by the passion that comes through as owners talk about their business.

On our blog, we frequently ask clients, “What tips would you give someone just starting out?” Some talk about being well capitalized, others mention having a plan, and many say, “Just go for it!” I would add, “Be enthusiastic.”

Endurance for wearing many hats

If you are thinking about starting a business, or are about to inherit or acquire a business, ask yourself: Am I passionate about this idea? Starting and running a business is a lot of work, and we know the odds are against success, right? As Dane Stangler of the Kauffman Foundation wrote recently, 20% of new businesses fail within two years, and half don’t get past five years.

It takes enthusiasm to be the founder, janitor, receptionist, head salesperson, marketing department, and usually financier of a fledgling business. I am always inspired by the dedication and perseverance of American small business owners, and their endless creativity in taking what they are passionate about and turning it into a money-making venture.

One owner’s inspiring journey

In my early years in banking, I called on a business in Southern California that manufactured wires for a whole host of companies including electrical and telecom companies. The catalog displayed dozens of types of wires. As I always do, I asked the owner, “How did you get started?”

He had moved to the United States looking for work with no skills and took a job sweeping floors at this company. He started watching, listening, learning. From cleaning floors, he moved up to supplying materials to the lathes, running a machine, managing part of the shop. He eventually worked up to floor manager, shipping manager, and finally general manager for the entire plant. When the owner decided to retire, there were no family members or business partners to succeed him. So this guy – the former janitor turned GM — stepped up and bought the business.

As a banker, I really wanted to help finance this owner and his business. His passion was infectious. And his enthusiasm showed: His business was growing, innovating, and he was managing it well.

Obviously, enthusiasm isn’t all it takes for a business owner to secure a business loan. But, when an owner is passionate about her products and customers, it helps stoke a banker’s enthusiasm to want to work with her and her business.

As Steve Jobs said, “People with passion can change the world.”

If you have a story about enthusiasm, I’d love to hear it in the comments below. Or tweet what you’ve learned from running a small business using the hashtag #SmallBizTaughtMe.

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