This week marks a milestone for me as a Washington Blade contributor with this 150th submission over the past three years. In addition to my weekly “Viewpoint” opinion column, I was invited last fall to launch a weekly feature profiling local businesses.
I’ve had the privilege of talking with a number of local business owners, entrepreneurs, operators and managers in this series to date. I’ve enjoyed sharing their stories – letting you in on who they are, how they got to where they are, and what they do in service to their customers, clients and the community.
Common threads and themes are shared among them. Here are a few:
• Most discerned the desire and aptitude for self-directed enterprise engagement not unlike knowing you are gay. Discovering an interest in entrepreneurship – whether early or later in life – is organic and central to their being. It feels like the most natural thing they could possibly be.
• They may seem like the rest of us, but they’re not. Common to most business operators is self-awareness of a slightly offbeat choice of career. Some even joke that it’s akin to an affliction – an ailment they’re incapable of curing.
• Loving what they do tricks their brains – they often don’t realize they’re actually working. The fun is in doing what they enjoy. They work harder and for longer hours than many, and it’s more work than most realize.
• When they do sleep, they dream. They dream all the time – about the next day, plans they have for their business and new things they want to do. Being a dreamer comes with the gig.
• Many are serial entrepreneurs, engaging in different projects over time or simultaneously managing multiple enterprises. This ain’t their first time at the rodeo.
• If they weren’t when they started, they’re extroverts now. They take great pride in what they do and delight in sharing it with their customers and clients almost more than life itself.
• For those managing employees, they couldn’t do it without the support of co-workers. They count on them every day.
• They hope more of us will think to shop, buy or source “local” and choose to support small businesses. Likewise, their relationships with nearby businesses and other entrepreneurs sustain them through a unique kinship only they can appreciate.
• The regulatory red-tape and hoop-jumping required to open and operate are among the greatest obstacles to success. They’ve all got hair-raising and eyeball-rolling stories, but most think local area governments are slowly becoming more sensitive to that.
• Those hoping to grow or expand cite the paucity of conventional financing or community funding available to small businesses. They wish for better.
• Taxes and fees are too high. Most small businesses operate on thinner margins than most realize. They don’t have basements full of cash.
• If engaged in business with a partner, spouse, lover or longtime friend – as many are – working together is sometimes stressful but also a source of strength. They learn a lot about one another and that often changes them. Creating time apart is key to best managing relationships.
• If gay, their businesses are integrated within the larger community just like our lives are these days. They prove that every day. They’re proud of that.
• First and foremost, their mission is serving the community. They wouldn’t claim to be Mother Teresa, but they do beseech her spirit when in line at the permit renewal office.
• They spontaneously giggle – even the serious types. They’re happy people – and happy to see you come through the door.