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What small business owners want you to know

During National Small Business Week, politicians and bureaucrats give a lot of lip service to small business. But you might wonder what the small-business community itself might say if they themselves had the podium this week.

Here’s what I think they would say:

  • I’m a risk taker – but my risks are purposeful.

I’m different from a lot of folks, because I take the risks and I accept the consequences. Scientists who study risk-takers include “people who start a business” in a category that includes mountain climbers, Navy SEALs and explorers. We aren’t adrenaline junkies, but we’re brave enough to risk everything we own to start a business that we think will serve our community and allow us to be our own boss.

  • I work seven days a week.

There is no such thing as a day off for a small-business owner. Especially when the business is really small – i.e. just a few or no employees. If we want to take a day off or go on vacation, the business itself must temporarily close, and that can be more costly than we can afford.

  • My employees are my family.

There are an estimated 2.5 million true “family businesses” in the United States. That estimate includes all employing businesses that have two or more family members as owners, and two or more adult family members who actively participate as manager, employee, or as-needed volunteer. 

As for the non-blood relatives who work for me? I’ll put it this way: I know the names of my employees’ spouses and kids. I care about their lives. It’s personal.

  • When money is tight, I get paid last; employee payroll comes first.

Don’t ever assume that a business owner is “rich.” You may be talking to someone who hasn’t cut herself a paycheck in months because that’s what has to be done to make sure employees get paid.

  • You call it ‘income;’ I call it ‘cash flow.’

Yes, small-business owners pay their taxes like individuals (versus like big corporations who get a lot of tax breaks), but there is a big difference between our business income and your paycheck. Our income feeds our families, yes, but it also needs to be managed carefully for those times when sales are slow, the economy is dragging, or to re-invest in the business and create new jobs.

  • My business is the future of my family

My business is my retirement and it is my legacy to my kids; I hope to pass it on to them.

  • I create about two-thirds of net new jobs, and more…

Historically, small firms create the lion’s share of net new jobs in the U.S. Collectively, they are responsible for almost half of the non-farm GDP and employ nearly half of the private-sector workforce. All of this means I should be more than just a talking point, but politicians can make me sound more like a message and less like the economic powerhouse that I am.

  • I’m an innovator.

According to the Small Business Administration’s Office of Advocacy, of high patenting firms (15 or more in a four-year period), small businesses produce 16 times more patents per employee than large patenting firms.

  • I’m a philanthropist.

In any given year, over ninety percent of small employers contribute to their community through volunteering, in-kind contributions, and/or direct cash donations. I give to the Little League, buy uniforms for the high school band and advertise in the yearbook every year.

  • I’m a good neighbor.

According to Gallup, only the U.S. military outranks small business when it comes to groups of people they trust (Congress, for example, is in last place on that list).

  • The cost of health insurance is crushing me.

Buying health insurance for myself and my employees has been difficult, literally, for decades. Obamacare promises to make the cost much, much higher. When I see premium quotes these days, I’m beyond saying “uncle!” and feeling more like saying “I quit!” Fortunately, it’s not in my nature to quit.

  • I love what I do and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Being my own boss, doing it the way I want to, providing jobs and contributing to my community…this the very definition of freedom, and it is the American dream. 

Is it hard work? You bet it is. But I love it.

Once you get to know the people behind the small businesses in your community, you’ve taken the first step toward supporting these brave men and women.

Dan Danner is president and CEO of the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB).