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Small Business Stories

July 8, 2019

Surprise! Small Business Owners Reflect on the Unexpected

By: Jen Amundson, Director of Social Media and Communications, Deluxe Corporation

You love them. You hate them. Surprises. Good or bad, they raise the heart rate and challenge our creativity.

As the Small Business Revolution team traveled across the country to the Top 10 towns for Season 4 of “Main Street,” there were plenty of surprises to manage. When bad weather canceled the flight between Boston and Charlotte, the team jumped in a rental and drove 15 hours so we could meet the fine folks in Washington, North Carolina.  That’s a lot of singing show tunes and eating at gas stations, but the team made it. Let’s call that surprise a “Team Bonding Opportunity.”


On that same trip, we asked small business owners what surprised them the most when they opened up shop. Here are some common themes we heard:

  1. My customers’ needs drove my business in a new direction.

Your vision for your business can change, and what you started out to do may not be what customers latch on to. Cindy Edwards at the Mixing Bowl in Searcy, Arkansas said she thought her business would be more leisurely cooking for a smaller number of clients. But once she opened, the meal prep program was a hit, and she had to change her plan. She has about 90 customers a day and needs to prepare ingredients and supplies for every one of them. Cindy’s experience isn’t unusual for successful businesses. Most consider a big influx of customers to be a good problem, but it carries its own challenges to solve.

  1. I wasn’t ready to do all the different kinds of work an owner does.

We have heard this observation in various forms over and over. An artist didn’t have any training in bookkeeping. A coffee expert didn’t know how to set up a website or populate it with photos. A comic bookseller needed help with his taxes. Employees were furious when the payroll wasn’t right. Successful small business owners either have to hire expert help or seek resources to learn how to do it themselves. If you are struggling with the elements where you don’t have the expertise, this article has some ideas for what to outsource, and there are other resources at the Deluxe Small Business Resource Center that could help.

  1. The community connections mean even more than I expected.

You knew your community was going to be important, but how much has been a surprise. Donna Helms owns Pageland Paint in Pageland, South Carolina. She has enjoyed deep connections with her community over the decades they have been in business, but even she is surprised by how often her customers hug her when they see her or ask about her family. The same is true for Rachel Midgette at Rachel K’s Bakery, who says the baked goods specifically connect her business with her community. “It’s really neat for me,” she explained, “especially around the bread and the baked goods, to see how food is so intertwined in people’s lives and how we are becoming intertwined in people’s lives.”

  1. Criticism hurts more than I thought it would.

There’s a sign on the wall in Willie Willette’s woodworking studio in Minneapolis that I found to be 100 percent accurate. It reads, in part: “Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life work super hard all the time with no separation or any boundaries and also take everything extremely personally.” Our small business owners agreed. Karen Ekwue at A Gathering Place in Pageland, South Carolina, said that depending on the person, she can feel like a sounding board or a doormat, and it’s hard not to take it personally. She has to work to make sure difficult feedback doesn’t ruin her day.  I wrote about responding to negative feedback on social media in an earlier blog, but whether the complaint is electronic or in person, just know that you are not alone if you take professional criticism personally.

How you respond to surprises can be the difference between success and failure for a small business. Maybe the best advice of all is to expect the unexpected. Leave emotional energy and time to deal with those moments when you feel unprepared. It happens to everyone who is brave enough to open a small business.

Looking for more support? You can find resources in the Deluxe Small Business Resource Center.


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