Ridgely Evers has worked on both sides of the small and big business fence. He spent five years at Intuit, where he led the creation of Quickbooks, an accounting system for small businesses. He’s since served as CEO of a number of internet-based technology companies in the San Francisco Bay Area and, with his wife, Colleen McGlynn, currently runs DaVero Sonoma Inc., a producer of olive oils, wines and other artisanal food products. Evers is currently managing partner of Establishment Capital Partners, a fund investing in small businesses, and is also a board member of SCORE, “Counselors to America’s Small Business,” which provides mentoring and runs workshops and seminars for 350,000 existing and aspiring small business owners each year. Here, he offers insight on the relative merits of small versus big business–and reflects on the leadership qualities required to make small a success. (View all articles in this series.)
A small business is a lot like a racing shell. You’ve got the eight oarsmen, and if they’re not all pulling on their own oar the way they’re supposed to be, the boat won’t make much progress: a single individual can have a hugely ?disruptive effect on the performance of the entire boat. However, it doesn’t matter so much if an individual on an ocean liner isn’t pulling their weight–it will still steam ahead.
With employees, the small business rule of thumb should be hire slowly, fire quickly. In a small entity you have to have people who are a good fit, otherwise the culture suffers.
Small business owners are often guilty of not thinking strategically. More often than not, the path you originally envisioned for your business is not the one you end up taking–life happens while you’re making other plans; even when you’re doing a great job of working backward, things change. Every one of the little nudges off the course you think you’ve embarked on has an impact. It’s absolutely essential to lift yourself out of the fray of the day-to-day, and ask yourself where you’re at and what the implications for the business might be. Because you can guarantee that if you don’t do that, nobody else will.
Running a small business can sometimes feel like a lonely endeavor, but it can also be the most rewarding thing you’ll ever do in your life. It’s kind of like jumping out of an airplane with a silkworm: scary, but exhilarating when you create the parachute and land successfully.
Leadership means asking for help. Most small business failures–including the failure to achieve your full potential–stem from making entirely preventable mistakes. It’s not surprising because for most owners this is the first time they’ve run a business. Thriving businesspeople build networks that enable them to draw on others’ experiences and knowledge. The really successful ones do it before they get into trouble–and are never afraid or embarrassed to turn to their networks for help.
Always bear in mind that, as a small business, you can’t be all things to all people. It’s pointless to try. Focus on what you’re good at and do that as well as you possibly can.