Dear Political Hopefuls:
I’m one of America’s business owners. With less than a month to go before the election, we want you to hear something: When you applaud us as job creators, as innovators, as the backbone of the American economy, we don’t feel esteemed. We feel like pawns.
Business owners know we’re part of the solution. But when you say it, it feels like lip service. Why? Because most of what you’re saying doesn’t ring true. Most of what you say just convinces us that people in Washington don’t have a clue about the problems business owners face or what we have on our minds.
If you believe business owners are such a big part of the solution, why aren’t you really listening to us?
That’s why I’m writing. Republican, Democrat or somewhere in the middle, we want you to spend less effort trying to get our votes and more effort on a process for seeking real solutions to the tough reality of business ownership in America today. Sure, that’s an unreasonable expectation. Hey, business owners are an unreasonable bunch.
Who am I to speak for America’s entrepreneurs? It’s true, nobody elected me. You could say I nominated myself. I’m just another business owner—a business owner who has worked with other owners every day for almost 20 years. I help owners adapt and build infrastructure and sell their assets and make decisions about capital and other financial issues. How do I help them find solutions? I listen and ponder and seek with them.
So if you’re serious about engaging private enterprise to create jobs, then take the time to find out what’s really on our minds. Start acting like you recognize our value as collaborative partners in figuring out how to save this economy. Here are some of the things we want you to hear:
Private enterprise is not the same as Corporate America. Imagine replacing the creativity and innovation of entrepreneurship funded by private dollars with corporate thinking funded by public investors. Private enterprise grows out of courage, determination and a willingness to risk everything for the freedom to innovate and create. Corporate America is organized around practices designed to squeeze every dollar out of every product and service in order to maximize profits for stockholders.
What’s good for corporations is not necessarily good for private companies and the communities they serve. Listen: Men and women who own businesses generating a quarter million…a million…$10 million in revenue a year can tell you what conditions we need in order to adapt, survive and regain our footing on Main Street, not Wall Street.
We don’t expect you to save us, but you can strangle us. We’re not looking for bailouts. Stimulus money has contributed to a lowest-bidder mentality that hasn’t helped owners whose margins are already too low. Regulations? Their impact makes doing business more costly for us every day. And your blame games focusing on greed versus entitlement alienate us; both greed and entitlement work against us. Listen: We disengage a little more every time you take an action that throttles us.
Our confidence has taken a beating. Our businesses have lost disproportionate value on our balance sheet. We feel vulnerable. Many of us have adapted by letting employees go or contracting them or selling equipment or moving back into home offices. We feel poorer today—hardly the mindset of an investor. Listen: Don’t expect us to create jobs or reinvest in our businesses when our risk tolerance is shaken to the core.
We’re cockroaches. You can stomp on us, but you can’t kill us. We may shrink or go quiet, but we will regain our footing and gather influence again. Listen: Don’t count us out. The only question is how much will be lost before we regain our strength.
Business owners have been sucking on the vapor of hope and pulling on frayed vision for four years. Those of us who are still here are lean, ornery and aware. We know there’s no easy answer to this crisis. We also know that we want the twin behemoths of Wall Street and Washington to listen to the voice of Main Street shouting across the ravine that separates us.
An American Business Owner