The well has officially run dry for the small business-focused economic aid programs passed just a few weeks ago. The Paycheck Protection Program, intended to help small businesses keep their staff on payroll through the shutdown, is out of cash to the surprise of literally no one.
I keep viewing this event as an accelerator – it’s pushing us forward a decade or so on trends that were already underway. Business conferences? Dumb and outdated. Dead. Generic retail? Already struggling. Dead. Walking into a car dealership to sign a piece of paper? Insanely stupid and antiquated. Soon to be dead. ASK ME ABOUT MY OPINIONS ON GAS PUMPS.
We’ve already seen a massive shift over the past 100 years regarding small businesses in America. For example, after World War Two, almost half of U.S. veterans eventually became entrepreneurs. Only 4.5 of post-9/11 veterans have done the same. Small businesses are harder to start, riskier, face vastly more formidable competition, and are less lucrative than ever. Whee.
I think one of the realistic outcomes of this pandemic and the ensuing economic (rece)/(depre)ssion will almost certainly be a drastic reduction in the number of small businesses in our country. In the meantime, the oxygen in the room will continue to be sucked up by a handful of the biggest companies, making it more difficult for startups to re-enter the market after the eventual recovery.
So, in this time of dire economic conditions, when all of us are feeling pinched in one way or another, I’m going to tell you why I think small businesses matter, and why you should consider supporting them rather than big business if you can. And I’m not going to feed you any touchy feely bullshit, because you’ve already heard that.
Touchy-feely bullshit you’ve already heard about why you should support small businesses:
- We care more!
- We contribute to your community!
- We’re local!
- I mentioned that we care more, right?
That’s all great, and I agree with it. But… ugh, it just feels like you’re being sold a line. Worse, I don't think it explains why small businesses actually matter.
Here’s the real reason supporting small businesses builds a healthier economy that for some reason no one is able to articulate: We SUCK at being businesses.
Not that we’re bad at what we do. Far from it! We suck at the stuff huge companies excel at – the sketchy behavior that wrecks our economy and hollows out our nation. We’re REALLY bad at that stuff.
- When we hire people, we have to work to keep them. We don’t have huge HR departments, so interviewing and hiring replacements is time-intensive. Training replacements is costly and inefficient. The concept of disposable employees is kind of foreign to us.
- We don’t have teams of engineers and buildings full of servers to run automation. So we have to hire humans. That means you get to interact with actual live humans which, for most of you at least, seems like a positive.
- We don’t have the technology to implement aggressive algorithms that manipulate prices, chase you around the internet, and monitor every breath you take. We aren’t as efficient at getting you to open your wallet, which means we have to do more to earn your money.
- We can’t cost engineer worth a shit. We overbuild products. We pay our (often local) vendors and suppliers more than absolutely necessary because we aren’t big enough to pressure them for a better deal. There’s just no efficiencies of scale when you’re the little dude. Our inefficiencies here generally result in better-built products for you and more money being dispersed through the economy.
- We can’t use our heft to manipulate local governments. We get no deals. We pay full price for everything. We don’t get huge incentives because we aren’t huge.
- We don’t get involved in stock manipulation or those godawful private capital sale-leaseback takeover schemes or any of the truly evil crap invented by MBAs in fleece tech vests. We’re not big enough and we don’t have enough cash or lawyers to attempt it. We just sit in wonderment as we watch massive, profitable companies get hollowed out over and over.
I realize this is not what you may want to hear. It’s not a particularly good plea on my part. And the timing is all off – you’ve got more important things to be worried about at the moment. I get that, and I agree. I’m…like totally low-pressuring you on this right now.
But if you ARE going to buy something, or patronize a business, and IF there’s a small business that offers an equivalent product or service to something sold by Giganto Corp, considering throwing Teensy LLC a few bucks. Not because they’re better at business, but because they’re worse.