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Opinion: Small business’ fight for freedom still worth it

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For small-business owners, the hits keep coming. When has running a small business been more challenging?

We thought, “If we can just make it through COVID …,” right? We face inflation, labor shortages, rising labor costs, supply line issues, rising fuel costs and low employee morale. And who knew (besides business-minded people) that higher minimum wages would increase the pay scale across the board and diminish real purchasing power? According to the New York Post, the average American family spends $300 more a month than they did the previous month for the same stuff.

And now the looming question is, “Does this end in a recession?” After all, this pace seems unsustainable, so a correction must be coming, right? I don’t think any of us know for sure. However, this higher level of uncertainty has become too familiar for business owners. In the past, A plus B would equal C. Now A plus B equals an unknown because there are too many variables we are trying to solve. And there is no manual.

Remember in spring 2020 when all the talking heads – media and politicians on both sides – thought we could turn the economy off for a month and flip it back on? We knew this decision would amount to a monumental, multiyear battle as business owners. Now, we find ourselves forced to move away from long-range planning to focus on what will happen next week. The global situation forces us to slow down, read the room and exercise yet another round of patience. This exercise includes listening to the “noise” from both sides of the political aisle to determine just where the truth lies. Unfortunately, very few understand what’s going on at the small-business level.

I have a mantra I have shared with other entrepreneurs: Don’t get into business to pursue money. Get into business to pursue freedom. Please understand me here; freedom is a relative term. As business owners, we are called upon to make multiple, and often critical, choices daily. The wrong choice is costly, but the right choice also impacts the company. We must choose carefully.

This freedom to choose allows us to influence the outcome of our pursuits. Unfortunately, external forces can painfully extract this freedom from us. This loss of freedom destroys businesses that their owners have spent their entire lives building. It doesn’t seem to matter that we, as owners, invest our own money, pay our taxes and licensing fees, carry tremendous risk, and jump through hoops of an ever-changing list of laws and regulations. This loss of control is exhausting and makes it very discouraging to stay in the game.

You’re probably wondering, “Where is the encouragement?” The truth is it’s still here, all around us, waiting for you to discover it somewhere between “What’s wrong with the world?” and “What could the world be like?

Regardless of people judging us or how hard external forces push against us, small business still makes a difference. Why? Because we employ the majority of the country. We fight every day for our employees and our clients. We keep our eye on the bigger picture, fulfilling our responsibilities to our families and communities. We are tenacious. By our very nature, small-business owners are creative and resourceful. We don’t sit on the sidelines waiting for problems to be solved. We solve the problems. We research. We get involved. We find a way.

If you own or manage a small business and have stuck it out through the last three years, make no mistake about it, you are a rock star. You have sustained one of the most challenging business environments in our history. You have what it takes. Keep fighting the good fight.

Donnie Brawner is CEO and owner of Paragon 360 and Paragon Fabrication. He can be reached at dbrawner@paragon360.com.

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