By: Charissa Durst, AIA, NCARB, LEED AP
President and Principal Architect
Hardlines Design Company
“Whenever you see a successful business, someone once made a courageous decision.” — Peter Drucker
If a woman owns that successful business, the odds are she demonstrated even more gumption to pursue her dream. According to a 2016 report on the state of women-owned businesses, only 38 percent of small businesses are owned by women. And according to the report, if you’re a female minority — you’ve demonstrated even more courage because only 44 percent of women-owned businesses are owned by minorities. And none of this takes into account that the odds are stacked against any small-business owner.
According to the Small Business Administration, 78.5 percent of all small businesses make it through the first year. But after that, the survival rates go down. Less than half, 48.2 percent, survive long enough to celebrate a fifth anniversary. Even fewer, 33.5 percent, make it to year 10.
As most small-business owners know, one key to success is to grow and change over time. Businesses that stagnate — that maintain the status quo but don’t adapt as time goes on — usually don’t succeed. After several years of operation, “change” usually means making another courageous decision, or taking a risk. According to Kimmel & Associates, the largest specialty executive search firm in North America, “taking a risk to grow your business is the best type of risk to engage in.”
Taking such a risk works even better when it matches the mission of the company. Several famous case studies exist of business owners who did their research, followed their gut and made bold moves, even when others didn’t think it was wise:
- TOMS owner Blake Mycoskie launched the One for One program, believing that by giving up some profit to give a pair of shoes to those who needed a pair but couldn’t afford them, would spur people to buy his product. His instinct about people’s willingness to buy his shoes if they knew they were helping someone less fortunate paid off. His company has given more than 1 million shoes to impoverished people in more than 20 countries. TOMS has grown into a highly successful company because of that one risk, or courageous decision, that Mycoskie took.
- In the late 1970s, when natural food stores were not as popular as they are now, four business owners saw a potential tidal wave coming in. John Mackey and Renee Lawson Hardy left their Safer Way Natural Foods, and Craig Weller and Mark Skiles left their Clarksville Natural Grocer and invested their money in a new venture. In 1980, they opened Whole Foods Market. In 2017, they sold Whole Foods Market to Amazon for $13.7 billion.
In 1990, as a female minority in a male-dominated industry, I started my own architectural firm with just one small project and no promise of a next one to come along; starting the company was a true risk. In 2016, after much thought and planning, I took another risk and sold the cultural resources division of our company to make room for future growth in our primary area — the preservation of historic buildings.
There’s a famous quote often attributed to coach Vince Lombardi, Jr., that says — “the dictionary is the only place that success comes before work.” He was absolutely right. But in addition to that idea, the last time I checked, risk comes before success in the dictionary, and that’s something that most smart, small-business owners truly understand and appreciate.