A lifetime of learning the lessons of a small business owner
Over the past 19 years, I have benefited from the financial rewards and the flexibility offered to my parents from owning their own business. My father attended all my school functions, altering his schedule where needed. At the same time, I have seen periods of great stress when the business was not going well and my father worked incredibly long hours. Vacations are always interrupted by business calls, and the ultimate responsibility for his business never seems to leave his mind.
My parents have owned a small business my entire life. Business owners seem to possess a certain entrepreneurial spirit. Successful owners are leaders and risk takers who are resourceful, focused and determined to succeed. They believe in delayed gratification where you invest now and reap the rewards later. A business requires a visionary who sets the long-term goals for the future and determines how to get there. The owner sounds the charge and removes the obstacles so the employees can meet the challenges. At the same time, he or she rewards those deserving employees along the way. My father is one of those determined, persistent individuals who is on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week ready to solve problems when needed. He assumes many roles, which is fairly common among small businesses.
I have watched and listened to my parents talk about business all my life. Yet, it wasn’t until I worked at Kahuna Bay Boat Marina for three years that I really began to understand the internal functioning of a small business. I quickly learned that customer satisfaction was key to the survival of any business. We did everything we could as employees to meet the needs of our customers; even better, we exceeded their expectations. At the boat rental and marina, our product was the clean, well-functioning boats we rented, as well as making the fueling of the boat a pleasant experience. One of my jobs was scheduling full-day and half-day rentals. I quickly learned the types of families that would not use the boat for a full day even though they rented it for eight hours. I anticipated when one of these families would return the boat and had someone on a waiting list ready to call. As a result, I increased customer satisfaction and added rental revenues.
This came naturally for me, probably because my parents emphasized customer satisfaction. They own a small retirement home, and quality care is a service they provide. Customer satisfaction is a necessity to increase the census and the revenue. As a child, I would travel with my father to the home and spend time with the residents. He works with the administrator to ensure quality of care is provided and good communication exists at the home with the residents and their families.
A business is as strong as its weakest employee. Our employees receive a great deal of continuing education on how to provide care for the residents. In addition, policies are written to guide the employees and ensure they meet state and federal regulations. While working at Kahuna Bay, I received education on how to use the cash register, fuel all types of boats, account for the cash receipts for the day and close the business. Without proper education, the best employee cannot properly complete their job.
Human relations is an important element that requires continued focus. Rewarding and recognizing employees for specific results helps motivate. On the other hand, a poor supervisor can devalue an employee by taking credit. I will always remember the importance of giving recognition to those who deserve it after it happened to me. Great managers are those who congratulate their employees for good results, offer constructive criticism, understand the business, are fair and walk the talk.
Through our family business, I learned about payroll taxes and the accounting of the business. Several years ago, we had a business manager who did not pay payroll taxes, which came with huge penalties. All businesses require timely and accurate financials and good reporting. My father learned a hard lesson, which is never assume that someone is doing their job. He made a mistake but created systems where this would not occur a second time.
My father has said he can walk into a retirement home and understand the culture within minutes. A successful business owner creates and cultivates a culture which allows for open communication, thinking outside the box, the willingness to risk, admitting to mistakes and the empowerment of employees. Employees are empowered when allowed to be a part of the decision-making process when appropriate. They are more likely to follow the policies and procedures if they are included in their design.
As business owners, you need to be aware of the competition and the changes occurring within your industry. Sometimes businesses have to reinvent themselves in order to survive and flourish. My father is always aware of new services that are being offered within his industry, as well as changes with regulations and state reimbursement. I realized the effects of new competition after another marina opened across the bay. Marketing the marina became more important after the new marina arrived.
As you can see, I have learned a great deal from our family’s business. As a five-year-old, I began to accompany my father on business trips and learned firsthand the proper running of a small business. I asked him once, “Where is your desk?” The administrators and other members of the staff had desks, but not my father. At that time, a desk represented power and prestige. He told me the best owner is the person who is walking around talking to the customers, employees and evaluating the product — in our case, resident care. I hope to one day open my own architectural firm and use the lessons I have learned.
This essay was written by Madalyn Marinick, one of 10 finalists for the SuretyBonds.com Small Business Success Student Scholarship Program. Madalyn and the other finalists were selected from more than 500 applications reviewed by the SuretyBonds.com Scholarship Committee. Three of the finalists will win a $1,500 scholarship to be used toward furthering their education. To vote for Madalyn or any of the other finalists, visit the SuretyBonds.com Small Business Success Student Scholarship voting app on Facebook.