The Biggest Question for Small Business Owners

Small Business Owner

Small business owners build a business that provides a product or service that addresses a market need or solves a market problem. All while employees grow, customers thrive and the business succeeds?

Sounds like a fairy tale, right?

But you know, it can be done. And has been… and very well, at that. 


It starts with an entrepreneur with a vision, who cares about his employees and his customers.  Who wants to make a difference.

Contrarian entrepreneur Carey Smith founded Big Ass Fans in 1999 and served as its “Chief Big Ass” for 18 years. While other companies made and lost their fortunes, Carey’s business practices led to sustained, rapid growth averaging 30% annually. Inc. magazine ranked Big Ass Fans among America’s fastest-growing private companies for 11 years straight — a feat achieved by only 34 others the 41 years of that award’s history.

By 2017, Carey had grown Big Ass Fans from six employees to more than a thousand. And generated nearly $300 million in annual sales. He did so without investors, rare in a society that glamorizes venture capital and quick exits. That year, he sold the company for $500 million with $50 million going right into employees’ pockets.

Following the sale and continuing his “go against the grain” philosophy, he founded Unorthodox Ventures. They partner with disruptive founders who deliver exceptional products, build unforgettable brands and invent and revolutionize markets. 

Carey Smith is a model for the title question and first paragraph of this blog post. It’s a question and answer that all small business owners need to answer for themselves. What we’ve tried to do was to use his words and philosophies,  published over the past few years as the foundation for this post.

Value of Being Honest with Employees

Aim to have a totally transparent organization. Where everyone in the business knows pretty much everything about it, positive or negative. When there is an issue everyone definitely needs to know about the situation and how it affects you. This should be extended to all the constituents of the business, not just employees, but to customers and suppliers as well. 

Layoffs Should be Your Last Resort

Layoffs are the “losers way out.”  Easy to lay people off.  Much harder to hire them back.  When down times hit, look for cuts that can be made without affecting staff. If you can find a way to keep your people in down times, even if you have to ask them to take a minor salary cut. When the good times come back, and you know they will, you will be poised to leverage them, with a full staff. But, further, you will have won their loyalty. 

Business Culture

Has to be from the top down. Everybody in the business has to live and breathe it every day.  And that you are all in it together. If you want customers to feel special with every interaction, then employees have to feel the same way.  Otherwise, it just doesn’t work. Employees will treat customers exactly the way they are treated.  That is the essence of a good business culture.   The biggest challenge is with geographic expansion where each manager of the extended geography has to be the “standard bearer” of the owner’s belief and culture.


You should always be aware of your competition, but there’s a difference between being aware vs. being worried.  That delta is information. The more you know about the competition the better you can learn from them (always figure they know more than you) and face off with them in the marketplace.  If a competitor owns a major portion of the market, find a niche where you can better compete. Such as new product/service or better packaging or bundling) and drill down on that, finding new customers, you weren’t selling to.

Hopefully, the insights of Carey Smith have been another helpful view of opportunities to grow your business through another entrepreneur’s eyes.  This is the whole purpose of Small Business Virtual Roundtables – helping small business owners grow through the advice and experience of their peers.