A Valentine to Small Business

After suffering through four years of a nasty, petty and foul-mouthed tyrant who sadly remains on the scene, spewing his fraudulent venom, it’s not really much of a surprise that common courtesy, civility and what we used to call good humor (not the frozen kind) has largely disappeared from our day-to-day lives. Today we don’t try to teach our kids about duty and decorum, we teach them about self-defense and security. What a crappy way to live.

Aided and abetted by the consistent abuse of social media, lies and ridiculous denials by countless Republican politicians not to mention a venal and shameless right-wing news media that spends every single day trying to turn us against each other, we’ve become a sad, angry, and short-tempered populace. We’re no longer interested in listening and learning, but only intent on owning and lecturing the morons on the other side. Everyone is suspect, no one’s to be trusted, and everything is about the bucks and beating the next guy.

But whenever the turkeys get you down and you start to believe that there’s no end to the ugliness, there’s always an entrepreneur–or dozens of them– who are still starting every day with smiles on their faces and a spring in their steps and the passion and perseverance that it takes to keep going through the toughest of times. Because entrepreneurs never lose sight of the fact that ultimately they’re in it to serve others. So, there’s no quitting or feeling sorry for themselves, there’s only up and onward. And their enthusiasm, their energy, and their eagerness to expand and grow is totally contagious. As F. Scott Fitzgerald said: “It was only a sunny smile, and little it cost in the giving, but like morning light it scattered the night and made the day worth living.”

If there’s a single message that’s at the very heart of entrepreneurship, it’s the simple belief that anyone with a good idea, a couple of buddies, drive, desire, dedication and a few bucks can build a business that makes a difference and impacts the lives of thousands of others. Being an entrepreneur is never an easy journey; there will always be plenty of bumps in the road but at the end of the day  you turn around and find that you’ve built something that you can be proud of and that’s solid and important.

Another fundamental idea, one that the media misses far too often in the chase for the next unicorn, is that in many cases it’s not just about the size of a business, but also about the services you provide and the scores of people that you support that matters. You can add tremendous value and aid and assist your community and local charities supporting  bake sales and book drives just as much as you can by building the bright shiny success story, especially when those stories so often come with their own baggage, downsides, and damage. We used to wonder how big our businesses could get before they got bad and it’s still a common concern.

So, for my money, guys and girls who are getting the job done, and done well, need to be celebrated and encouraged as they progress regardless of the scale and size of their goals. One Chicago-based company, Flowers for Dreams is approaching its 10-year anniversary and they’re within a few bucks of reaching their goal of giving $1 million to various charities based on their sales of floral bouquets. For every bunch of flowers they sell, they make a donation to a charity. They started out as students selling roses at graduations and football games and giving away backpacks for students in need.  In 2012, they graduated and started the business and it’s grown and expanded from there.

Of all the innovative business models that have emerged in the last decade or so, the ones built on giving something away with each dollar of sales have the most soul. Tom’s, Allbirds, Bombas and others have refocused our view of what capitalism can do. And at the same time, some of these outfits have achieved the vaunted unicorn status.

But there’s plenty of room for smaller companies such as Flowers for Dreams that have more modest goals. I can still remember when a million dollars was a lot of money– and for the charities these guys deal with, it still is. With Valentine’s Day coming up, it’s a great and easy idea to check out their site, send some flowers to a friend or family member, and help the Flowers guys reach their charitable goal. Or perhaps a company with the same mission where you live.  It’s also a way to remind yourself that we make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.

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