I am a big proponent of shopping in, buying from, and utilizing local businesses. Small business is the lifeblood of local economies. The employees at these businesses are our neighbors, family, and friends.These businesses, when possible, should be the businesses we support.
I am a big fan of social media. I think sites like Twitter,Facebook, Yelp, etc have created a more social society. This has,however, also lead to a more opinionated populace. We no longer reserve our opinions, thoughts, or complaints for our specific group of friends. We now express them openly and loudly through whatever means available. We see our social platform as our own personal billboard, ready to rent space to our most immediate and irrevocable opinions.
It’s hard not to want to embrace this marvelous medium to communicate to those who can make change. We tweet our politicians and pastors, Facebook friend our coffee shoppes and celebrities, and Yelp our restaurants with real-time rants regarding just about anything our minds can muster. There seems to be no end in site to our social interaction, much to our benefit, and unfortunately, often to our societal detriment.
This is not a post regarding anonymous attacks on people or places, companies or community leaders. It’s what we feel comfortable doing in posts with our names attached. We didn’t love a church we visited, so we give a harsh review on Facebook. Our waitress at a local diner got overwhelmed and took too long to bring our check so we feel all of Yelp needs to know. WHY? What is the objective?
Do we really want heads to roll at our slightest inconvenience?
Do we forget just how easy it is to not be perfect? OR did we forget just how little the inconsequential things truly are to our happiness?
This post is a request to remember that while we are all connected and we each have our own soapbox to stand on, perhaps more, not less, forethought before speaking is in order.
While over the past few years we have seen attempted boycotts of companies or blacklisting of sponsors of controversial commentators, it does not mean that we should all become instant social activists when we feel slighted or snubbed. Especially on the local level.
Do we really want heads to roll at our slightest inconvenience?
Small businesses are still businesses, and I know that the idea of a company being held with their feet to the fire ignites a certain excitement, whether for entertainment or through entitlement, we should understand that our words lead more to heartburn and heartbreak before they lead to resolution.
Owning, or being a primary driving force behind a company, is a draining and demanding existence. While often the idea conjures up such luxuries as creating one’s own schedule, financial freedom, and fancy cars, the reality is more like that of a working actor. Not an A list celebrity, more like a B List bit part player.
The job seems amazing. In reality, it is an agonizing, self-doubting, no-time-to-enjoy-success, series of super-highs followed by staggering-lows, where there is absolutely no guarantee of the next round of either, from day to day. They say you should not read what others say about you but you do, and you spend hours looking for ‘feedback’. Actors ignore the good and spend hours scouring for the bad, breathing sighs of relief, not celebrating, when a good review comes in and dreading the next bad word spoken in their direction. They are their brand. They live and die based on the public’s perception of that brand. Small business owners are quite similar.
There is no separating yourself from you, as much as you would love a chance to shut it off for just a little while. You cannot. There is no end of the day whistle, weekend furlough, or two week hiatus from your brand. You are a 24/ 7 /365 commodity.
You laugh as your friends get excited for the weekend as they will be able to ‘shut it off’ for a few days and just relax their mind. YOU cannot. You haven’t for as long as you’ve been a professional. With today’s technology there is so time to shut yourself off from the world for even a day. There is too much at stake, too much potential loss in a 24 hour window. What if a new opportunity email comes in during hour 2 of the ‘shut down’? 22 hour delay in response is as good as being permanently closed. Any time spent unavailable to potential customers is money lost or wasted.
This is what it feels like to own a small business. Some see it as a curse, some love it, most are somewhere between. It’s not for the weak, but if you can handle it, there are many upsides. (refer to the luxuries listed above) But, what many reviewing consumers don’t fully grasp is that there are always human beings behind the logo, fellow members of the human race who feel our wrath when we comment or complain. While an email complaint thrown at Verizon on a Monday may get an automated response and a potential fix, a harsh word sent toward a small business on a Thursday can ruin an employees’ only weekend off with their children. Unlike Verizon, the statistics don’t add up to creating a neutral in-company response. As of 2012 Verizon had 182,000 employees and 107million customers. That means that one person’s over-the-top unwarranted complaint only affects 1/182,000 of the company and represents a minuscule percentage of the 100+ million customers, statistically, it’s completely irrelevant. No one skips a step when the complaint rolls in. When a small business of 7-19 employees and 1025 clients receives a complaint it can turn that company upside-down for a few days. There is a decidedly smaller space for error in a small business, yet, customers treat them the same online as they do the big guys.
Please remember that on the other side of that email, voicemail, or, God Forbid, that social media post designed to attack that small business, there is a real person feeling the pain. We ALL want you happy, as your happiness means our continued success (and existence). Sure a complaint gets a response and it should absolutely lead to a resolution, but as the owner of two small businesses, please, try reaching out politely first. We are not large corporations in search of billion dollar profits, we are real people and hard workers just like you, trying to make ends meet at home and at the office. We never claimed to be perfect. We only promise to do our best.
This all being said, just imagine what a nice, honest, lengthy and positive review can do for your friend or neighbor.
DISCLAIMER: If the local company has maliciously and purposefully done you wrong ignore the above. But, if the actions were done in good faith, without negative intent, or accidentally, give the person a heads up and work out a solution.
KEVIN REDFORD is a 20 year professional in small business as both as a Photographer and an Entertainer. His companies, Redford Photography and Redford Entertainment, are located in Pittsburgh,Pa, where He, his wife April, and their three children have always called home.