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There’s More to a Tiny Business than Size

I met Sharon Rowe a few years back at the 2015 annual Champions Retreat organized by B Lab. Her spunk and friendly smile, her can-do attitude, and her willingness to share a wealth of experience and advice made me like her immediately.

We chatted for a while and discovered we both hail from the New York area. On parting, she invited me to visit her in Ossining, New York, to continue the conversation. I couldn’t take her up on her invitation, which is why when I read Sharon’s book, I was surprised to learn about her background in acting and the creation story of her business, Eco-Bags Products.

Real Talk: Your “Why” and Your Insecurities

In this recently published book, The Magic of Tiny Business, Sharon offers up a radically honest account of her business journey – the insecurities, cash flow crises, last ditch efforts, and even wanting to throw in the towel at one point. It’s all here in 140 pages in a way that is funny, relatable, and unflinchingly real.

The central idea is about “finding your why,” your personal purpose, for starting your business in the first place. A definitive “why” is essential for weathering the inevitable rough spots. (Reading her book, it became obvious to me that both Sharon and I are fans of Simon Sinek’s book Start with Why.) Understanding “why” is essential to discovering and defining your Purposethe north star you need to build a profitable social impact company.

I learned that Sharon is a committed environmentalist, and in creating Eco-Bags products, she found a way to align her personal “why” with a socially conscious business. Eco-Bags produces environmentally responsible cloth bags to replace polluting plastic bags.

Is your social impact Purpose strong, weak, or absent? Take the 4-minute Pulsecheck quiz and get your results right away! 

How to Think Differently When Your Business is in Transition

While the book is most beneficial for early-stage startups, or for people contemplating starting a business, it offers something for everyone. I found my moment, on page sixty-two, in a section called “Think Differently.” My business of fourteen years, RoundPeg, is once again undergoing a major transition. Even after experiencing five such pivots, I find myself frustrated and impatient; my usual lament is “it’s taking too long!”

Imagine my relief when I read a quote in this section by environmental and workplace entrepreneur Drew Lehman: “Every transition which I sought in life has taken me eighteen months with clear focus to get going!” Sharon’s honesty about the challenges she has faced and the transitions her business has undergone reassured me. Eighteen months is realistic. For now, the impatience I feel, common among entrepreneurs, is in check.

Family and Business is not a Zero-Sum Game

As I read this book, I realized I share a similar approach and philosophy with the author. We are both mothers who started a business to escape the nine-to-six corporate grind and be more available to our kids. I launched my company when I found myself pregnant with my third child. I knew I could not juggle my work – which at the time was as art director for a busy ad agency – and home responsibilities and have the quality of life I wanted.

I like it that Sharon unapologetically prioritized family and vacations when she intentionally grew a “tiny” business from an idea into a profitable multimillion-dollar operation, at her own pace. (Although I find myself hard-pressed to call Eco-Bags Products a “tiny” business, even if tiny isn’t meant to refer to size!) Again, I was reassured by this author’s confidence. Family needs and business needs don’t have to be in competition. (Click to Tweet!) It’s okay, she says, to go ahead and declare that family and kids come first and business second. No more agonizing decisions about chaperoning a school field trip during a work week. Exhale.

The Magic of Tiny Business is especially relevant now, with the gig economy in full swing and women-owned business growth at 114% over the past 20 years (compared to 44% average). Although I cringe at the label “lifestyle business” often attributed to women’s businesses, I find solidarity with this author in the business approach of putting kids first, providing a good living for a family, and earning enough to take great vacations – all the while making a difference in clients’ lives and training and mentoring talented employees.

It’s Okay to Be Where You Are

The book confirms for me that it’s okay not to care about my exit plan years from now, even if my accountant and every business guru wince at the thought. Rather, Rowe’s book supports me as a small business owner to be present in the moment and be content with a long view not beyond an eighteen-month horizon. Again, exhale. Special thanks to Sharon for de-stigmatizing “lifestyle business” for me and helping me to embrace the label of a Tiny business. I am proud of building one. Send me a sticker to put on my door.

Enhanced by funny caricatures in New Yorker magazine-style by Sharon’s son, Julian Rowe, this book is an easy read –I zipped through it in two nights.

Skeptical that social impact Purpose will benefit YOUR brand? Studies show that companies with a clearly defined, articulated, integrated, and activated Purpose perform better than those that don’t. Access the latest research for free here!

Want to unlock the power of Purpose? You need
Purpose-Driven: How to Take Your Company from Intent to Impact.

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As RoundPeg’s partner and creative director, Polina has over 20 years experience turning complex concepts into compelling visual communications. She also knows how to speak Russian and make delicious sauerkraut! Polina enjoys knitting despite her fear of pointy objects and loves nothing better than curling up with a good book and a cup of tea. See more posts by Polina..
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