Building It Myself

There’s been so much chatter these days about what small businesses did or did not build themselves. As a small business owner who often works with small businesses (many of whom, in turn, work with small businesses), I feel like I need to speak up and offer a few of my thoughts on the matter. At the risk of politicizing my copywriting site, well, I’m going to go ahead and do just that.

When I am working on a project at 3:00 in the morning, struggling to come up with just the right word or tweaking code to fix the formatting on a website, Uncle Sam is not sitting on the sofa with me, rubbing my shoulders and offering me a glass of wine. When I’m poring over client maintenance spreadsheets and tracking my expenses for the most recent Dr. Sketchy’s event, I’m on my own.

But the vast majority of my work is on the Internet, which, lofty proclamations from Al Gore aside, wouldn’t exist in its current form without the support of our government. I wouldn’t be able to Skype with clients. I wouldn’t be able to host my tracking tables on Google Docs. I wouldn’t be able to email back and forth in the middle of the night with the publisher of Jack Move over what’s going into the next round of Genuine Curation ™.

I, personally, benefited from government-sponsored small business counseling before I got off the ground. I also received unemployment benefits from my last job, which helped support me while I got up and running. I didn’t receive any government grants, although I know they’re out there. But because I work with small businesses (who work with small businesses, and so on), I know that every single thing that has helped my clients has helped me, too. If a government grant allowed them to hire a professional copywriter to write a killer website or to put together a sales page, I’m benefiting from that grant just as much as they did. If they ship their artwork to buyers across the country, I benefit from the roads and the infrastructure and every other little cog in the machine that gets them paid.

What worries me about this proud, “We did it ourselves” attitude is the implication that this is somehow better than accepting support. That dangerous way of thinking hurts our chances of success, and as someone who relies on small businesses succeeding, I’m pretty passionate about taking the assistance that’s being offered. I hate to think that even one small business would think, “Well, I have to do this myself,” and then fail because they didn’t have the support and safety net they needed.

I wouldn’t be here if I’d been building my business from a deserted island in the South Pacific (although I might not have a problem with that if I was sitting on a beach in the South Pacific). I got help, but not just government aid; I got help from my friends, my neighbors, my parents, my husband. I had someone making dinner while I worked through the evening to meet a deadline. I had generous wedding gifts that allowed me to purchase a business license and covered my start-up costs. I have wonderful friends who set up the stage each month for Dr. Sketchy’s and sit at the door, collecting admission and greeting artists as they come in.

If you took away my support system and told me I had to build this business myself, I not only wouldn’t be able to do it, I wouldn’t want to. The joy I get from running my own business isn’t just wearing my pajamas until 2 in the afternoon. It’s the network of support I have that keeps me loving what I do. It’s the Facebook group who talks about this crazy business and offers guidance when we each need a little perspective. It’s the friends who join me for a sake bomb at Dr. Sketchy’s, covered in dust from setting up the stage but happy to stick around to help take it down at the end of the night. It’s the clients who have become friends and who email me to say hi and see how things are going. I wouldn’t love what I do if I was doing it all myself.

So I want to say thank you. To the friends, family, colleagues, and, yes, the government who have helped me: I wouldn’t be doing this today without you.

Photo of the Statue of Liberty pedestal construction courtesy of the “StatueLibrtyNPS” Flickr account, used under a Creative Commons license.

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6 Responses to Building It Myself

  1. Katie –
    No one does anything “on their own.”
    Like you, I’ve never understood why so many people feel it somehow smirches their reputation to admit they had support along the way. I’m as fiercely independent as the next girl, but I am also quick to acknowledge all the direct and indirect help I’ve received over the years.
    They say no man is an island – well no business is an island either. The marketplace is an ecosystem and all the pieces and parts work together and feed off each other. It’s a dynamic that requires interaction of all kinds.

    And you already know I’m right there with you when it comes to savoring the best kinds of support we have. Having friends on the journey makes the journey as much a reward as the destination. I wouldn’t have it any other way. :)

    • Katie says:

      Thanks, Jamie!
      I agree – it’s all about the journey. We’re not just building our businesses, we’re building a community, which is a far more satisfying reward than just having an income stream. The more we all take advantage of our respective opportunities and support, the more success we’ll have, as a collective.

  2. “The marketplace is an ecosystem . . . ” is an elegant way of describing our world. Thanks, Jamie, for the gorgeous turn of phrase. Thanks Katie, for the well-reasoned and brave-to-talk-politics post!

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  4. Mysty says:

    Great post, but makes me sad. I AM doing it all on my own and it’s very challenging and lonely out here.
    I am not eligible for gov’t support, I don’t have a husband or any group support……….still I inch forward with hope and determination.

    • Katie says:

      I’m sorry you feel that way! What is your business? Are there are any networking groups you could join? I’ve never been the sort to enjoy being part of a “club” before, but I’ve found a few groups of people who have been absolute lifesavers as I’ve gotten my business off the ground. Maybe look into contacting with other people in the same field as you – in my experience, when you turn a competitor into a compatriot, you both end up better off.

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