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Do small business owners need Tim Tebow like optimism?

Posted by Jason Keith  January 4, 2012 09:00 AM

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If you've heard anything about the National Football League this year, it's probably been focused around Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow. To hear him speak, you would think anything is possible through sheer will and determination. Sometimes, that's true. It's clear that almost nothing will derail his optimistic approach to his career, his teammates and his life in general. And in this day and age, good for him.

Optimism is a tricky thing to measure, but that doesn't mean companies aren't willing to go to great expense to try. With small businesses this is no exception. There are scores of surveys, polls and sentiment trackers that work diligently to measure whether or not the small business population is actually optimistic at a given time. Typically, the majority are optimistic - about their prospects, their businesses, their employees and whether or not they like running their business. But the question is, what does the general optimism level of the overall small business population even tell us? Does it really matter?

The answer, as usual, is yes and no. Collectively, the small business optimism level probably doesn't mean much. If 90% of a large survey sample were not optimistic about their business being open for another 12 months, that would be a problem. But the truth is, small business owners are by nature optimistic, but at the same time realistic and grounded. They have to be both and are what I would call "cautiously optimistic." It's imperative in order to start a venture and succeed over the long term, but that doesn't mean they think they will be making millions of dollars in no time. Most work hard, are good at what they do and hope to make the best living they can by doing what they know best. Ask any small business owner how their business is doing and the majority will answer, "great, but I could always be doing better."

This is where the disconnect often lies between "entrepreneur" and "small business." As I've said in the past, there is a big difference between an entrepreneur who wants to build the next Google and the plumber who wants to open his own business to support his family. While the entrepreneur might be brimming with optimism, the small business owner is actually much more cautious, but also confident in his or her own abilities. Of course they're optimistic about their chances for success, otherwise they would never start their venture in the first place. But it's a fine line to walk between success and failure for any small business.

Which brings us back to the question at hand, do surveys that measure small business optimism hold any weight and do they really matter? Or should we be measuring something different such as small business health, projected revenue, or even something as simple as "will you be serving customers in six months." These questions would give greater insight into the overall health of the small business community as a whole, rather than trying to measure an arbitrary metric like optimism.

What do you think, is optimism something that matters? Have you ever been asked about your optimism level and how did you respond? What do you think would be a good indicator of small business health?

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About this blog

Jason Keith has been working for and with small businesses in the New England area for more than 10 years, specifically small, micro businesses. Born and raised in Massachusetts and a former journalist, he provides a unique perspective on the issues facing small businesses locally and nationally.To reach him directly email

This is a personal blog. The opinions expressed here are the author's alone.

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