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Time for some small biz success stories

On the whole, the state of small business reporting in this country leaves much to be desired. This is doubly tragic since, of all the businesses too big to fail, small biz and startups are the biggest. Small business employs over half the American workforce and an astonishing 20-30 million Americans are “self-employed” one-person businesses (that’s 1/10 of the entire American population, kids and seniors included).

All the more surprising, then, that two very well-reported and balanced stories chock-a-block with strategy takeaways have appeared recently on CNN (in a story about eight startups braving the economic downturn) and the New York Times (chronicling how a handful of small businesses are adapting to changing economic times).

The takeaways are obvious . . . after the break, of course.

The first and most obvious is adaptability. The businesses that are holding on, succeeding, or launching adapt at all levels to the changed reality. Negotiating lower rents, changing product lines, are all better than layoffs (yes, everyone profiled in the NYTimes piece has let go of staff) or giving away the store.

The second is something I’ve said here numerous times and in an upcoming article: if you’ve ever been considering “post-employment,” i.e., replacing your “job” with a start-up, this recession is a perfect time. At least one of the entrepreneurs featured in the CNN piece was lucky enough to get laid off and, as a result, pushed to commit full-time to a solopreneur business he’d been building for months.

Finally, people don’t stop buying in a recession. The buy less and they buy differently. For instance, Wayne Sosin of Workman Cycles has shifted prodution to food vendor carts to sell to the recently unemployed. The fact that people change their buying habits constantly — and especially when the economy spikes upward or downward — is why folks like GM are going out of business and why we’ll always have entrepreneurs.

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