Once upon a time there lived an unhappy young girl.
She had no mother and her father had remarried a widow with two daughters. Her stepmother didn't like the young girl at all. Nothing was too good for the step mothers own daughters though - dresses, shoes, delicacies, pretty bedrooms, and many other comforts were given to them. For the poor unhappy Cinderella, there was nothing at all. Only her stepsisters' hand-me-downs. She had to work hard all day. Only when evening came was she allowed to sit for a short while by the fire, near the cinders. That's where she got her name.
Doesn't this remind you of a small business out there in the harsh world with no nurturing and mentoring and no support system? The stepmother is a bit like the unforgiving market that has not heard of the small business offerings and quite frankly has no need to make space for them. The market continues to purchase from established companies with massive budgets and all the visible showings of success that are displayed openly in large advertising campaigns, fancy offices and flash brochures. Not to mention a full sales force with every possible back-up gadget they could ask for.
Cinderella used to spend long hours all alone talking to the cat. The cat said, "Miaow," which really meant, "Cheer up!" You have something neither of your stepsisters has and that is beauty. It was quite true. Cinderella, even dressed in old rags, was a lovely girl. While her stepsisters, no matter how splendid and elegant their clothes, were still clumsy, lumpy and ugly and always would be.
In the life of a small business owner, the cat in this tale could well be the small business owner's self determination or self confidence. "Don't worry - you have something the established companies don't have - passion and knowledge and a vested interest in ensuring your client's happiness" he thinks. It is quite true that often these are the only criteria that distinguish the small business from the rest. Sadly it is also true that not every client sees this inner strength and edge at first, nor do they believe that it is enough. And certainly positive thinking is simply not accepted as a currency when settling bills.
One day, a box of gorgeous ball gowns is delivered to the house. A grand affair was to be held at the palace and the stepsisters were invited. Cinderella didn't even dare ask if she could go too. She knew very well what the answer would be: "You? You're staying at home, end of story!" Cinderella sighed, "Oh dear, I'm so unhappy!"
Then one day an opportunity presents itself in the form of a tender or quotation and the small business owner is keen to quote but by now quite weary of rejection.
Suddenly something incredible happened. As Cinderella was sitting all alone, there was a burst of dancing light and a beautiful fairy appeared. "Don't be scared, Cinderella," said the fairy, "I know you would love to go to the ball, and so you shall!" " How can I, dressed in rags?" Cinderella replied, "they won't let me in!"
Suddenly something incredible happens and the small business owner is enthused by the thought that maybe, just possibly, with some luck, he has a chance of actually winning this business, but he still has some nagging doubts and now not only about his ability to perform, but even about the wisdom of having started on this journey at all.
The fairy smiled. With a flick of her magic wand Cinderella found herself wearing the most beautiful dress ever. "Now for your transport," said the fairy "A real lady would never go to a ball on foot! Quick! Get me a pumpkin!" "On my way," said the ever obedient Cinderella, rushing away. Then the fairy turned to the cat. "You, bring me seven mice, and, remember they must be alive!" Cinderella soon returned with the pumpkin and the cat with said mice.
And here is where being South African really helps. The small business owner digs deep for all possible motivation and en route to motivation finds innovation, a level tablespoon of tenacity, a pinch of hope and some more crazy optimism. He mixes this concoction and emerges with a PLAN!
With a flick of the fairy's wand the pumpkin turned into a royal coach and the mice became six white horses, while the seventh mouse turned into a chauffeur in a smart uniform and carrying a whip. Cinderella was stunned!
The cost of the plan is calculated, the margins look good, the paraffin in the printer is stoked and the entrepreneur is ready to strike. He is stunned and cautiously optimistic! Could this be the break through?
Cinderella had a wonderful time at the ball until she heard the first stroke of midnight! She remembered what the fairy had said, and without a word of goodbye she slipped from the Prince's arms and ran down the steps. As she ran she lost one of her slippers, but not for a moment did she dream of stopping to pick it up! If the last stroke of midnight were to sound... oh... what a disaster that would be! Out she fled and vanished into the night.
Having tasted a bit of success and having won the tender said entrepreneur eagerly attacks the job with all his enthusiasm and hope pinned on making use of this opportunity granted him. He puts in extra effort and additional time, he works long hours and only rushes home sometimes way after midnight.
The Prince, who was now madly in love with her, picked up the slipper and said to his ministers, "Go and search everywhere for the girl whose foot this slipper fits. I will never be content until I find her!"
The client loves him to bits and is extremely pleased about the extra care and effort the small business owner is putting into doing the job correctly.
Thus the prince and ministers arrived at the door of Cinderella's stepmother. "That awful untidy girl simply cannot have been at the ball," snapped the unreasonable, unthinking self serving, stepmother. "Surely the Prince ought to marry one of my two daughters! Can't he see how ugly Cinderella is?"
But being a cog in a relentless market, the client is dragging his heels when it comes to paying the bills, his gratitude for good service is slowly diminishing as pay day draws closer and closer. Is this self serving attitude because he is being treated the same way by others who buy from him and they by others who buy from them, ad infinitum.
Not only is the client holding on to the payment for a week or two, he is demanding more and more freebies from the willing and now eager to get his cash, small business owner. The latter incidentally becoming more and more afraid that if he steps out of line for even 1 second ALL cash will be withheld from him.
Then to everyone's amazement the shoe fitted Cinderella perfectly, the fairy appeared and waved her magic wand and Cinderella was once again transformed. Her stepmother and stepsisters gaped at her in amazement, and she was quickly whisked away to marry the Prince and live happily ever.
Finally this is where our story veers off on a tangent. Mostly it goes into a loop and this entire process repeats itself in the life of a small business owner for many years to come.
My advice to you is make sure it doesn't. Set your boundaries, verbalise them, document them and at all times remain consistent. As a small business owner it is possibly one of the hardest lessons to learn. But also one of the most valuable if you do not want to be Cinderella forever that is!
© Debbie Engelbrecht 6th April 2009
Debbie is the owner of Staff Training a soft skills training company that amongst others presents assertiveness and management training - both very useful tools in the ongoing success of small business ownership. At the moment Staff Training is running a project for guest house owners called The-POWER-of-10, obviously for 2010!
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