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Where's the Respect for Small Business?

Arguably, one of the hardest things you can do for a living is start a company of your own.

Unlike your friends who went to work for a big company or the government and were trained to do one thing well -- say, marketing or accounting -- you opted for a career path that requires you to do pretty much everything well and all by yourself. You must have a working knowledge of marketing, sales, finance, operations, real estate, social media, human resources, law -- the list goes on. Yet somehow, small business owners still get a lot less recognition from the outside world because they're seen as insignificant or somehow "struggling."

I want to take this opportunity to put achievements in perspective.

Top 25% of the class
There are roughly 25 million small businesses in the United States and, according to the latest U.S. Census data, just over six million of those businesses have reached the point where they can afford to hire at least one person.

If you are part of the majority of businesses and have yet to hire, you should still be proud to have chosen one of the toughest, most demanding careers out there. But if you have at least one person on staff, you can consider yourself part of the top 25 percent of all business owners -- a "star" in one of the toughest professions out there.

Imagine you were in the top 25 percent of high school teachers -- in some school districts, you'd be eligible for a bonus. Land in the top quartile of bankers or sales professionals, and management would likely recognize your achievement with a trip to somewhere warm. Get to the top 25 percent of just about any other profession, and you'd get some acknowledgment -- but tell people your business employs just one person, and you'll likely receive condolences and best wishes for better luck in the future.

The best of the best
Of the six million stars of the small business market who have at least one employee, 80 percent employ fewer than 10 people. Said another way, four out of five of the stars of the small business market have no need for an organizational chart.

But if you employ as many as 10 people, you have chosen one of the toughest professions, risen into an elite group of stars, and then risen further still to be among the best of the best.

By comparison, imagine you have 100 doctors in a conference room, and you take the top 25 most experienced, best-performing doctors and put them into a special room. Now imagine you review the performance of each of the top 25 doctors, and you choose to recognize the best among the very best. Of the 25 doctors in the special room, you ask the five best performers to stand up and be recognized by their elite peers. Businesses that employ 10 people are like the five doctors standing -- a rarefied group by any objective measure -- but again, tell someone your business employs 10 people, and you won't get much respect when the average person's perception of entrepreneurship is limited to what is gleaned from The Social Network.

In fact, of all the employer-based businesses (the "stars") in the United States with at least $100,000 in revenue, only 2 percent grow at a rate of 20 percent per year for three straight years, the growth rate that defines a "gazelle" according to David Birch, the economist who coined the term.

Please forward this post to a business owner you know who needs a little pick-me-up. Odds are, they deserve to be acknowledged for what they have achieved so far.

(photo courtesy of flickr/Christopher_Hawkins)

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John Warrillow is the author of Built To Sell: Creating a Business That Can Thrive Without You, which will be released by Portfolio/Penguin on April 28, 2011.
Follow him on Twitter @JohnWarrillow
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