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Unlimited vacation and a cafe boycott: the best and worst of US small business in 2019

By December 23, 2019No Comments

(This post originally appeared on The Guardian)

As we wrap up the year, I thought it would be fun to look back at all the columns I have written for the Guardian and pull out the five stories that were my favorites. Why are these my favorites? Mostly because these stories captured the best and worst aspects of running a small business this year.

Female-owned businesses: the US economy’s quiet success story

A report earlier this year found that 42% of all firms are female-owned and women started 1,817 businesses a day in the past year. My daughter is currently watching Mad Men for the first time and was shocked at how women were treated in the workplace a mere 50 years ago. To me, that just shows how much things have changed. Unfortunately – as I also wrote here – the out-of-date attitudes of some men in positions of power continue to challenge female advancement and opportunities in the workplace. But, there’s still been a lot of progress. As I wrote: “The fact is that women have made significant gains not only in the workplace but in entrepreneurship. Of course there is still a long way to go to achieve equality. But, compared with the data from 10 or 20 years before, there’s no dispute that the environment continues to improve.”

Unlimited vacation isn’t as crazy as it sounds – and it can save you money

I like reporting on small business news, but I also enjoy sharing good tactics that can help small business owners grow. One of these tactics involves unlimited vacation. 2019 was a year of very tight unemployment and just about every small business owner I know struggled to find and keep good employees. So what about unlimited vacation? Don’t laugh. My report found that unlimited vacation plans can be a potential great benefit and not as costly or as risky as they may seem. As I wrote: “… the vacation benefits you offer should best suit the interests of your employees and your company’s culture. An unlimited paid time-off plan may not be the right thing for your business. But considering some of the potential financial benefits, you should at least be seriously considering it.”

Could this be the worst cafe in the world?

I know I’m supposed to cover American businesses, but this little restaurant in an out-of-the-way place in New Zealand was too irresistible to ignore. “Just how bad is the customer service at the Springfield Store and Cafe?” I wrote. “So bad that people have been reportedly chased out of the cafe and others were forced to leave in tears after being abused by staff members. So bad that the police have actually been called and so bad that some of the local residents boycott the restaurant. ‘It’s an embarrassment to our community,’ one resident said. ‘You don’t have to talk to too many people before you come across somebody who’s had a bad experience there. I want them gone – the whole town wants them gone.’” But what’s interesting is that the cafe continues to thrive. Why? It has decent food and its owner’s behavior draws curiosity. Sometimes even poorly run businesses can succeed, despite their best efforts to fail.

Why ‘Slutty Vegan’ became a hit in Atlanta – a city known for its barbecue

Speaking of peculiar businesses, this one caught my attention last January because what kind of crazy person sells vegan food in the epicenter of barbecue, Atlanta, Georgia? And kills it! It’s a smart entrepreneur named Pinky Cole, a food truck owner who opened her first brick-and-mortar vegan eatery called Slutty Vegan at the beginning of the year and saw more than 1,200 people line up outside its doors on its very first day. Combining great food with an even better name, Cole’s restaurant has been a hit in 2019, attracting celebrities such as Shaquille O’Neal. She’s also laying the plans for more locations in 2020. No, she will never get me to stop eating meat – but I have to admit it will be tough to resist a Fussy Hussy (it consists of a plant-based patty with vegan cheese, shredded lettuce, onion, pickle and vegan mayo on a Hawaiian bun) the next time I’m in town.

What’s the dynamic demographic running America’s small businesses? Older people

OK Boomer, you’re still in charge. I’m thrilled for all the female entrepreneurs who are finally making their mark, but can we still give a small shoutout to us old people? The fact is that America’s small businesses are still dominated by people in their 50s and 60s, and if you’re marketing to small businesses, you best not ignore this demographic. According to a survey, 57% of small business owners were born between 1946 and 1964. Sure, millennials are taking over the workplace and will very soon (thank goodness) take over the world. But that’s not going to happen right away and in the meantime it’s the boomers who are still running the majority of our country’s small businesses.

I wish I had the time to include more, but there’s eggnog to consume. So for now, have a great new year and see you in 2020 with more stories about and for small business owners. It’s going to be a busy and interesting year for us all.

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