Note:  We’re adding a new feature to our site – a focus on energy and small business we’re calling “Small Business Power.”  We’re kicking it off with this three-part series of blog posts, “On a Mission.”  Watch for parts 2 and 3!

From front left to right (counter-clockwise): Wade Boals, Cathy Petkash, John Simmert, Bea Wray

It is summer in South Carolina! What could be better than a waterfront seafood lunch with smart entrepreneurs running great businesses? I had a blast sitting down with three superstars. John Simmert is the General Manager of Beech – that yummy acai, poke and other healthy food hot spot on King Street in downtown. Cathy Petkash of Frannet shared her wisdom from consulting with individuals who seek to purchase a franchise business. Wade Boals is an owner of the incredibly popular Saltwater Cowboys restaurant and bar on Shem Creek in Mount Pleasant.

I organized the lunch because I always love speaking with smart entrepreneurs and because I wanted to ask some questions to get their perspective about energy and the impact it has on their businesses. I wondered:

 

  1. What are your energy costs are what percent of your monthly budget?
  2. What are your concerns now with energy use and rates?
  3. With all the news about SCE&G and Santee Cooper, it’s a big unknown. How does the uncertainty impact your business?
  4. What are your concerns in the future?
  5. What do you think could happen to rates in the next 3-5 years and what impact could that have on your business?

My eyes were opened to organizations that are mission driven, businesses that make great matches, and individuals who make a difference in their communities.

Turns out that our lunch was so chock-full of insights, including how they think about energy, what missions drive their company, and how important community involvement is in their business. I will explore more later in future blog posts soon. For now, I will give you a brief overview of the impact energy has on their businesses.

Every business owner I speak with thinks about their energy bill and each of them is working on ways to decrease it. They take steps to be thoughtful about long term investments and specific purchases, as well as daily behaviors and habits (like creating checklists for shift managers to minimize lighting and adjust temperatures). However, I rarely meet a business owner who has taken the time to understand many of the decisions happening in Columbia, South Carolina that will impact their rates and access to energy.

There are also some parallels in entrepreneurial thinking. All of the individuals I met with think about “What can I do?” or “What steps can we take today?” Of course it is that “take charge” attitude that makes for a great entrepreneur, someone who is in control and making a difference. Ironically, I find that entrepreneurs are sometimes the least likely people to invest their time forming groups outside of their organization to combine political power and influence to eventually shape policies. I say “ironically” because as a collective group, they may have the strongest voice and have the most to gain. However, they are also the most strapped for time and resources. Additionally, they are successful because they are independently minded and running in numerous directions so being a collective voice is not a simple task.

Further, I find a sense with most entrepreneurs I know that “I trust myself” so I will spend the majority of my time and energy on things I know I can control and only less time on trying to influence things and people outside of my control. I will illustrate this in a later blog how I see small business owners more willing to engage in dialogue about town regulations versus state or national policy. I believe it is tied to that sense of ability to control.

Personally, since I spend my days leaning on parenting experiences to illustrate business lessons (What Harvard Taught Me But My Kids Made Me Learn is my book due out this year), I want to share a story of my niece. When my sister-in-law was offered the chance to send her to kindergarten a year early, she declined. She explained that she felt more comfortable with her daughter being the oldest in her class, rather the youngest. “This way she will be the first, not the last to drive a car. I trust myself more than the next person to teach her to drive safely.” I have to admit I was impressed with the decade in advance thinking, but I get it. And, I hear small business owners saying something similar: Why would I spend my time and energy in someone else’s car I can’t control, when I can take the wheel and drive impact?