Dear Small-Business Owner,

This article was inspired by an experience I had while shopping in Bellingham. Interactions I had with two small-business owners that day tugged at my heart and brought forward all kinds of empathetic feelings.

Those feeling were, admittedly, already close to the surface due to the support relationship I have with Whatcom County business owners. As a public relations consultant, it’s my job to help companies respond to consumer negativity online; I see first-hand how constant consumer critiquing personally impacts business owners.

With that in mind, hard-working business owner, I’d like to take a moment to say that I see you.

I see the tiredness in your eyes when you thank me for being patient while waiting for service in your tiny bakery that was your dream, knowing you probably can’t afford to hire extra help.

I see the look of fear in your eyes as you explain – three times no less – that your Indian food is spicy in hopes that telling me that (and sincerely warning me) will prevent me from leaving a negative review online.

I see you working a full day in your business only to go home and work for hours on the business side of your company – bookkeeping, staffing, returning potential customer emails.

I see you trying to explain again and again to customers why prices had to go up due to the minimum wage increase.

I see that you are completely over being asked for donations from students, church groups, nonprofits, individuals and organizations that have had no prior interest in what you do.

I see that competition is fierce and that you’re always keeping an eye on who else is doing what you’re doing in the market, including sometimes your own employees who turn into competitors.

I see you working more hours right now because you can’t find help in this tight job market.

I see that you haven’t gone on a vacation in forever, even though people say you need one.

I see that you’ve found it impossible to keep up with the ever-changing world of marketing on your own.

I see that you’re worried about the future of your small business because the market you serve is evolving.

I see you are worn out, overwhelmed and tired; I see you selling your businesses, closing your doors and getting a “real job” with benefits, like healthcare and paid time off.

Some folks think being a small business owner is great. They think business owners have a ton of freedom and flexibility; they think everyone works from home in their pajamas and can give themselves a raise anytime. They think every dollar earned goes into the pocket of a business owner.

That assumption is wrong.

Small business ownership is not for the faint of heart. You need to have grit and determination; you need to be fiercely independent while also relying on others.

You have to be ready, willing and able to evolve and change as the months and years roll by. You have to keep learning and growing as a pro in your industry and as a boss and leader.

You have to learn to delegate, if you can afford it, so your business can grow and so you’re not working at the kitchen table at 11 p.m. on a Sunday night in preparation for the week ahead.

You have to hustle and push yourself to do things that are uncomfortable, like making sales calls, shoot promotional videos and attend networking events.

For those of you who are doing those things, I see you.

I see successful business owners who are doing their best every day despite horrific public scrutiny.

I see local companies that, because of the efforts of the company owner, employ dozens, if not hundreds, of people in our area.

I see local small businesses provide goods and services that are critical to the health of our community.

I see small businesses that dump a ton of tax revenue into the local economy, which supports all the things that make this special – parks and trails, tourism, public safety and the arts.

It is my hope that customers, too, will begin to see small business owners for who they are – brave, fearless, hard-working, determined and vital to this community.

Please, everyone. Cut business owners some slack.

Please try to show them more grace, and maybe even reach out to some of your favorites and sincerely thank them for what they do. They need encouragement and support right now so they can keep on keeping on! Seriously.

You work hard for your money, and they do, too. Sometimes, not everything will be perfect. That can be disappointing, but in those times business owners need a little grace, just like everyone.

Patti Rowlson, CEO of PR Consulting Inc.

If you are a small business owner reading this article, know that I see you and that I have complete empathy for the position you’re in. I understand how hard you’re working and that a lot is riding on your shoulders and that you feel pressure from many angles. We haven’t even touched on how you’re doing all the things above while also trying to juggle your family, friends, church activities and even a bit of volunteering.

You are the reason I get up and do what I do every day, which is protecting, promoting, advocating for, encouraging, advising and being a confidential listening ear. You are why PR Consulting’s team does whatever it takes to lighten your load instead of doing anything that creates more work for you.

Leadership expert Simon Sinek says, “Working hard for something we don’t care about is called stress. Working hard for something we love is called passion.” I know you started with a passion for the business you’re in.

Please don’t give up. If you are feeling tired and overwhelmed right now, ask for help, whether that is from free resources, trusted advisors or industry peers.

If you’ve tried asking for help before but didn’t like the results, ask again or try a different path or be more open to the changes that advisors are proposing.

If you aren’t sure what path to take, please contact me and I’ll share a bit of free advice to help get you pointed in the right direction.

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