Small Business Week: US entrepreneurs have highs and lows

Because America’s nearly 30 million small businesses employ almost half of all U.S. workers it’s easy to think only about their moments of success – hiring that first employee, or cutting the ribbon at a new location. We think about entrepreneurs breaking through with a new innovation or that moment when they land a big new client. And that’s all true.

What goes less noticed are the moments of risk and struggle in between.

When I was building a company, I was almost always running high on stress and short on sleep. I can still remember lying awake many nights wondering whether my small business was going to be able to make payroll next month. Other nights, it was a looming hiring decision or a complex regulatory hurdle or an office leasing question that kept me awake. Looking back, for every moment of elation, there were at least two of anxiety and uncertainty.

But then, it was those difficult times that made the successes that much sweeter. It was the nights spent worrying whether we could afford to expand our staff or the days spent wondering where our next client was going to come from that made it all the more remarkable when we were named the 135th fastest growing company in the country by Inc. Magazine.

And it was those moments early on, wondering whether something we started with little more than a strategic vision and a hand-drawn logo could really compete in the market, that made it that much more satisfying when we started peeling market share away from decades-old competitors and ultimately selling the firm to a much larger company that needed our expertise to grow its business.

Starting and running a company was the hardest thing I have done—and the most rewarding. Creating new well-paying jobs with good benefits is a proud accomplishment.

This week, as our nation celebrates National Small Business Week, I hope we’ll all take a moment to not only celebrate the successes—the jobs small businesses create, the innovative ideas they hatch, the big contributions they make to their local economies—but also recognize the challenges entrepreneurs have overcome along the way. Let’s celebrate the sheer guts and fortitude it takes to start something from nothing, to pursue the American Dream, and to not throw in the towel when it gets hard.

Let’s also do everything we can to clear their paths to success.

America’s small business owners have enough to worry about without government putting additional barriers in the way. They need a free enterprise system that encourages them to take risks and grow their companies, not one that throws up regulatory roadblocks and bureaucratic hurdles at every turn.

I’m deeply proud to help lead an organization that fights every day for free enterprise and the interests of businesses of all sizes. I’m also proud of what leaders in our nation’s capital have done to support our country’s small businesses in the past year, including passing the first significant tax reform in three decades and implementing the most dramatic regulatory rollback in a generation.

Those efforts have put the wind at Main Street’s back.  The latest quarterly MetLife and U.S. Chamber of Commerce Small Business Index recorded its largest-ever increase in optimism, driven in part by the benefits small businesses expect to see from tax reform. Meanwhile, a Gallup poll taken around the same time showed small business optimism to be at an 11-year high.

But there’s still work to be done.

We must address onerous regulations that block entrepreneurs from accessing capital, or pursuing cutting-edge technological innovations. We must do more to improve the critical infrastructure they depend on to move people, products and information around town and around the world. And we must make it easier for small businesses, which represent 98 percent of U.S. exporters, to reach the 95 percent of customers who live beyond our borders.

Small businesses are the cornerstone on which our towns are built and the fuel that drives the American economy. Their impact extends well beyond their doors, creating jobs and opportunities that allow others to achieve their own American Dreams. When I speak to entrepreneurs at U.S. Chamber events here in Washington and around the country, it becomes clear that most small business men and women are just as interested in growing and strengthening their local communities as they are in growing and strengthening their companies.

As we celebrate small businesses this week, I hope we’ll not only celebrate their moments of success, but also acknowledge and applaud the many moments of hardship they have endured and continue to overcome to achieve a success that benefits us all.

Suzanne Clark is Senior Executive Vice President of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Prior to re-joining the U.S. Chamber in 2014, where she had previously served as Chief Operating Officer, Clark founded and led Potomac Research Group (PRG), a prominent financial services boutique based in Washington, D.C.