Thursday, September 07, 2006

Long live the small business!

I was driving down the street the other day when a thought hit me with a great sense of surprise and clarity: I am a businesswoman. A small business owner.

This may not seem like much of a revelation to those of you who note that I have been self-employed for well over two years now. But somehow, earning my living in a way that allows me to spend much of my work hours in an unbathed, pajama-clad state doesn't feel serious enough to merit the term "business."

And yet, I have a business license with the state. I have a business checking account with my business name on it, followed by the serious-sounding "LLC." I love that, LLC. A Limited Liability Company is actually less formal than incorporating, but the letters sound very British and formal to me, like "Esq." And I get to pay taxes, all kinds of business taxes - to the city, the state, the feds. Big fun.

I have of course run nonprofit organizations and my mentor always emphasized - and I truly believe this - that running a nonprofit is running a small business. A noprofit corporation lives by nearly all of the same rules as a for-profit one (including, in this wacky state, the payment of all those business taxes). It just happens to call its retained earnings "fund balance" instead of "profit."

So, whatever. I don't know why this little bit of self-identity just struck me out of the blue this week, but I sort of feel like a part of small business renaissance, with so many people choosing to work for themselves. It's like there's a splintering phenomenon going on - you're either a mega-global-corporation, or a small entrepreneur who's dropped out, decided to take their livelihood into their own hands, the old fashioned way.

Take, for example, the Grameen Foundation, which combines microlending (very small loans) and technology to try to alleviate the most severe poverty in the world. By lending a little money to a woman in Africa or Asia (and it's usually a woman), she can buy a cell phone and a solar charger, and support herself by providing phone service to her fellow villagers at reasonable rates. The woman is better off, because she earns a living and gains independence. Her children are better off, because she can have fewer of them and provide more for their health and education. The village is better off because it can communicate with the outside world rather than selling its produce at whatever price is dictated by the middleman who shows up with the truck.

So although I still stumble over the word, I declare myself proud to be a businesswoman, to be part of a global movement to take back our livelihoods and make them work for us, the regular people of the planet.

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