A tough economy and even tougher customers brings up a good question: How do we small business people manage to cope?

One answer came to me at our local high school while attending a National Arts Honor Society installation. This old, respected and national program for 10-12 graders honors students who show outstanding aptitude in art.

Our keynote speaker was Robb McNally, director of our county arts association. Robb talked about three qualities he felt it takes to become an accomplished artist.

As I listened to him, it dawned on me he just as easily could have been addressing a group of entrepreneurs about growing their businesses. The required attributes for becoming a good artist and for becoming a successful entrepreneur are very similar.


The first aspect Robb talked about was technique. In art, this refers to elements such as texture, lighting, dimension and even the medium chosen by the artist.

Robb mentioned that if you don’t have these elements right, you’re not going to attract a lot of attention to your art.

The same is true in business. If you’re not competent with the fundamentals of profitably producing your product or performing your service, and you can’t do this consistently, you aren’t going to be in business very long.

But technique, in art or business, only takes you so far. If you plan to make a reasonable living from your business, you’ll need to combine technique with the two other attributes Robb mentioned.


The second one was discipline. Robb joked about movie stars and other artists who “only take 20 years of applied work and discipline to become overnight successes.”

Although stories about successful artists are fun to follow, too often we’re lulled into thinking they achieved their success without paying their dues. We overlook all their years of practicing and refining their artistic techniques to become “discovered.”

A major stumbling block I see time and again in small business owners is a lack of discipline to stay focused, to follow through on plans.

Any successful business owner will tell you success is the residue of consistent effort, doing the things that need to be done day-in-and-day-out. It requires discipline to do so even on the days when you don’t feel like doing them. The art of business is to continually practice and refine management techniques.

A third and final artistic quality also comes into play. 


Robb saved his final comments for the attribute of creativity. It’s a foregone conclusion that creativity and art go hand-in-hand. Even the terms “artist” and “creative type” are synonymous.

Shouldn’t we give ourselves more credit for being creative in business? It takes a pretty creative business owner to stay ahead of ever-shifting market trends and customer preferences!

I’m also certain that performing artists could learn a lot from small business owners. Who knows better than us how to take a group of people with radically different talents and get them to all sing from the same song sheet?

What about magicians? They’d be hard pressed to top a business owner who’s had to fabricate money out of thin air to meet a payroll.

In other words, business owners are really artists and running a business successfully calls for technique, discipline and creativity.

Chuck Violand understands the unique challenges of small businesses, having owned a commercial cleaning and water damage mitigation company for 26 years. He founded Violand Management Associates (VMA) in 1988 as a consulting, teaching and training resource for owners of small businesses. To learn more about VMA's services and programs, visit www.Violand.com or call (330) 966-0700.