Business is about celebrating mutual benefit

“Before I started my business, I thought business was about taking advantage of other people, of exploiting them.”

That sentiment was shared with me over breakfast last week. It is revealing, encouraging and discouraging all at once.

My confidant is a former athlete who finds himself on an interesting and unexpected path of self-discovery as owner of a new business venture. While some people grow up around business or are predisposed to entrepreneurship, not this guy. Business was not part of his background and was not in the plans.

However, he is a goal-oriented problem solver. So when he ran into a vexing technology equipment problem, he figured out a solution. End of story, right?

But then something interesting happened: family and friends liked his new gear, so he gave them some. Their delight led to the realization that his personal problem was actually a common problem, and he could help a lot people.

That is the essence of all successful businesses: helping people meet their needs and solve their problems.

In the definition of free enterprise, emphasis is usually put on the freedom of businesses to operate for profit with little or no government regulation. Often overlooked, however, is another form of freedom: the freedom of consumers to choose what businesses they will patronize.

As happened with this guy before his revelation, it’s easy to misunderstand the symbiotic relationship between a business and its customers. Cheat, exploit, or mistreat a customer at your own peril. Solve a customer’s problem with an elegant solution at a mutually acceptable price and both parties benefit.

So, my new acquaintance’s candid admission was revealing in that it’s indicative of a common misconception that some have of business. It was encouraging to hear that he discovered the mutual benefit concept that makes business and our economy work.

I see this process of mutually beneficial self-interests at work year in and year out, and it’s a beautiful thing.

This is on my mind because during May we celebrate small businesses. Last week the chamber announced and celebrated a wonderful group of businesses. Finalists in the new business category were 970 Services, Horse & Dragon Brewing and Neurofeedback Clinic of Northern Colorado. Horse & Dragon was named Small Business of the Year, New Kid on the Block.

Finalists in the 1- to 10-employee category were Community Auto, Dora Grace Bridal and Eger CPA, with Community Auto named Small Business of the Year.

Finalists in the 11- to 50-employee category were the Silver Grill, Total Facility Care and Wilbur’s Total Beverage, with Total Facility Care taking the top honor.

The 51- to 200-employee category finalists were Aleph Objects, Greystone Technology Group and The Human Bean, with Greystone being named Small Business of the Year.

These finalists represent the great companies we have in Fort Collins. They take care of their customers, and in turn are rewarded for doing so.

Column originally published with The Fort Collins Coloradoan May 28, 2015