Guest Column | December 23, 2015

A Christmas List For The Small Business Owner In Your Life

By Arlin Sorensen, O and Founder of the Heartland Companies which includes HTG Peer Groups

So what do you get the small business owner who has everything? Or at least thinks he or she does?  That is often the place I find many owners these days. They feel like they are on top of the world, at least in the public eye. 

But behind closed doors they often reveal their loneliness, frustration, fear, and disappointment. Running a company just isn’t as simple as they thought, and the longer they do it, the more disenfranchised they become. It just wasn’t supposed to be this hard.

Sound familiar? I hear the story over and over as we serve people in our peer groups or through coaching and consulting interactions. They got that entrepreneurial seizure (as Michael Gerber calls it) and now they are the boss running their own company. But it isn’t Santa’s business, and there are no magical reindeer to help make sure they get everything done the way they promised. How do you buy for a person like that? Here are a few thoughts on what small business entrepreneurs and owners might like this Christmas:

  1. A Thank You. Take a few minutes to jot a card or type out an email to the owner of a small business that serves you and your family. Let them know you are grateful for what their company has done for you. As an employee, a thank you is very satisfying as well. Small business owners and entrepreneurs create the jobs that make the world go round. They don’t get a lot of kudos for taking the risk and putting in the never ending hours, so there’s no better time than Christmas to thank them. If you’re an employee at a small business, say thank you for your job and the means to care for your family.
  2. Disconnecting The Leash. Some owners feel obligated to be available 24/7/365 to their business. It isn’t healthy, and it is an unreasonable expectation they place on themselves, but it is how many feel. Tell them to leave their phone at the office over the weekend, or to have someone else carry it for an evening or two. Truth be told, most are not disciplined enough to not answer or respond if they have the leash with them. It takes some intervention to give them the permission they won’t give themselves to be free. Simply knowing someone is taking that responsibility is a freeing act of kindness.
  3. A Walk In The Park Or At The Gym.  Let’s face it, making time to exercise just doesn’t make the top of the list for some owners. We put other things ahead of taking care of ourselves. But if someone asks us to take a walk with them, or go to the gym together, it is far more likely that we’ll take the time and make the investment in our health than if left to our own will power. It can fit nicely over lunch or before or right after work. But the odds of us doing it on our own are not high. Other things press in, and we don’t guard that time.
  4. Some Quiet Time. One thing that many owners struggle with is time to reflect and be in solitude to just think. We all need quiet time to be alone, look back at what has been and consider what lies ahead. No agenda, no big action items, just some time to ponder and dream. It is something we should be doing regularly but we won’t make it a priority unless someone encourages it.
  5. A Good Book. While many owners don’t make time to read, they are far more likely to keep that learning attitude going if someone else is reading a book with them and wants to have a discussion about it. Pick the best of the new business books and get two copies — one for you and one for another — and plan to meet every week or two and discuss a chapter. My current favorites are:
  6. Lunch.  Lots of owners eat alone, if they eat at all. The job of being an owner may sound like a glorious one, but it can actually be pretty lonely. Whenever the boss asks someone to lunch there is always the sense of something being up. So turn the tables — take the boss to lunch. Feel free to use his money to pay. You just be the one who initiates the invite and drives the conversation on anything but work!  Most really do care about your family and life, but with today’s politically correct society, might be tentative to ask questions for fear of being viewed as sticking their nose where it doesn’t belong.
  7. Play Hooky. Owners are heads down kind of folks. They often don’t make time for fun and certainly not during the busy business day. But how about kidnapping them with the team, or at least a few from the office, and going to a movie or the golf course or go kart track. Bowling is always an interesting way to have some fun. Or take in a sporting event. Play a little hooky and go have some fun together. They will likely resist at first, but you’ll see a smile as soon as you get them moving toward the car.
  8. Family Time. Owners are often guilty of putting work first. They buy into the idea that they have to be at the office if anyone is going to be at work. They then sometimes miss the important things in their family — kids’ sporting events, dance recitals, school programs, and on the list goes. Find out when an upcoming activity is scheduled and block the calendar so they have permission to attend. You may need to coordinate with their spouse to pull it off, but a little push to be present is all it will take.
  9. Weekend/Holidays. Work with the family to schedule a get away without the boss knowing. Have the spouse pack their bag and show up at the office with the kids to pick them up at 5 p.m. on Friday and take them away for the weekend. There will be resistance, but it will be worth it.
  10. Connect With Peers.  One of the most important gifts any owner can have is the camaraderie of a group of peers. Insist that your boss check out the options to become part of a peer group. Being accountable to a group of caring and vested peers is one of the greatest gifts that anyone can receive. It takes work, but it impacts everyone in the patch for good. Just be ready for the impact it will have when they come back from spending time with their peers — the idea tank will be full, and there will be a lot of work to get done!

These are all ideas that can span much more than the Christmas giving season. But remember, your owners and bosses are first of all people too. While they will seldom admit it, some owners are pretty lost when it comes to celebrations and fun. Consider how you can light up their world this year.  

Arlin Sorensen serves as the CEO and Founder of the Heartland Companies which includes HTG Peer Groups.  When he is not traveling to speak and consult, he is home on his farm in Iowa with his wife Nancy. He is a proud “Pop” to four precocious grandchildren who serve as daily reminders of why he is intentionally living to leave a strong legacy of faith and integrity. He loves making a difference in the lives and businesses of small business owners. You can reach him at or on Twitter @asorensen.

This article originally appeared on the HTG Peer Groups Blog.