I recently finished reading Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand. One of the themes in the book is the concept that money is a merely a means for trading our "best effort for the best efforts of others."
I was reminded of this as I listened to the debates and doomsday predictions about the fiscal cliff and the debt ceiling that hung over our New Year celebrations. In my conversations with other small business owners, entrepreneurs, venture capitalists and bankers in the past few weeks, I have been alarmed that there is a far greater threat lurking beyond the overall economic uncertainty--and it has to do with our best efforts as business owners.
Our single greatest economic and operational threat going into 2013 is that businesses continue their trend of hoarding money. I'm not just talking about big banks and multinational corporations. I'm saying, bluntly, that we smaller business owners hurt ourselves if we decide to take what is ours and sit on it, using current events as an excuse for stuffing our coffers with stagnating dollar bills. I say stagnating because what can be earned on this money as it sits on the sidelines is far less than any reasonable business would hope to gain through growth or re-investment.
Throughout 2012, articles appeared across the media chronicling the corporations that were sitting on large amounts of cash. From my own contacts, I continue to hear in both the banking arena and the venture capital space that money is available, but not being spent.
I have also talked with business brokers and businesses looking for capital, small amounts of bridge capital for viable enterprises, with no bank in sight to assist. Banks are using their sullied past and companies are citing an uncertain future as an excuse for sitting it out and holding onto their cash longer.
As entrepreneurs and small business owners, we must do our part, too--rather than just complaining about banks and big businesses that are sitting on vats of capital. If businesses--of all sizes--continue this trend and stop spending money with other businesses, deciding to wait until "times are better," or "the economy is more certain," then we are truly in trouble as a nation and an economy. The greatest thing the business community can do for each other and for ourselves is to find ways to keep the economy going by investing in our mutual futures.
Americans have built some of the greatest businesses during times of uncertainty: IBM, GE and FedEx, for example, all were born out of crisis times. Small business owners and entrepreneurs are used to going against the grain and ignoring the whispers of caution. That is supposed to be what we do best, not fall in line behind a line of doomsday-obsessed lawmakers and pundits.
Now is not the time to use the excuse of dysfunctional government to destroy what truly makes this country great.