Everything I Need to Know About Running a Small Business, I Learned From Firefly


This week is a bittersweet one for fans of what can be argued as Joss Whedon’s most beloved show, Firefly. Today is the tenth anniversary of the release of Serenity, the movie that served as a peace offering to Browncoats after the too-early cancellation of Firefly. It’s also the week we celebrate the cast reunion with the release of the online series Conman, an Alan Tudyk/Nathan Fillion collaboration that pokes a bit of fun at life after a cult sci-fi series.

Our office is a huge fan of the original series and it’s not uncommon to hear quotes like “I could stand to hear a little more” or “I don’t disagree on any particular point” being tossed around in daily conversation. In honor of all things Firefly, our own Captain offers up:

Everything I Need to Know About Running a Small Business, I Learned From Firefly

It’s amazing how much you can learn from just fourteen episodes of a show…

It will Often Seem Like Other Businesses Have an Advantage Over You, This is Not a Bad Thing

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There are times as a small business owner when it looks like everyone else you know in the industry is flying high; business is pouring in, travel is glamorous, and the company coffers are overflowing. Sometimes looking at how quickly the money drains out of your own business account or your inability to land that dream client because you haven’t scaled your staff up enough can be disheartening. The truth is every company struggles at some point in time. Learning to meet the needs of your customer with a small team can make or break you. Making the choice to focus on the things that make your company unique and valuable will help you realize just how much you are capable of.

Have Appreciation for the Team You’ve Put Together Even on the Days You Don’t Like Them

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Putting together the right team is one of the most crucial parts of running a business. For some companies, that means filling a stated set of needs based on desired skill  sets. For other companies, it’s about hiring the right type of person and training them yourself. Either way, there will be days where one of them will rub you the wrong way. Heck, one person may consistently rub you the wrong way. So long as this is more about personality conflict than it is about what someone brings to the team, make sure you are looking at the big picture and remind yourself of the value they add to your team.

Your Team Needs to Be Encouraged in Ways that Resonate with Them


One of the lessons I had to learn early on as we built up our team was that it wasn’t enough to meet deadlines and deliver quality work for our clients. I needed to learn how to encourage and show my appreciation for our team. Matt, our Director of Operations (and my husband) had decades of management experience under his belt and helped me learn just how important it was to take the time to say the things I assumed my team already knew. (And you can’t just say thanks. You have to learn HOW each person needs to hear that praise and appreciation and deliver it in ways that resonates with them.)

Take the Time to Understand the Situation You Are In

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Entrepreneurs tend to be very goal oriented. We sometimes focus so heavily on end goals that tunnel vision kicks in as we focus on where we’re trying to go. Learning to take the time to evaluate each situation makes it easier to shift gears, fine tune approaches and make improvements. If you’ve hired good people, it’s essential to listen to them when they’re trying to let you know you are off course.

Don’t Be Afraid to Be Honest with Your Team

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This one won’t be a fit for everyone, but it’s been crucial for us here at SugarSpun Marketing. From my perspective, you need to be able to be honest with the employees you hire. Sharing the hard truths of why travel budgets need temporarily cut or why a specific project wasn’t up to snuff is essential to building a strong company. Equally important is your willingness to hear the hard truths from your employees and for them to feel comfortable enough to share them.

Be Adaptable, But Don’t Give Up Your Core Values


I’ve seen far too many small business owners who are willing to compromise their values or their ethics to get ahead. Being open minded and flexible is important in the business world, but staying true to who you are and openly communicating that with your employees will help you move your business forward while still being able to sleep at night.

Be Willing to Stand Up For Your Company and Your Employees

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In the six years I’ve been running SugarSpun, I’ve had to fire two clients. That’s not bad in the grand scheme of things, but a willingness to walk away from revenue can actually be an incredibly important part of building your business. In a world that is thankfully more and more focused on customer service, it’s crucial not to let “the customer is always right” go too far. Standing up for an employee that is being mistreated by a client fosters loyalty from the very people you need if you plan to succeed long term. Clients are almost always easier to replace than great employees.

Encourage Politeness and Good Customer Service in Your Team

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Every single member of your team is a reflection of your company; whether it’s answering the phones, heading to a conference, navigating a difficult client meeting or just plain living life. Encourage them to be polite and thoughtful in their interactions, even the difficult ones. (Bonus Tip: Yes, that absolutely means you have to lead by example. So even when you want to wring someone’s neck, remind yourself that what you say and how you react is demonstrating to your team what is and isn’t acceptable.)

Have Boundaries in Your Office But Balance it With People’s Right to Be Themselves


Corporate culture is a pretty common topic in the news these days. We’ve even shared an infographic about our own fairly unique culture here at SugarSpun. We have an eclectic group of people that includes babies, dogs, chickens and six humans. We’ve established some guidelines to help things flow smoothly, but for the most part, we try to let people’s quirks integrate into our creative mix as long as they don’t disrupt the team’s ability to get things done.

There WILL be Disagreements, Which is Why Every Ship Needs a Captain

One of the hardest parts of running a small business is balancing the needs of clients, employees, finances, work culture and your own set of daily tasks. You have to accept that there WILL be times when someone in your company won’t like your choices. While you need to be willing to hear them out, you also have to be willing and able to make the hard choice and take the responsibility that comes with being captain of the ship.

And finally…

Taking Advantage of Clients or Employees WILL Catch Up To You

There is no situation ever that justifies taking advantage of a client or an employee. I’ve seen too many companies keep the clock running just a little past that conference call, fail to pay fair wages to employees or outright lie to clients about what needs to be happening. It’s wrong. It’s not okay. It’s awful. These companies may temporarily find themselves flying high revenue style, but eventually, you’ll pay the price. Don’t do it. Ever.

If you are a Browncoat, we’d love it if you’d share your own favorite lessons learned from Serenity’s crew in the comments here or on Facebook. If you aren’t, what are you still doing here? The whole series streams on Netflix and it only takes one day to watch them all. Join the rebellion, people!

Jennifer Cario

Jennifer Cario has dedicated her career to creatively helping businesses and consumers connect in a way that positively impacts the bottom line. With over 20 years of industry experience, she has also written several books and developed social media training curriculum in use by hundreds of colleges, universities and enterprise companies around the world. Jen consistently develops fresh ideas and methods for communicating within the world of marketing.

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5 replies
    • Jennifer
      Jennifer says:

      That’s a good one, no doubt. But we get paid in advance. That’s one place where I disagree with Mal. I know that if I don’t replace my thermo coupler when it starts to go, we’re dead in the water…so we never do a job without getting at least half up front. 😉

  1. Raven
    Raven says:

    Mal does ask for half up front, but mostly people don’t go with that. When they do, he gets suspicious (it’s in the short comic strip ‘The Other Half’).


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