This text is devoted to small business, not entrepreneurship. There has always been a challenge to distinguish—correctly—between the small business owner and the entrepreneur. Some argue that there is no difference between the two terms. The word entrepreneur is derived from a French word for “to undertake,” which might indicate that entrepreneurs should be identified as those who start businesses.  However, this interpretation is too broad and is pointless as a means of distinguishing between the two. Some have tried to find differences based on background, education, or age. Often one finds the argument that entrepreneurs have a different orientation toward risk than small business owners. The standard line is that entrepreneurs are willing to take great risks in starting an enterprise and/or willing to start again after a business failure.  Others try to make the distinction based on the issue of innovation or the degree of innovation. Given this focus, entrepreneurs need not even work for small business because they can come up with innovative products, services, production, or marketing processes in large organizations.  Perhaps the most common interpretation of the entrepreneur is an individual involved in a high-tech start-up who becomes a billionaire. That is not the focus of this text. It centers on the true driving force of America’s economy—the small business.
This chapter gives a brief history of small business in the United States, the critical importance of small business to the American economy, the challenges facing small business owners as they struggle to survive and prosper, the requisite skills to be an effective small business owner, the critical importance of ethical behavior, and how these businesses may evolve over time. In addition, three critical success factors for the twenty-first-century small business are threaded through the text: (1) identifying and providing customer value, (2) being able to exploit digital technologies with an emphasis on e-business and e-commerce, and (3) properly managing your cash flow. These three threads are essential to the successful decision making of any contemporary small business and should be considered of paramount importance. They are everyday considerations.
A Brief History of Small Business
Throughout American history, from colonial times until today, most businesses were small businesses, and they have played a vital role in America’s economic success and are a forge to our national identity. It would not be an exaggeration to say that the small businessperson has always held an important—even exalted—position in American life. Americans in the early republic were as suspicious of large economic
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enterprises as threats to their liberty as they were of large government. The historian James L. Houston discussed American suspicion of large economic enterprises: “Americans believed that if property was concentrated in the hands of a few in the republic, those few would use their wealth to control other citizens, seize political power, and warp the republic into an oligopoly.”  In fact, much of the impetus behind the Boston Tea Party was the fear on the part of local merchants and tradesmen that the East India Company, at that time the world’s largest corporation, was dumping low-priced tea in the colonies, which would have driven local business to ruin.  Jefferson’s promotion of the yeoman farmer, which included small merchants, as the bulwark of democracy stemmed from his fear of large moneyed interests: “The end of democracy and the defeat of the American Revolution will occur when government falls into the hands of lending institutions and moneyed incorporations.”  So great was the fear of the large aggregation of wealth that the colonies and the early republic placed severe restrictions on the creation of corporate forms. In the first decades of the nineteenth century, state governments restricted the corporate form by limiting its duration, geographic scope, size, and even profits.  This was done because of the concern that corporations had the potential of becoming monopolies that would drive entrepreneurs out of business.
Eventually, however, some businesses grew in size and power. Their growth and size necessitated the development of a professional management class that was distinct from entrepreneurs who started and ran their own businesses. However, not until the post–Civil War period did America see the true explosion in big businesses. This was brought about by several factors: the development of the mass market (facilitated by the railroads); increased capital requirement for mass production; and the 1886 Supreme Court case of Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad, which granted corporations “personhood” by giving them protection under the Fourteenth Amendment.
The growth of corporations evoked several responses that were designed to protect small businesses from their larger competitors. The Interstate Commerce Act (1887) was a federal law designed to regulate the rates charged by railroads to protect small farmers and businesses. Other federal laws—the Sherman Act (1890) and the Clayton Act (1914)—were passed with the initial intent of restricting the unfair trading practices of trusts. In the early years, however, the Sherman Act was used more frequently against small business alliances and unions than against large businesses. Congress continued to support small businesses through the passage of legislation. The Robinson-Patman Act of 1936 and the Miller-Tydings Act of 1937 were designed to protect small retailers from large chain retailers. 
The Depression and the post–World War II environments posed special challenges to small business operations. The Hoover and Roosevelt administrations created organizations (the Reconstruction Finance Corporation in 1932 and the Small War Plants Corporation in 1942) to assist small firms. The functions of several government agencies were subsumed into the Small Business Administration in 1953. The designated purpose of the SBA was to “aid, counsel, assist and protect, insofar as is possible, the interests of small business concerns.”  The SBA functions to ensure that small businesses have a fair chance at securing government contracts. It also has the responsibility of defining what constitutes a small business.
If anything is to be learned from the passage of all this legislation, it is that, as Conte (2006) eloquently put it, “Americans continued to revere small businesspeople for their self-reliance and independence.”