Small Business Ownership and Whole Business Accommodations

Self-employment is never easy, and there are increased challenges when the business owner has disabilities. Business owners with disabilities need to find ways to operate their businesses successful in a competitive environment.
Small Business Ownership and Whole Business Accommodations; By Alice Weiss Doyel; BOLD Consulting Group, LLC

This article contains excerpts from No More Job Interviews! Self-Employment Strategies for People with Disabilities, by Alice Weiss Doyel (2000). Used with permission of the publisher, Training Resource Network, Inc.

Even when the economy was strong, three-fourths of the people with moderate to severe disabilities remained unemployed. Not surprisingly, many people with disabilities see small business ownership as their chance for economic self-sufficiency.

Self-employment is never easy, and there are increased challenges when the business owner has disabilities. Business owners with disabilities need to find ways to operate their businesses successful in a competitive environment. A few years ago I saw my own disabilities become more severe. I knew that I needed to find ways to run my company more effectively. My years of experience as a small business consultant helped me develop the concept of Whole Business Accommodations. I realized that as business owners with disabilities, we must create workplace accommodations which take into consideration the success of our entire business.

Whole Business Accommodations permeate the full scope of the business.

* Operations planning should include accommodations for the owner’s disabilities. These accommodations are not just for the physical attributes of the office, e.g., access, furniture, equipment. These accommodations should take into consideration the people who will be part of the business, or closely associated with it. Whether they are business partners, associates, employees, vendors, family members or support providers, these people are an integral part of making the business work. Their roles in supporting the business owner with disabilities must be integrated into their business functions through the business planning process.

* Marketing capabilities are often affected by the owners disabilities. Determining potentially effective marketing approaches during business planning will allow the company to test and determine the best ways to reach and sell to customers. Some people with disabilities believe that an Internet website is the answer to their marketing challenges. However, the Internet should almost always be used as a secondary marketing approach. There must be direct marketing either by the owner with disabilities, by other company owners or employees, or by sales representatives in order to create a successful marketing effort. * Financial planning is a challenge for business owners with disabilities. Many people with disabilities have few assets of value to help secure a business loan. They may have lived for years in poverty, unable to establish a sound credit record. They may have poor credit due to an unexpected health emergency or accident that created large medical expenses at the same time that they were no longer able to work. Micro-loan programs are a resource for small business owners with disabilities who have viable business plans for start up or existing businesses. These programs will take into consideration disability-related financial limitations and credit problems. Some Whole Business Accommodations are free while others may be quite expensive. All accommodations must meet the same financial test as any other business expense: 1. Can the Whole Business Accommodation be paid for? 2. Is this an effective use of limited company funds? The following are specific examples of Whole Business Accommodations which are consistent with best business practices:

* Creating an accessible office. Many accessibility methods are free or inexpensive, e.g., arranging office furniture and equipment for the greatest ease of use, telephones with easy to read displays and/or large keys, speakerphones or head sets, open storage shelving for easy access, keyboard and mouse that fits the owners physical needs, free Microsoft accessibility utilities, and tables and desks with comfortable wheelchair access. Good office design saves time and energy that the business owner can put into the business. * Including alternative means of transportation in the business plan, e.g., hiring a part-time driver, finding volunteer drivers such as family members or friends, determining effective methods for using public transportation and/or taxi services, and teleconferencing instead of in-person meetings. Business owners with disabilities can host meetings in their own offices, minimizing the need for transportation.

* Using company business policies that protect business owners with disabilities from working in a manner adverse to their health. Developing these policies requires the owner to evaluate and determine the most effective means of running the business. This analysis leads to more effective and profitable management of the entire company.

* Creating a positive, supportive work culture for the business. This includes a culture that values everyones abilities and supports the concept that disabilities do not decrease a persons humanity or value . . . that for many people, the challenges from their disabilities are a means for personal growth. This work culture will be a positive environment for all employees who share these values.

* Hiring a full-time or part-time employee who does work that is difficult or not possible for the business owner. This is a common practice in all businesses; however, here the focus is on assisting in the area of the business owners disabilities. The same employee can serve other functions for the business, bringing more capabilities to the company.

* Partners are often used to create a company where the owners have complementary business or technical skills. Business owners with disabilities can find partners with the skills, time, or energy to compensate for their disability needs.

* Creating alliances with other companies is often an excellent strategy for business owners with disabilities. It allows them to provide a variety of services or products through their alliance partners, while limiting the size of their business and the number of employees they manage. In summary, business owners with disabilities report a wide range of positive experiences when they use Whole Business Accommodations to run their companies more effectively. Whole Business Accommodations are powerful tools for success in business and for success in living a complete and satisfying life.

About the Author

Alice Doyel is the founder of BOLD Consulting Group: where she heads the consulting practice specializing in operations management for small businesses. Also, she is a national speaker, consultant, and advocate on self-employment for people with disabilities. Alice wrote the book, No More Job Interviews! Self-Employment Strategies for People with Disabilities.

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