How’s Business? and why I hate this question

As a small business owner, I get asked at least once a day: How’s business?

I’ve come to really dislike the question.

Similar to How are you?, most who ask are scratching for an  easy entrance to conversation and are not particularly interested in the answer. But still. Maybe I’m the only one, but the question makes me squirm. I never know how to answer.confusion

For starters, business owners’ incomes are inherently tied to their business’s success. If there is anything we know, it is that it’s impolite to ask about money and politics.

Turn the Tables

I would never ask an employed worker, “How’s your job? Are they paying you toward the top end or the bottom end this week?”

If I ask how your job is, I am expecting to hear whether or not you are enjoying what you do. And I’d guess that is what well-meaning people mean when they ask me how business is going. But that isn’t what the words are asking. Ergo, I’m stuck not knowing how to answer.

Business is Good. Great. Bad.

If I say, “business is great!” what does that mean? Too much enthusiasm indicates customers are rolling in and profits mounting. People assume I’m getting rich. Or I’m delusional. Or I am bragging.

If I say, “business is good” what does that mean? Could be better? Might be struggling? Paying myself but not much more?

If I say, “business is not so good,” friends worry because that must mean I’m not making any money.

If I say, “fine,” I’m saying nothing. Or I might be lying.

As much as we hate to admit it, we are comparative creatures. So no matter how I answer, I’m giving you the opportunity to classify me  and my income as above, below or on par with you. I could be opening doors for both envy and pity, neither of which I want to do.

What would be better?

It would be unfair if I told you I don’t like your question without offering some alternatives. But maybe telling you how to change isn’t the answer. Maybe I need to come up with a safe and benign answer that addresses what I’d rather share about what I do. Here are some phrases I’ve thought about:

On a good day:

You: How’s business?

Me: I’m really enjoying what I do.

You: How’s business?

Me: Fulfilling.

You: How’s business?

On a less than great or discouraging day:

You: How’s business?

Me: It has its frustrations, for sure.

You: How’s business?

Me: I’ve had better moments.

What do you think? Are you an “asker” or an “answerer?” Does this question bother you? How have you addressed it?

I’d love to hear your thoughts!



2 thoughts on “How’s Business? and why I hate this question

  1. Anne Wayman says:

    If it’s truly a causal question from a stranger who I know is only being polite I toss off a fine, or it’s great, or I love it.

    If it’s a friend who I know is interested I’ll be a bit more honest or up front.

  2. Amber Galusha says:

    I don’t hate the question nor does it bother me. I just see it as a friendly way for someone to start up conversation. I can see your point though; it is a rather generic question.

    Perhaps a better way to ask would be, “What a fine day to be in business. What do you love about being your own boss?” Then someone could respond, “I love that I get to go to an artsy cafe, order the drink of my choice, sit in a cozy chair and write and write and write!”

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