A key to being successful in business is observing and learning from others?both mistakes made and accomplishments achieved. To examine the characteristics and methodologies of triumphant business owners, the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce recently hosted a Competitive Edge Series featuring a panel discussion with executives from its 2014 Small Business of the Year award winners. Gwynn Davey, 2014 SBOY Chairperson, moderated the event, which drew in a standing-room only crowd.
Discussion topics included management philosophy, major risks of starting your own business, key business values, challenges and adversities, recruiting staff, and other recommendations for success. Our CEO, Pete Slade, joined Bruce Kitzis, Brian Murphy and Ted C. Abrams* in highlighting personal thoughts and experiences on the topics outlined above. So what does it take to be an award-winning company? Let?s take a closer look at what the panelists had to say…
Obstacles to overcome and risks to consider when starting a business
Overcoming obstacles and weighing risks were primary topics of focus during the panel?s discussion. Though the leaders shared the ability to name a long list of common, amateur mistakes made in the beginning of business, the biggest obstacle was as unique as each company. ?Shooters World, for instance, faced industry changes and shortages, while Joffrey?s Coffee & Tea Company highlighted the challenge of getting its team on board simultaneously to make necessary changes. Nitro?s CEO, Pete, on the other hand, discussed fulfilling roles that were outside of his experience.
?My background is in engineering, not sales. I knew what we needed to design and build Nitro?s products, but when it came to actually telling the world about them, boy did we have a lot to learn. I didn?t understand the concept of hunters and gatherers, so we made a lot of mistakes with our first sales staff. The best sale our old team made was on me!? Slade recalled.
When discussing the risk of starting a business, the panel?s discussion turned personal. Brian Murphy, CEO of ReliaQuest, noted risking your family time and the importance of turning business off when owners get home at the end of the day. Pointing out that a small business owner?s risk changes everyday, Murphy offered some advice: ?If you can keep that ?grind? mentality and remember that this is an opportunity, not something to be worried about?then you can keep things entertaining.?
Slade followed Murphy?s insight to address what may be the most common risk for any budding entrepreneur: the risk of failure. ?You?re putting your heart and soul into running your own business?it takes all of your personal time, your time with your family, your everything. So, there?s the emotional risk?thinking to yourself, ?Is this going to pay off? At the end of this, am I going to be left with nothing, except lost time?? Other risks?legal risks, for instance?are day in, day out. If you ask me tomorrow what my current risks are, I?m going to have a different answer than I do today. But the emotional risks exist for the life of your business, and are often the most difficult to address,? said Slade.
Best and worst business decisions made
Despite stemming from differing industries, panel leaders attributed their best decision-making to two practices: having focus and taking the time and money to invest in your company. ?New business owners often face the difficulty of grandiose visions and tend to bite off more than they can chew. Especially when trying to build a loyal customer base, it can be tough to deny offering a product or service. ?It?s really the discipline of saying ?no,?? said Slade.
Small business owners also need the ability to say ?yes? to seemingly arduous choices. ?I kept our old CFO in place too long?I kept thinking about the cost of hiring someone new. But since I?ve made that difficult decision, we?ve tripled our company,? said CEO of Joffrey?s Coffee and Tea Company, Ted C. Abrams. ?Don?t be afraid to invest a little bit more money in getting the best?the best products, the best tools, and the best people.?
Bruce Kitzis, CEO of Shooters World, echoed Abrams? sentiment and attributed his best decision to investing heavily in his team and training and his worst decision to the time it took to recognize this need. ?You can have great people, but if they aren?t focused and trained well, you?re only hurting yourself and your business,? said Kitzis. ?It comes down to people?getting the right people and empowering them to do their best work. Not doing that quickly enough was our biggest fault.
Recruiting employees and attracting top talent
Though each executive used his own recruiting methods, one thing was clear: attracting top talent involves employing a wide range of techniques. While Nitro uses ?cyber studying? to find and analyze applicants? work samples, Shooters World frequently hires out of the Department of Veterans Affairs. While Joffrey?s isn?t a fan of recruiting agencies, ReliaQuest relies heavily upon educational institutions for recruitment efforts.
?Hiring should be a process?I don?t think you can outsource a core competency and people are a core competency? We?ve put a lot of effort and money behind getting the right people?and the right amount of people?on our team,? said Murphy.
Managing and motivating your team
When asked how they motivate and inspire employees, panel leaders noted similar practices: celebrating hard work, organizing team rewards, maintaining a pleasant work environment, and communicating openly within the company. Getting your team involved in the company?s umbrella goals, success strategies, and decision-making also surfaced as a common, significant theme. In addition, executives stressed the importance facilitating a work-life balance that is favorable for your staff.
?Make it easy for people to work for you. If your employees go home every night and the people they go home to are upset because their spouse is late, or stressed out, that?s going to reflect in your employee?s work,? said Murphy.
?We reward our employees in a number of ways: the kinds of work that we do, the environment that we provide, making it fun to come into work, having playful banter? We also look for fun events to involve our staff in. We look for opportunities for our team to play as hard as they work,? said Slade.
While discussing best management practices, each executive offered his own piece of advice:
?Make decisions and get out of the way. Hire the best so you can do that.? ?Ted C. Abrams
?Trusting your employees and be one with them. If I have to micro-manage my employees, I?ve hired the wrong people.?? -Pete Slade
?Teamwork and respect are essential. We must empower our team to make necessary decisions, but coach our staff when they need coaching. People who feel respected take ownership of the company?they feel a part of it. Customer service starts with your team?how you treat them is how they?re going to treat other people.? ?Bruce Kitzis
?Lead from the front. Don?t ask anyone to do something you?re not willing to do yourself.? ?Brian Murphy
At the conclusion of the event, one thing was made very clear: maintaining an award-winning company is no easy feat. If you know of a small business in the greater Tampa area that you would like to nominate for the 2015 Small Business of the Year Award, click here.
*missing from the panel was Dr. Madelyn Butler, The Woman?s Group?