Small business owners are uniquely positioned to reap the financial rewards and pride of their successful endeavors directly. However, they also assume the personal risk that accompanies owning a business.

To kick off Small Business Month (May), CO— hosted a special in-person Ready. Set. Scale. Small Business Day event. Small business experts shared valuable insights for navigating challenges, leveraging technology, and scaling a business in today’s world.

  • Neil Bradley, Executive Vice President, Chief Policy Officer, Head of Strategic Advocacy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, discussed with Jeanette Mulvey, Editor-in-Chief at CO—, the state of the economy and issues impacting small businesses.
  • Tatiana Perry, Audience Development Manager at CO—, interviewed Reyna Noriega, Founder of Noriega Studios, and Rosa Li, Founder of wildwonder, about their entrepreneurial journeys as female small business owners.
  • Jeanette Mulvey also sat down with Eric Spinks, Senior Solutions Engineer at T-Mobile for Business, to discuss strategies for boosting collaboration and productivity.
  • Kristen DelGuzzi, VP and Editor-in-Chief at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, moderated a panel discussion with Mark Drapeau, Partner and Chief Research Officer at RXN Group, Jordan Crenshaw, Senior Vice President of C_TEC at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and Denise Turley, Vice President of Corporate Systems at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, about the nuances of AI and small businesses.
  • Elizabeth Peterson, Executive Director of Marketing at CO—, and Melissa Lentz, Senior Vice President of Member Marketing at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, discussed marketing strategies specifically designed for small businesses.

The economy, legislative changes, and AI are poised to impact small businesses in the year ahead

During his Small Business Update, Bradley discussed several key issues affecting small businesses in 2024 and beyond.

The current economic conditions, including sustained high interest rates, continue. Bradley explained this is likely to impact small business borrowing costs and financial planning for investments.

Regarding legislation, Bradley highlighted that research and development expense deductions must now be amortized over five years, which may increase a small business’s tax burden in the short term. Another concern Bradley noted is the 2025 expiration date for certain Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) tax reforms from 2017. The date will result in significant tax rate increases for small businesses if no legislative action is taken.

Bradley also discussed the Corporate Transparency Act, which went into effect on January 1, 2024. Under this act, all businesses that fall under the definition of a reporting company must file a beneficial ownership information report (BOIR) with the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN). Learn more about the Corporate Transparency Act and how to file a beneficial ownership information report for your business here.

[Read More: Ready. Set. Scale. Smart Tax Tips for a Stress-Free Filing]

Successfully scaling your business requires authenticity and strong community engagement

Noriega, who transitioned from a high school art teacher to a successful artist and entrepreneur, emphasized the importance of community engagement and self-confidence in scaling her business.

Her work is deeply connected with her identity and community and has led to significant collaborations with major brands like Apple and Netflix. Noriega explained that her approach to small business illustrates the value of authenticity and networking to create significant business opportunities.

Li, who left the investment banking world, highlighted the unique attributes of her functional beverage brand, wildwonder. The brand sets itself apart with its health benefits and cultural inspiration from Li’s Chinese grandmother. The importance of understanding market demands and the mechanics of business scaling was something Li learned from her previous careers that she cites as stepping stones to her success.

Li’s strategic approach to business involves gradual growth and meticulous market penetration. Her main focus is on product quality and customer loyalty to ensure sustainable business development in the future.

Regarding legislation, Bradley highlighted that research and development expense deductions must now be amortized over five years, which may increase a small business’s tax burden in the short term.

5G technology can help streamline operations and improve small business productivity

5G technology has ushered in a new era of increased connectivity and efficiency, Spinks explained. The improved capabilities facilitate a broad range of applications from faster internet speeds to advanced IoT (Internet of Things) integrations. The improved connectivity is crucial for small businesses because it allows for the adoption of new technologies and applications that improve operational efficiency.

Spinks acknowledged that small businesses can be overwhelmed due to the breadth of emerging technologies and the limited resources available to small business owners. He suggested small businesses start by identifying and prioritizing key initiatives that could benefit most from technological integration. Focus on automating and streamlining basic processes, like paperwork and communications, which can significantly enhance productivity and efficiency, he said.

Artificial intelligence needs to be used strategically and securely to be effective

According to Crenshaw, AI is not a recent invention but a broad set of technologies that enhance decision-making and efficiency. He explained the versatility of AI, particularly through large language models that aid various business operations, from logistics to customer service, like GPS and recommendation algorithms on platforms like YouTube.

Drapeau discussed the categorization of AI, distinguishing between task-oriented AI for specific functions like spam filtering, and more complex “strong AI” systems capable of performing a range of tasks. While some discussions about AI may conjure images of dystopian, superintelligent systems, Drapeau explained, the reality is that current AI applications are practical tools enhancing business efficiency.

When it comes to AI and security, Turley urged businesses to consider the data privacy implications. Integrating AI technologies could expose sensitive customer or business data. She shared the importance of understanding the security measures of AI platforms to safeguard proprietary information effectively.

[Read More: Ready. Set. Scale. How Small Business Can Leverage AI]

The foundation of small business marketing is understanding and building strong relationships with customers

With the abundance of resources and technology available today, small business owners may find marketing strategies both helpful and overwhelming.

Lentz compared a business owner’s role to that of a parent: Owners need to nurture their companies with a clear voice and a strong value proposition to cut through the noise. She emphasized the importance of establishing a presence in relevant spaces to build lasting customer relationships for long-term success.

Small business owners should also clearly understand their target customers and focus marketing efforts there to avoid targeting unlikely prospects. Lentz explained the impact of marketing messages and how campaigns can improve with this targeted approach. She also advised maintaining a tight focus on the ideal customer to enhance content strategy and marketing effectiveness.

If small businesses understand and continuously engage with their customer base, they will exceed customer expectations and have a chance to turn these customers into brand advocates.

[Read More: 6 Strategies for Finding New Customers for Your Small Business]

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.