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Aspiring small business leaders from across the country came to Washington, D.C. this week for the CO— Summit to learn how to grow their businesses and get a little inspiration on the side.
Throughout the day, small business leaders took to the stage to share their real-world insights, offer advice, and provide motivation.
“Entrepreneurs are responsible for bringing to fruition what others cannot see,” said Marcus Davis, president and CEO of The Breakfast Klub in Houston.
The Summit, held by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in collaboration with MetLife, featured tips for finding business capital, curating a social media presence, and hiring the right talent.
During a session on how a small business should engage with social media, Hailley Griffis, head of public relations at Buffer, said not to latch onto every new platform, but to focus on two or three platforms, and learn to do them well.
“You should aim to entertain and to educate on social media, not to sell,” Griffis said. “They don’t want to see you sell your business ten out of ten times. You need to be adding value to their feed.”
Griffis said a better approach is to “entertain or educate” for three out of four posts, using every fourth post to promote your product or company.
When it comes to hiring, small businesses often have an advantage over larger competitors according to Jessica Moser, senior vice president of Small Business Solutions in Group Benefits, MetLife. Moser said that Millennial workers are willing to take a pay cut of up to 34% to work at a business that aligns with their values.
“If you get to your passion, if you get really clear on your values—which is easier for you to do than a large company—when you find those younger generations, they’re willing to take that next step,” Moser said.
Values were mentioned throughout the day, with Nick Friedman and Omar Soliman, co-founders of College Hunks Hauling Junk, saying a small business’s values shouldn’t be “on the walls” on inspirational posters, but “in the halls” every day.
“When you have a valued-based, purpose-driven company, amazing things start to happen organically,” Friedman said. “One of the things we really try to emphasize to everybody in our organization is: ‘You are the brand.’ Every one of your employees is your brand. They need to be walking, talking billboards for your organization.”
The CO—Summit also offered a unique opportunity to share, network, and find a support group of like-minded entrepreneurs. Morgan DeBaun, founder of Blavity, Inc., said entrepreneurs should write down their accomplishments to combat those moments of self-doubt that every entrepreneur eventually faces—and to surround themselves with the right people.
“The people that I surround myself with now are a lot of other strong, female CEOs... When I first started, I didn’t have access to that many people running tech companies who looked like me,” DeBaun said. “Surround yourself with other people who are a few steps ahead of you, that you identify with, because they can share insights and humanize the process.”
The night before the Summit, this year’s Dream Big Awards recognized the best of the best in American small business including 19 finalists. At the dinner gala to celebrate the Awards, 2019’s Small Business of the Year was announced: Dan Hurst, founder and CEO of Strata-G from Knoxville, Tennessee. The company was also awarded a check for $25,000.
Joining a Q-and-A session for the day of the Summit, Hurst was asked if he had ever felt like he had “made it” and was comfortable with his company’s success.
“No, I’ve never had that feeling that we’ve made it. In fact, if you ever get that feeling—be careful!” Hurst said. “I always have had a sense that there’s a wolf at the door. That business competition is real. There’s always someone who’d like your clients. There is always someone who’d hire your employees.”
For many, the Summit was a celebration of small business and having the tenacity and guts to start and grow a small business.
“Each morning when you wake up, put on some coffee and hit the ground running, it’s not just a chance to grow your business, it’s a chance to change the world and make it a better place,” said Thomas Donohue, CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “So, from me and all of us at the Chamber, thank you for all that you do.”
Each year, the CO— Summit welcomes growth-focused business owners from across the country for a two-day program on the best ways to make your small business flourish. Watch for upcoming CO— events in your area here.
For more on the Dream Big finalists, click here to read each of their stories.