The challenges presented to business owners over the last few years have been truly unique. From the COVID-19 pandemic that forced many to rethink their business operations to today’s turbulent economy, small business owners often find themselves asking what their next steps should be, and sometimes even how to stay afloat.
Rockland Trust recently hosted a webinar to address the uncertainties of being a small business owner in today’s world. Our panelists included three female business owners who shared their experiences having launched a small business. They also shed light into the lessons they learned along the way and highlighted some best practices you can implement to make your business strong and resilient against adversity.
Liz Carpenter owns Faneeks Coney Island, a family-owned business that has been around since 1979. Carpenter took over the company when Bob and Marge Carpenter, her in-laws, retired in 2017, hoping to continue the family legacy and grow with the surrounding Fall River community. Carpenter prides herself on giving back to those in Fall River and being a beacon of normalcy during the COVID-19 pandemic; during that time, she worked hard to stay operational through window service.
Dawn Hicks, owner and general manager of SoBol Duxbury, joined the franchise in August 2022 after a former colleague shared her experience with the company. With her recently earned master’s degree in hand, the pandemic empowered Hicks to pursue opening her own business.
Vicky Brandt, owner and therapist at Looking Glass Counseling, ran a small private practice for nine years before launching a group practice in 2017. Now with nearly 30 employees, Brandt’s practice operates in two physical locations — Somerville and Medford, MA — and also provides highly-sought after telehealth appointments. Brandt oversees the business and sees her own therapy clients while also balancing the demands of motherhood.
Though each of our panelists come from unique industries, their challenges and lessons learned are applicable to any small business. Here are the top three lessons they’ve learned throughout their business endeavors that can help you make your business more resilient.
Hicks saw the COVID-19 pandemic as a means of starting fresh and finding her passion. For her, that making the leap into the restaurant industry.
Hicks learned from family members who had seen their own restaurants succeed and fail. The insights she gained from these experiences helped her avoid mistakes and implement strategies for success.
And these lessons, coupled with the insights she gained from a former colleague who bought into the SoBol franchise, helped her grow and thrive in her endeavors.
Hicks shared that her biggest lesson learned around adapting to circumstances is recognizing the importance of trust and presence. When owning a business, and especially a restaurant, you cannot be an absentee owner. You must be ready to show up everyday and lead by example for your employees to follow. She explained, “You have to be there. You can’t just leave your business for other people to run because you are going to be the person who watches your money the best.”
2. Ask for help
Although it may be daunting to ask for help in your career pursuits, it can open the door to previously unknown resources. Carpenter was introduced to a variety of resources through a partnership with Hope and Main, a community use kitchen in Warren, RI. Additionally, Carpenter accessed free legal aid for her small business from Suffolk University and met The Massachusetts Small Business Development Committee, which led her to opportunities she may have otherwise overlooked.
All three panelists pointed to the importance of recognizing that you don’t need to be an expert in every aspect of your business. Running a successful business requires the input of a number of key players, including a CPA, lawyer, and bank. Be an expert in your business and what you provide for your customers, and be strong enough to ask for guidance in areas where you need some help.
Sometimes, help comes in the form of a strong mentor and a deep network. SCORE, a nonprofit organization for small business owners in Boston, South Eastern Massachusetts and Rhode Island, provides entrepreneurs with access to a network of retired business owners who recognize the importance of mentorship. After all, lessons learned from one business owner can help others succeed.
SCORE is supported by the Small Business Administration, which is the only cabinet-level federal agency dedicated to providing small businesses with capital, contracting expertise, and counseling.
3. Persistence is key, change is inevitable
Brandt shared that she did not see profits for the first three years of expanding her practice. Though not uncommon for a new business, it can be frustrating and sometimes demotivating. Yet Brandt reiterated the importance of staying focused on your mission and persevering through the “slog” years.
An element of this is recognizing when you need to embrace change. For Brandt, that mindset shift occurred when she realized she was turning down new business because she couldn’t handle it on her own. She knew she needed to invest in hiring staff who would help expand her client base.
This approach also encouraged Brandt to establish a culture around employee wellbeing. She adamantly shared that it is imperative to have a healthy working environment where employees feel valued.
Brandt’s persistence, coupled with her dedication to her team, inspired a culture of loyalty and continued support that has helped her expand to two locations.
Though the concept of owning your own business can be highly intimidating, know you’re never alone.
Find a group of experienced professionals you trust to advise you as you work toward your goals, and build a network of other like-minded small business owners to gain valuable insights into how you can succeed. Stick to your values and listen to yourself when thinking about what comes next in your own business adventure.
Though it’s rarely completely smooth sailing, it is not impossible and can be extremely rewarding!
Watch our panelists’ advice on starting your own business here.
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