Battle-Tested Startup Advice From 6 Awesome Entrepreneurs
You never really know what it’s like to launch a business until you’ve done it. Still, getting advice from a seasoned business owner can certainly help you know what to expect.
We talked to the six finalists who are in the running to win the title of National Small Business Person of the Year as part of National Small Business Week (NSBW) and asked them to think back to when they were just getting started. What do they know now that they wish they had known then? What’s their best advice for new, wet-behind-the-ears entrepreneurs?
For more than 50 years, the U.S. president has declared one week per year National Small Business Week. Throughout the week, Small Business Administration organizes events around the country to honor leading Main Street entrepreneurs. This year’s NSBW began on Monday and ends today. Later this afternoon, in a finale celebration for the week, one of these six finalists will be announced the winner.
The businesses these finalists founded run the gamut from a quilting supplies retailer to a solar energy company to a trucking business. As diverse as the businesses are, the advice from the entrepreneurs running them all reference some version of the same idea: It’s all about perseverance. Running a business is not always going to be sexy, these business owners warn. So be ready to stand strong through some turbulence and hold tight to your dreams.
Read the best advice of these celebrated small business owners -- in their own words -- below.
1. Richard (Rick) Jackson, founder of American Document Services
Headquarters: Las Cruces, N.M.
Number of employees: 18 total; 16 full-time, 2 part-time
Annual revenues: More than $1.5 million
Looking back I would have believed in myself a little more and borrowed more working capital. I think I would have spent more time with other professionals within the industry and learned from those who had already been down the path. Believe in yourself, make sure whatever you do you give it 100 percent. One thing that is a must, be truthful and be honest.
2. Alan Doan, founder of the Missouri Star Quilt Company
Headquarters: Hamilton, Mo.
Number of employees: 180 total; 155 full-time, 25 part-time
Annual revenues: Declined to provide
This is really poignant for me right now. We launched our new warehouse this last year, we went from a warehouse of 5,000 square feet to a warehouse of 42,500 square feet, and a lot of the odds and ends I figured I could do myself to save money. So I ended up doing weeks of hard labor pulling network cable, building computers, configuring routers, building pallet racking, and so on leading up to our big move into the warehouse. I would work till 4-5am and was exhausted to the point of tears some nights. We launched the warehouse and it wasn't a huge success, things broke, we worked through it, but I was disheartened to say the least. I went to blog about the new place and found some pictures of all of us when we started the company and we had such big smiles and were practically glowing. Then Sarah and I had a picture after the warehouse opened, five years later, and we looked like we'd been punched in the gut. I called Sarah and said, "Did we make a mistake? We're not happier now than we were at the beginning? Where'd we screw up?" and she told me to calm down, we were happier, we'd just lost that innocence we had. Right before you get married or have a baby or start a business, all you can see is the excitement ahead. Fast forward a few years and you are married a few years, or have a three year old baby, or a business that has grown to 180 employees, and you're still happy, you just know how much that happiness really costs. It takes a lot more than you can imagine, just remember that, and remember you chose it, so keep going.
3. Charles Feit, founder of OnForce Solar
Headquarters: Bronx, N.Y.
Number of employees: 100 total; 85 full-time, 15 part-time.
Annual revenues: $30 million
I went into an industry I knew absolutely nothing about. I did so because I knew the product fixed a problem that many people and businesses have, high energy bills. I believed in this so much, our first project as a company was my own home. My best advice to other entrepreneurs is to thrive on adversity and don’t be afraid to fail. I do believe for the vast majority, you can never be highly successful until you’ve failed miserably. The odds are stacked heavily against entrepreneurs. The people who can continually pick themselves up and dust themselves off after experiencing setbacks will persevere.
4. Carol Craig, founder of Craig Technologies
Headquarters: Cape Canaveral, Fla.
Number of employees: 414 total; 398 full-time; 16 part-time
Annual revenues: Approximately $45 to $50 million
I wish I could have known that everything would come out ‘okay’ to save me from stress. I also wish I didn’t worry so much about what other people thought. My advice to others is just be yourself, and don’t back down when things don’t work out in your favor. My advice is follow your passion and keep going after what you love to do. It’s not always going to be easy, and you may meet opposition – but what else is new? It’s all part of life.
5. Michael Miqueli, founder of San Antonio Broker Services
Headquarters: North Bergen, N.J.
Number of employees: 71 full time
Annual revenues: $8 million
When I started this business back in 1996, I had just sold off a business that was failing. In my mind, at the time I was a failure. I had invested everything I had into that business and walked away with nothing. It took me a very long time to shake off that feeling. When I started San Antonio Trucking I was very careful, I was not ready to take the sorts of risks that need to be taken, therefore it took longer than it should have to grow the business. As the years went by, I realized that I had become so sharp at understanding my business and not pushing it to the limits would be a disservice that I was doing to the business, to myself and to my family.
If there was one thing I wish I knew back then it would be that failure is ok, that it is part of the process of growing and learning, that without failure you can never truly appreciate success.
Best advice I would give a brand new entrepreneur would be:
1. Don’t be mediocre
2. Be persistent
3. Use obstacles as motivators
4. Make your luck
5. Do what others won’t
6. Don’t be afraid to fail
7. Hire great people
8. Be honest
9. Be brilliant
10. Pay it forward
6. Necole Parker, founder of The ELOCEN Group, LLC
Headquarters: Washington, D.C.
Number of employees: 62 total; 52 full-time, 10 part-time
Annual revenues: $19.4 million
I know that all things are possible, and as an entrepreneur and example of my company’s growth, I’ve learned to turn my “no”s into next opportunities. I am a person of opportunities, not the first or second or third time, but more like the fourth, fifth, or sixth time. My best advice is to always remain authentic, never sacrificing your integrity. In good and bad times, always stay the course, no matter what.
Catherine Clifford is senior entrepreneurship writer at CNBC. She was formerly a senior writer at Entrepreneur.com, the small business reporter at CNNMoney and an assistant in the New York bureau for CNN. Clifford attended Columbia University where she earned a bachelor's degree. She lives in Brooklyn, N.Y. You can follow her on Twitter at @CatClifford.