8 Questions with 8 Entrepreneurs: The Ins and Outs of Small Business Ownership

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Many small business owners will tell you the road to successful entrepreneurship is hardly smooth.

In addition to a solid business plan, it takes plenty of grit, strong self-belief, good mentors, resilience and an unwavering willingness to get back up when you've been knocked down.

While every entrepreneurial journey is different, we asked eight entrepreneurs eight different questions about their own successful small businesses to garner some insight to share with those who may be dreaming of starting their own business.

If you could go back and give yourself advice when starting, what would it be?

"Trust your gut, and know that you can still keep going if your gut was wrong. There are definitely moments where we have to trust what our gut is telling us about a given crossroads—perhaps trusting a moment of company growth, a new hire, a new venture. And these moments can be very unsettling (especially if you are someone who likes to have a plan). So first and foremost, trust yourself and take the leap. You will regret it if you don't. However, it's just as important to know: it's also OK if you got it wrong. It doesn't mean that everything will come crashing down, and it doesn't mean that your gut won't ever be right again in the future. It certainly doesn't mean you should give up. It is OK to keep moving forward, knowing you tried something that didn't work as you had hoped."

- Jamie Carnes, Wedding Planner, Co-owner, Special Occasions

What are the biggest challenges you've faced in running your small business?

"I started InBooze in 2018 and just as I was starting to hit my stride for growth, COVID happened. It was definitely a blessing and a curse! I went from all of my in-person events and shows being canceled to going unexpectedly viral during the pandemic. It was amazing, but I also had such limited resources for produce, employees, packaging and even bubble mailers. Somehow, we made it work and now we have our own headquarters! I was able to build a kitchen and create a warehouse in 2020 from that crazy experience. Since we are handmade, we also face many challenges with scaling as quickly as the demand requires. I am very mindful of what I say 'yes' to!"

- Ashleigh Evans, Founder, InBooze Cocktail Kits

How important is customer feedback to how you run your business operations?

"Customer feedback is critical to our success. So much so that 'Clients Are Our Compass' is one of our core values. If we're not listening to and serving our clients, what are we doing? Getting to know them as intimately as possible is key. We want to know their needs, their direction, their trends, their pain points, what they're forecasting, what keeps them up at night, etc. We're not selling products—we're solving problems and providing solutions. You can only do that if you're connected to and listening to your client."

- Karen Scarpino, President, CEO, Promotional Impact & Green Giftz

How do you stay informed about industry trends and changes?

"Staying informed on industry trends comes through active involvement, research, community engagement, conferences, and learning from industry peers and leaders. Engagement, critical thinking and being a part of the conversation is key."

- Meredith Kent, MS, PAC, Master Injector, Clinical Educator, Owner, SkinCoLAB

What resources have been especially helpful in your small business journey?

"Personal connections with others in, or adjacent to, our industry. I am so grateful for the relationships I have with other business owners who would be viewed from the outside as competitors. I am blessed to know so many amazing people who I can reach out to with questions, requests for supplier or employee references, concerns, etc."

- Kris Spaulding, President, Owner, Brewery Vivant and Broad Leaf Brewery & Spirits

Did you have a mentor? If so, how did you become connected with them?

"My mentor came alongside me early on in my journey. I sent an email to a person I did not know well and asked for a call to learn about his journey as an entrepreneur. He took the call, gave me some advice and then I hit the ground running. I called him four months later and told him where I was with the business and he said, 'You did it?' He was shocked that I had actually acted on the business but more importantly, took his advice. We have been talking every week since."

- Ashlea Souffrou, CMRP, CEO, Founder, SxanPro

What considerations should be taken into account when scaling a small business?

"When scaling a business, owners must consider what size and scope of business they want to own. Do you want to know everyone's name? Or sit in a corporate office in a different state? Any size or scope is right, if it's right for you. All businesses don't need to be the size and scale of Google or Tesla. But owners must know exactly what they want in order to convey targets, expectations and a vision to the rest of the company."

- Laurel Romanella, Owner, Laurel & Co.; Certified EOS Implementer, EOS Worldwide; Co-Founder, Integrator, Entrepreneurial Leap

Do you have any advice for aspiring entrepreneurs based on your experiences?

"Learn from as many people as possible—but stay true to your values and your vision. You'll quickly notice how really smart people can all have contradicting advice. You have to stay committed to learning and growing your skills without losing sight of your goals for the business. Striking the balance takes a lot of intention."

- Sarah Laman-Davis, Co-founder, Chief Impact & Sustainability Officer, Last Mile Cafe

Written by Sarah Suydam, Managing Editor for West Michigan Woman.

This article originally appeared in the Apr/May '24 issue of West Michigan Woman.


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