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Small Business Center

2024 Is the Year! Expert Advice for Aspiring Small Business Owners

December 13, 2023

With the start of a new year comes a surge in resolutions, motivating many to take the plunge and establish that small business they’ve been contemplating.

It’s an exhilarating time – but also nerve-racking. Statistics from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics highlight the reality that about 20% of new businesses don’t make it past the initial two years. Yet amid the challenges, valuable insights can be gleaned from those who have “been there, done that” and experienced the entrepreneurial journey.

Drawing from the wisdom of successful small business owners, the ICSC Small Business Center has curated a list of advice from some of its favorite entrepreneurs. From the importance of networking to making sure you have enough capital to staying true to your values, here’s what these successful small business owners had to advise about starting out.

Know the Market

“Don’t even think about starting a business until you study the market. So many people go into starting a business and they haven’t prepared. You need to know how much money to set aside. You need to know: How many people are there going to be in that five-mile radius of your business? And in one sentence, you need to be able to explain what makes you unique, why are you so special from everyone else out there?”
— Adele Malley, former CEO of Malley’s Chocolates, a family-owned chocolate company with 19 locations throughout Ohio

Read more on Malley’s Chocolates: The Importance of Detailed Attention to Displays

Prepare for Business Pitfalls

“Make sure that you have enough capital. I used self-funding from my day job, but you should look into different grants and loans. As a new owner, you don’t know what pitfalls might come about, and you need to have more than enough capital on hand to cover them. That’s something I learned early on.”
— Jessica Morales, owner of Aura Bazaar, a small chain of size-inclusive fashion stores in the Midwest

Read more on Aura Bazaar: Managing Productive Retail Employees: “When You Take Care of Your People, Your People Will Take Care of You”

Nail Your Niche

“Figure out what your niche is. Then really stick to that niche. One of the worst things in retail you can do is just open a wide net and think: ‘I’m just going to have a store and hopefully somebody comes in.’ You’ve really got to know who your target audience is and then manifest that.”
— Erica Hanks, founder and owner of Showroom, an omnichannel women’s designer retailer with locations in Kiawah Island, South Carolina, and Austin, Texas

Read more on Showroom: How One Entrepreneur Got the Courage to Transition Her Career into a Small Digital and Then Omnichannel Business

Remember That Success Is a Long-Term, Nonlinear Process

“Procrastination is the worst. Once you get over your fear of stepping out, you really can do any and everything. Also, stay focused on your vision. Stay focused on your goal. Write down what you want. And remember: Sometimes you have to take two steps back to see the full picture, but have trust in the process.”
— Nakija Mills, owner of Lekker Choco Treats, a specialty chocolate gift and dessert shop at Laurel Park Place in Livonia, Michigan

Read more on Lekker Choco Treats: The Daily Difference from Side Hustle to Full-Time Small Business

Build Relationships, Not Just Contacts

“Networking is really important — and not just fake networking. A lot of people will network for the sake of networking. You should be genuinely interested in the people that you’re networking with and help them as much as they help you. Don’t just make a connection for a connection. Make a friend who is also a connection.”
— Lisa Hall, co-founder of Level 1 Gamers, a gaming store located at The Shops at South Town in Sandy, Utah

Read more on Level 1 Gamers: Building a Store Around a Clear-Cut Niche and a Strong Community

Surround Yourself with Talented People

“For us at Hart House, it’s really important that we work with people that are empowered to do great work and who we trust and respect. Talent is really important, and experience is really important. And you have to have full conviction behind what you’re doing. There are days when you’re on top of the world, and there are days when you feel the complete opposite. You need to remind yourself that there’s a reason you’re doing this, and having experienced people around you really helps in those moments.”
— Patrick Chamberlain, chief development officer of Hart House, a chain of quick-service, plant-based restaurants started by actor and comedian Kevin Hart

Read more on Hart House: From 1 to 100: How Hart House Is Scaling Up, Researching Its Target Audience and Choosing Locations

Stay True to Your Mission and Vision

“The first thing as a business owner is you get to decide who you are and what you want to be. If you are running a business simply because you’re trying to maximize your profit, then you’ll make decisions that will perhaps not reflect who you are. What I found is when I laser-focused on the mission and made sure I was running [my stores] with honesty, integrity and respect, that the bottom line got better.”
— Jimbo Someck, founder and president of Jimbo’s, a chain of natural foods grocery stores in California

Read more on Jimbo’s: A Natural Foods Grocer Shares His Secret to Creating Demand

Embrace Customer-Centric Community Engagement

“We don’t do too much advertising in the professional way. Instead, we spent that money on customer benefits. All of our customers are like family members, and we treat them as family. For instance, when families in our community didn’t have money for funerals, we’ve contributed to the funeral costs. Basically, our concept is the best marketing comes from community service.”
— Virendra Thakkar, owner of Vishala Grocery, a chain of Indian grocery stores in Texas

Don’t Wait Too Long to Start

“Do it. You can’t overthink it. You can’t keep having [goal] posts like ‘I need this much money’ or ‘These things have to happen before I open.’ You’ve just got to do it. If your job’s in the way, you’ve got to quit. If something else is weighing you down, you gotta move it. Because you’ll never know if you can do it until you try.”
— Peter Flores, co-founder and co-owner of Laced Midwest, a small chain of sneaker resale shops in the Midwest

Read more on Laced Midwest: Sole Success: From Sneakerheads to Store Owners

By Rebecca Meiser

Contributor, Commerce + Communities Today and Small Business Center

Small Business Center

ICSC champions small and emerging businesses in getting from business plan to brick-and-mortar.

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