Lessons Learned from Three Entrepreneurs at Crain’s Small Business Forum

By Edward M. Bury, APR (aka The PRDude)

Bright and early on this (reportedly) first day of Spring 2013, I joined around 200 business professionals at a downtown Chicago hotel to attend a breakfast panel discussion, “Entrepreneurs in Action,” hosted by Crain’s Chicago Business, our town’s leading source for business news.  It was cold outside, but the meteorological bluster was tempered inside thanks to the welcome from newly-made business contacts and perhaps that third cup of coffee.Crains

And, before I get too far, sincere thanks to the folks at Comcast Business Class for inviting me to this excellent event.

The stars of the morning, of course, were the three panelists — all successful entrepreneurs, all from widely different industries — who shared some tremendous insight during their introductions and during a roundtable discussion moderated by CCB’s Lisa Leiter, an award-winning print and broadcast journalist.

CrainsHere’s what I learned from a guy who in 1998 launched a staffing company that continues to grab market share, the co-founder of a web site that let’s people and business shop for better electric rates, and the founder of a healthy alternative to pasta. (Note: These aren’t exact quotes, but I maintain I did capture each panelist’s thoughts and perspectives accurately.)

Tom Gimble, President and CEO, LaSalle NetworkMantra: “Work hard, treat people right and have a good idea.”  Thoughts on entrepreneurship: “It was not in my DNA; but there are so many ways to do it right.”  Words of wisdom: “Stop looking for the perfect solution.”  Business value: “Every company needs good people.”

Phil Nevels, COO and Co-Founder, Power2SwitchBusiness philosophy: “People matter, in fact in business, they’re the only thing that matters.”  What entrepreneurs need: “Find partners you can trust; and find investors who believe in your product or service and share your passion.”  On people: “This may be a challenge, but learn how to both hire and fire employees.”  More important than the above: “Family should be the most important thing in your life.”

Terri Rogers, Founder & Chief NoOodlist, The NoOodle CompanyChildhood hero: “Ritchie Rich, the comic book rich kid.”  First success:  “I started in sales and was very successful, but I love to cook and was very creative.” A-Ha moment: “Learned about a healthy Japanese noodle that had been around for centuries.”  Current business principle: “I was born to bring the world noodles.”

And, along with the above, here’s what I took away from the discussion:

The Value of Good People: This was a common thread among the panelists.  Businesses — from entrepreneurial start-ups to conglomerates — all need workers who are passionate and believe in the company’s mission.

The Value of Social Media:  Social media platforms can help cash-strapped start-ups and small companies build awareness for their products and services; but be patient because building a following takes time.

The Value of a Solid Network in Building a Business: Gimbel noted that he likes staff “who are not too proud to beg, who know how to ask for help.” Nevels pointed out the benefits of an effective public relations program. (Note to Mr. Nevels: I have some experience in that area and would be glad to help.) Rogers called on past customers from her job as a VP for a national wholesaler to build her business.

As I continue my search for that next great job in public relations, I’ll keep top of mind what I learned from these entrepreneurs.  Along with their passion for business, they reinforced my belief that there are opportunities for those who believe in themselves.

What have you learned from entrepreneurs?