How Does a Small Business Make It in a Big Business World?

Mayor Rogero Recieves Key from Alaina Smith and Tanika Harper, 2019 Maker City Summit, Mill and Mine, Knoxville, September 2019

In a large sense, that’s what the 2019 Maker City Summit was all about. Today’s small makers will become tomorrow’s small businesses and, some of them, will eventually become Knoxville’s newest large businesses. The headwinds, however, are stiff. Odds are heavily stacked in favor of large businesses and chains. It can be daunting. Mayor Rogero set the tone from the outset, saying, “Makers represent the future of our city, as well as its past.”

Shunta Grant, owner of Because of Zoe Design and author of the Business, Life and Joy podcast pointed out that our job as small business owners shouldn’t be to be busy, but rather to seek harmony between our work and personal lives. She noted that it is easy to stay busy, but stopping requires intentionality.

Mayor Rogero, 2019 Maker City Summit, Mill and Mine, Knoxville, September 2019

Mayor’s Maker Council, 2019 Maker City Summit, Mill and Mine, Knoxville, September 2019

2019 Maker City Summit, Mill and Mine, Knoxville, September 2019

She likened most small business owners to people playing the Wack-a-Mole game. It’s exhausting. She emphasized the need for a framework and focus, suggesting that less time can be more productive given the use of those two tools. She also encouraged a shift in perspective, saying we need to determine what kind of life we want and having our business serve that goal, not having our business dictate what kind of life we can live. “Time is not the enemy, it is a gift.”

In her business, this meant reducing her line to focus on the core of the business. It meant hiring people to do work that she could hand off. Her shift came with the birth of her children and the desire not to work ten hours every day and miss her moments with them as they grew.

Alaina Smith and Tanika Harper, Co-Chairs, 2019 Maker City Summit, Mill and Mine, Knoxville, September 2019

Shunta Grant, 2019 Maker City Summit, Mill and Mine, Knoxville, September 2019

Other striking thoughts included her question to business owners: “Can you say the purpose of your business in one sentence an eleven-year-old could understand?” She added that you must have a clear vision of where you are going, of your purpose, core values and a single short-term focus. Execution, she said, should be the last step.

Panel (L-R), Enkeshi El-Amin, Kukuly Uriate, Jessica Comer and Kenneth Herring, 2019 Maker City Summit, Mill and Mine, Knoxville, September 2019

Panel (L-R), Jody Collins, Charlene Izere, Lucy Simpson and John Phillips, 2019 Maker City Summit, Mill and Mine, Knoxville, September 2019

As the day moved forward, a panel focused on diversity in the workplace. Another focused on valuing yourself and your work appropriately. This panel warned against cheapening your product by undercharging. They also emphasized knowing your customer and providing an experience for them, selling a story, not just a product, and having customers form an emotional reaction to your product.

Ron and Kate McKnight of Funnel Rehabers, talked about the sales funnel, the process of introducing your product to a potential customer and bringing them to the point becoming an actual customer. They asked if the emotion and the story of the product or business is coming through in social media posts. They said the messaging should communicate to potential customers that you “get” them.

Jonathan Clark, 2019 Maker City Summit, Mill and Mine, Knoxville, September 2019

Jonathan Clark and Brent Thompson Freestyle, 2019 Maker City Summit, Mill and Mine, Knoxville, September 2019

Like others through the day, they emphasized establishing an emotional and experiential connection to customers. They also said people value experiences, not products. If you sell tables, for example, you are really selling happy family meals around the table and the memories that will be made around that table.

The event ended with encouragement from Johnathan Clark, Managing Director of Carpet Bag Theatre. Noting the Dunning-Kruger effect, in which some people have an inability to see their incompetence and, so, push to take charge, he encouraged the crowd not to underestimate their own competence. He said the most confident are typically the least competent and sometimes the rest of us have to “get over ourselves and try.”

Comments

  1. Don’t know how I managed to miss you at this. I was there all the way to the very end of the cocktail hour afterward, around 6pm. Fascinating to see how many people there are out there and what they’re all doing in Knoxville to either run their businesses, to aspire to getting it to a place where they can run it, and some people that were there to investigate a path and hear what people had to say without any definite design on a future yet. There are a number of people I spoke with who have horrible corporate jobs with the usual terrible companies in this city (we know who they all are – no names needed) that are trying to jump start a new career on their own – hang in there, good luck, don’t give up, keep aspiring. I went that path 10 years ago until I could no longer stand it and quit working for “them” and never looked back. Great event, will definitely go again in 2020.

  2. Shunta Grant’s message about having your business serve your lifestyle is gold. When you are self-employed and running your own business, there can be incessant pressure to “do” and sell and grow and connect … that it is exhausting. I’ll try to take her advice to flip it around to live freer and more relaxed since that was the draw to doing my own thing in the first place. It’s easy to lose sight of that.

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