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3 Takeaways from the 10,000 Small Business Summit

3 Takeaways from the 10,000 Small Business Summit

As a small business owner, it is easy to feel overwhelmed, underestimated, and silenced. I had the unique opportunity to attend the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Business Summit: The Big Power of Small Business on February 13th and 14th. Thousands of small business owners gathered in both Washington, DC and online to hear from industry leaders and meet with policymakers to make ourselves heard.

In complete contrast to the first sentence of this post, it was an inspiring and empowering experience.

Listening to business moguls share the hard work and failures that lead to success motivated me to reevaluate my outlook on how I approach business. Meeting on Capitol Hill with the Maryland state representatives gave me a forum to voice my views and concerns in relation to my business. Challenging the homeless man trying to “help” me navigate the DC metro stops was empowering in its own right. (It’s a great story. Remind me to tell you the next time I see you).

I left the conference feeling the support of my peers and more takeaways than I can write in a blog post. Despite the diversity of the speakers, each successful business person had three views in common:

1. Everything is about the customer experience.

Berkshire Hathaway CEO, Warren Buffett told a story about his shirt. He couldn’t remember where it came from or when he bought it, but he could remember how buying it made him feel. “I will always remember how I was treated,” said Buffett. Jo Malone, Founder and Creative Director of Jo Loves, had similar thoughts. She said that the “first exposure to a brand is the first kiss.” Everyone remembers their first kiss (even the guys too embarrassed to raise their hands…). Details may be fuzzy, but you certainly remember the feeling.

Michael Bloomberg, Founder of Bloomberg LP and Bloomberg Philanthropies, said that most companies put the focus on cutting costs. He said to “work hard and focus on your customers. Focus on growing revenue. Spend some money making customers happy.” Customers should have a unique and pleasant experience when dealing with your company and brand.

2. Business = family.

Virgin Group Founder, Sir Richard Branson said it best: “Look after your people in a genuine sense. Our business is a family – it’s misused, but it should be that way. Be a human company.” Treating employees like family has always been seen as a weakness whenever I’ve been in meetings or business coaching, but the personal triumphs, struggles or tragedies my employees face are as much a part of me as they are to the individual. It makes our business stronger and personal.

Sara Blakely, Founder of Spanx, said, “I always go up to people and say, if nobody showed you how to do your job, how would you do it?” Listen to your people and get input. Many of them know how to do a job better than you do. Warren Buffett also said, “Surround yourself with people who are better than you are. You will move in that direction. Life gets better when you behave better yourself.”

3. Being a Small Business Leader doesn’t mean being silent.

One of the major aspects of this conference was to gather small business leaders and get them in front of our policymakers. Lloyd Blankfein, CEO of Goldman Sachs said, “It’s good for people to appeal to their government. Nothing like a good revival meeting.” It isn’t always easy, but as a small business owner, we have an obligation to make ourselves heard and try influence policy in any way possible. “Small business will create more jobs than any big business in the history of America,” said Senator Kevin McCarthy, Majority Leader in the House. If that’s true, then we need to make ourselves heard.

It is a tremendous amount of work to keep a small business going let alone make it successful. I know that I have personally lost many nights of sleep trying to figure out ways to be unique and successful. As Blankfein said, “I just work here. I’m not Goldman. I’m not Sachs. It takes a lot of courage to own a small business.”