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Taking Your Business to the Next Level

Helpful Tips From Small Business Owners

By Malik Evans
Financial Wellness Manager, ESL Federal Credit Union

ESL is committed to promoting the financial wellness and prosperity of those who live and work in the Greater Rochester Area. Small businesses are a vital component to the success of the region’s economy, so we see it as being imperative to ensure we’re providing small business owners and employees with the resources they need to successfully start, manage, and grow their businesses.

Panelists (from left), Carol Tometsko, John Roth, Judy Miller, Tyrone Reaves, and Malik Evans.

Recently, we co-hosted a panel with SCORE Rochester and the RIT Center for Urban Entrepreneurship (CUE) of experienced small business owners who shared how they started and grew their business. Panelists included Carol Tometsko of Litron Laboratories, John Roth of John’s Tex Mex, Tyrone Reaves of TruForm Manufacturing, and Judy Miller of Miller & Associates.

Here are a few insights shared from the panel:

Building Credibility

A common question when many small businesses are first starting out is, “How do you build credibility for your business?” One way to do that is be smart with your business finances out of the gate. Panelist Reaves put it very simply: save your money. Saving money in your business can help prepare you for some of cycles that happen within business and protect you from the rough times.

Tometsko, owner of Litron Laboratories, mentioned the nerves she had early on in the business when a prospective client was coming in for a meeting. How could she convince this person to work with her company for their needs? Her solution was to guide the meeting in an area where she was most comfortable (science). By speaking to a familiar subject, her confidence grew and set their pace for the future.

At John’s Tex Mex, their reputation is on the line every day. If people come in to the restaurant and enjoy their food and their experience, they are likely to come back and share their experience. In today’s age of social media, it’s much easier to see where your friends are dining and what their thoughts are on a business. Their staff has worked to keep things simple and create a positive experience for everyone who comes through the door.

Have a Plan

Having a team of experienced professionals around you can be an important tool to help grow your business. Small businesses often can benefit from having an accountant, lawyer, and banker to guide you.

When TruForm Manufacturing was in need of an accountant, they changed firms several times in the beginning, and eventually picked one with which they were most comfortable. Over time, they also found having several legal experts from different firms to be suitable for their needs.

Nearly all panelists spoke to the importance of knowing your numbers. Knowing your numbers helps with short and long term planning needs for your business. Know that everyone makes mistakes, but it can be beneficial to plan for multiple scenarios.

One example of planning could be when opening a new location or launching a new product. If you sold 50% more, how would your business needs change? What about at 100% or 200% increases? How might your staffing, production, or process needs change in each circumstance?

Miller shared benefits of having both a short-term and long-term business plan. A short-term plan should be hyper-focused on a few key details to help get customers in the door (and be careful not to spread yourself too thin). In either plan, defining targets can help your business set its course and allow you to benchmark your progress.

Invest in the Right People

Many experts in our panel shared the importance of hiring and developing the right people for your business. In the restaurant and service industry, hiring and turnover can be an ongoing challenge. According to Roth, do whatever you can do to keep your rock-star employees. At John’s Tex Mex, they look to acknowledge their top performers and recognize when the team works through an especially strenuous shift.

Miller also shared her insights on the power of people. For a talent-sourcing agency, people are the heart of their business. To help, Miller & Associates writes hand-written letters to acknowledge employees. They also provide generous benefits for their employees, including a 401(k) plan match and covering nearly 100% of health insurance premium costs.

Litron Labs also places a strong focus on incentives for their employees. This includes paying health insurance premiums for their employees. Additionally, they’ve structured pay in a way to incentivize team performance. Each individual’s salary is set low with the potential for significant incentives if the company performs well. Tometsko stated that in the nearly 40 years in business, Litron Labs has exceptionally low employee turnover and has received very few complaints about the pay structure.

In manufacturing, having a team with the right skills is important. According to Reaves, recruiting people in a competitive market is difficult so he worked with other manufacturing colleagues to start his own training program. By having effective training programs, businesses are essentially creating and developing their own applicant pool. He encourages people to consider a skilled trade because of the employability and quality-of-life potential.

In Summary

When starting your business, it’s important to gather the appropriate resources to grow your business acumen. Our goal is to not only provide resources to assist with that, but to also connect small business owners with each other in order to network, grow their connections, and learn from one another.

ESL hosts several events throughout the year similar to this panel that allows small business to learn and connect in the community. Stay tuned for more information about our upcoming events on esl.org and ESL social media pages.