Small Business Day, observed during the first week of May each year, recognizes the efforts of entrepreneurs and their impact on the U.S. business landscape. In celebration and support of small business owners across the country, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce hosted a special edition episode of CO— Strategy Studio for Small Business Day on May 4, 2023.

The special event consisted of three parts:

  • CO— Editor-in-Chief Jeanette Mulvey interviewed two small business owners, Henji Cheung, Chef and Owner of Queen's English, and Dawn Hendricks, President and CEO of FM Talent Source.
  • U.S. Chamber of Commerce VP of Small Business Policy Tom Sullivan discussed the current business climate in a Small Business Update with the U.S. Chamber’s Neil Bradley, Executive Vice President, Chief Policy Officer, and Head of Strategic Advocacy, and Sara Armstrong, Vice President and Managing Director of Federation Relations and Grassroots Advocacy.
  • Barbara Thau, Editorial Director of Features at CO—, interviewed Monte Durham, Founder of Salon MONTE and former Fashion Director on TLC television show "Say Yes to the Dress: Atlanta."

How small businesses can win the ‘war for talent’

As small businesses compete with larger enterprises in the “war for talent,” they must understand the changing world of work and adapt to meet the needs of the current workforce. In particular, the growth of remote work has drastically shifted talent sourcing and the workforce as a whole.

Hendricks noted that there have been advantages to this, including the abilities to source talent from a broader geographical area and conduct remote interviews to expedite the hiring process. However, she added, organizations have had to become more agile and creative in their use of technology to connect with employees.

Additionally, with the continued prevalence of remote and hybrid work, flexible working arrangements are becoming increasingly attractive — and perhaps even necessary — to attract employees, particularly from younger generations.

“When I was coming up, [the key word] was ‘work-life balance.’ I think we’re now moving into this space where it’s now ‘life-work balance,’ and so people are looking for a lot more flexibility,” said Hendricks. “Employers need to really lean into what their workforce [requires], and figure out creative ways to … support and service them.”

Additionally, keeping your employees engaged with their work and connected with the broader organization can encourage top talent retention. One way Cheung does this is by giving each employee a voice when making business decisions.

“Whenever we make a decision for the restaurant, we make it as a group,” he explained. “Everybody has something to bring to the team, and there’s no wrong answer [or] input … All staff just want to be heard.”

The current state of U.S. business: challenges and solutions

Even in an ideal business climate, starting and growing a company is no easy feat. The expected challenges of entrepreneurship are compounded by multiple issues impacting the business climate — many of which remain consistent from 2022. Bradley highlighted the three primary challenges small business owners report today:

  • Inflation. According to the MetLife Small Business Index for Q1 2023, 54% of small business owners cited inflation as the biggest challenge facing their company.
  • The economy. “There’s a lot of concern about a recession on the horizon,” Bradley said. “For some small businesses, depending on the industry you’re in, you may already feel like you are in a recession … [though] in other parts of the business community, [the economy] is actually doing quite well.”
  • Worker shortages. The ongoing labor shortage has made it increasingly difficult for businesses to fill open slots to meet demand, thus limiting economic growth.

To address the third issue, local, state, and national chambers of commerce are focusing their efforts on developing a stronger talent pipeline.

“They’re working with a lot of local officials … [and] with high schools, colleges, and tech institutions that are training the future of this workforce, and trying to help them understand what the needs of the employers are,” explained Armstrong.

Chambers are also tapping into non-traditional workforce sources, such as retirees and formerly-incarcerated individuals seeking “second-chance hiring,” to meet current worker demand.

Hard work doesn’t guarantee success. But if you don’t work hard, you’re guaranteed to fail.

Henji Cheung, Chef and Owner of Queen's English, quoting advice from his father

Saying ‘yes’ to opportunity

Becoming an entrepreneur is an inherently risky endeavor, even more so amid the current business climate and the challenges brought about by the pandemic. However, Durham — who made a drastic career pivot from his role as Fashion Director on “Say Yes to the Dress: Atlanta” to cosmetology and entrepreneurship — is a prime example of the importance of saying “yes.”

After establishing himself professionally as a personal shopper, Durham seized the opportunity to study hair in London, despite having “no money” and needing to borrow the funds for his plane ticket. He credits his success to seizing the opportunity as well as surrounding himself with the right people.

“It not only was an opportunity, but I had surrounded myself [with] people that saw the spark in me, believed in me, and motivated me to do better,” said Durham.

When another opportunity came — this time, to open a salon — Durham once again said “yes” despite the obstacles, and got right to work.

“I went to every small business meeting they had in Old Town Alexandria … I met everybody, I shook hands,” he emphasized. “Everybody [who] met me knew my drive [and] what I was bringing to the table.”

Advice for entrepreneurs, from entrepreneurs

Starting, running, and growing a small business can challenge even the most determined among us. To achieve success as an entrepreneur, the right mindset is key. The panelists at today’s events shared their best advice for current and aspiring small business owners:

Lean into your passion.

Hendricks encouraged entrepreneurs to remember business will ebb and flow — so if money is a primary motivator, “you will drop it like a hot potato.”

“You’ve got to find that thing you see as significant, and you’ve got to really lean into being impactful in the space you want to serve,” she explained. “[And] you really have to be passionate and care about the people that you’re providing the service to.”

Leverage your past experiences.

Though Salon Monte marks Durham’s first venture into entrepreneurship, he shared how his past experiences in television prepared him to run a business.

“We had to show up at a certain time, you had to be dressed a certain way, we could only spend so much money — [and] time is money,” said Durham. “It prepared me mentally, unbeknownst to me, [via] osmosis … [and] I [learned] a skill set that I could put toward a business.”

Work hard.

Cheung shared an adage given by his father, who is also a small business owner: “Hard work doesn’t guarantee success. But if you don’t work hard, you’re guaranteed to fail.”

“If you get tired, drink coffee, work harder, and just keep going,” added Cheung. “And hopefully, you get to do what you love and be successful at it.”

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.