Atlanta Small Business Series panelists, from left: Chris Herron, Creature Comforts; Annie Eaton, Futurus; Lantre Barr, Blacc Spot Media; Sarah Rettker, Georgia Chamber.

Sentiment among the nation’s small businesses is improving, as more than a quarter of small business owners plan to hire new employees or invest in their businesses this year, according to new data from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and MetLife. Nearly 250 of Atlanta’s entrepreneurs gained new insight on how to do both at the Small Business Series: Atlanta gathering on June 12. Some of Georgia’s most successful business owners and subject matter experts shared their perspectives on complex topics like marketing, accessing capital, increasing headcount and maximizing productivity.

We’ve boiled down all the action from the event into these key highlights.

To stay ahead in business, don’t be afraid to change course

Shifts in the economy, consumer behavior and technology can pose risks to businesses in their wake, but they can also create growth opportunities for nimble small business owners. Ken and Anita Corsini, founders of Red Barn Homes and stars of HGTV’s “Flip or Flop Atlanta,” credit their willingness to adapt to changes in the real estate market as a key component in their success. Since 2005, they’ve steered Red Barn Homes through a myriad of business formats including selling turnkey homes, flipping houses, building new residences, starring in a TV show and launching a real estate brokerage.

“When you’re boots on the ground, you can sort of feel when things are shifting. And you immediately have to say, ‘Ok, things are shifting this year, what are we going to do differently?’” Ken Corsini told the crowd. “I feel like I’m almost having to reinvent every other year, because it’s changing so fast. That’s true for a lot of industries. You look at technology—it’s changing all the time. You can’t get comfortable.”

The Corsinis don’t just look at outside factors when deciding whether to shift their strategy. They also value their own business mistakes as opportunities to learn and grow.

“Sometimes, when things go wrong and sting,” Anita Corsini said, “you make wiser choices the next time. So all those little stings — while they hurt, and while there’s a transition period — in the long run, they really are worth it.”

Ken and Anita Corsini, hosts of HGTV’s Flip or Flop Atlanta and founders of Red Barn Homes, LLC

Join us in DC!

Interested in learning more about running a successful small business? Plan to attend our Summit for small and growing businesses in Washington, D.C. on Oct. 16-17, 2019. We hope to see you there!

Persistence is key in building partnerships with big brands

A new partnership with a large company is often a defining moment for a growing business. Sara Irvani, CEO of Okabashi Brands, has forged quite a few of those valuable partnerships over the last two years. Her Buford, Georgia, company manufactures one million shoes each year, sold under three different brand names, and customers can find them inside a growing list of stores ranging from Bloomingdales to J. Crew, Target, CVS and Walgreens. Irvani advises other business owners to consider the goals of companies they’d like to bring on as partners, then approach those companies with a tailored pitch.

“You start with really understanding what can be a win-win,” Irvani said. “Not just for your business, but for them. Can you really offer something that is value added to that business, to their own consumer? And then, when you believe that, [you should] really pursue those conversations.”

Irvani finds it’s easier to make these deals when she’s able to reduce the risk to retailers considering carrying Okabashi products. For example, the company offers a drop-shipping program that allows retailers to test out the products online before carrying them in stores.

Sara Irvani, CEO, Okabashi Brands

Limit your social media networks to create a successful digital strategy

Social media is a low-cost, high-impact marketing tool, but business owners need to take a strategic approach to fully unleash its power. To maximize the benefits of social media, businesses should not attempt to dominate every social media network, said Hailley Griffis, head of public relations for Buffer. Instead, business owners should identify the social media networks most used by their target customers, and build a strategy centered on those networks.

“If you are on your favorite social media network, but the audience that you’re trying to reach is on a different network, pulling them to you is going to be really difficult,” Griffis said. “Choose two to three social media networks that you’re going to focus on to reach your target audience and let yourself forget about the rest.”

When it comes to content, Griffis suggests that business owners create educational and entertaining social posts with strong visuals, and limit sales pitches and announcements.

“Remember that attention spans are short. You have to do something a little bit unique,” Griffis said. “Are you going to look different on social media, or is this going to blend into their feed? What is it that captures your attention?”

Hailley Griffis, Head of Public Relations, Buffer

To grow a business, always look forward

A long-term view and a detailed plan often lay the foundation for sustained business growth, and 15-year-old entrepreneur Beau Shell has already mapped out his 20-year path to success. Since he started selling ice cream from a cart at age eight, Shell has steadily reinvested his profits, purchasing additional carts and freezers, and recently opening his first brick-and-mortar shop, Lil’ Ice Cream Dude’s Cool World Ice Cream Shop.

“Growing my business has, is, and always will be on my mind,” Shell said. “However, I understand it’s not wise to grow a business too big too fast, so I move forward carefully with the advice and mentorship of both successful and unsuccessful entrepreneurs.”

Shell’s regimented approach doesn’t stop him from setting big goals like reinventing the ice cream business, buying a truck and a house for his parents, and investing heavily into community causes. He encouraged other business owners to focus on the future and never stop moving toward their goals.

Beau Shell, founder, owner and CEO of Lil’ Ice Cream Dude, and owner of Lil’ Ice Cream Dude’s Cool World Ice Cream Shop

Many thanks to our partner, the Georgia Chamber of Commerce, and our sponsors, MetLife, FedEx, and Square.

Full list of the Small Business Series: Atlanta speakers:

  • Steve Patterson, host, Twin Cities Live, Emcee
  • Beau Shell, founder, owner, and CEO, Lil’ Ice Cream Dude, and owner, Lil’ Ice Cream Dude’s Cool World Ice Cream Shop
  • John Modica, Senior Vice President, Small Business Solutions, Group Benefits, U.S. Region, MetLife
  • Courtney Robinson, Financial Inclusion Lead, Square, Inc.
  • Heather Rogers, owner, Simply Organized, and author, “A Simplified Life”
  • Hailley Griffis, Head of Public Relations, Buffer
  • Sara Irvani, CEO, Okabashi Brands
  • Jeanette Mulvey, Executive Content Director, CO—
  • Lantre Barr, founder and CEO, Blacc Spot Media, Inc.
  • Annie Eaton, CEO, Futurus, LLC
  • Chris Herron, co-founder and CEO, Creature Comforts Brewing Company
  • Sarah Rettker, Vice President of Investor Engagement, Georgia Chamber of Commerce
  • Ken and Anita Corsini, hosts, HGTV’s Flip or Flop Atlanta, and founders, Red Barn Homes, LLC
  • Jona Van Deun, Vice President of Small Business Coalitions and Engagement, U.S. Chamber of Commerce

CO—is committed to helping you start, run and grow your small business. Learn more about the benefits of small business membership in the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, here.