A government shutdown and stock market swings may have some economists and businesses on edge, but Houston’s business owners who gathered at Small Business Series: Houston didn’t appear phased. Nearly 200 attendees joined the event for conversations with some of Texas’ most successful entrepreneurs and presentations on complex topics like marketing, scaling a business, recruiting and maximizing productivity.
We’ve boiled down all the action from the Houston event into a few highlights and takeaways.
Small businesses remain strong, but outlooks tick downward
Small business operations across the country are steadfast and strong, with business owners having lowered their economic expectations only slightly, according to new data from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and MetLife’s Small Business Index. Event participants got an exclusive early look at this report, which detailed economic sentiment and operational plans for small businesses across the nation.
According to the data, more than half (56%) of the nation’s small businesses expect to increase their revenue in 2019, with Southern businesses as most optimistic. This figure represents a slight drop of only four percentage points from the previous quarter. Nearly a quarter of small businesses plan to hire this year.
“The economy remains good and that’s the biggest upside,” said Jessica Moser, MetLife’s Senior Vice President of Small and Specialty Business. “For small businesses, it might actually be a good thing if the economy slows down a bit. It frees up more talent.”
Defining company culture is an important step in business growth
No matter the economic environment, a smart growth strategy is key. Business owners should invest time and effort in defining their company’s culture as a foundation for expansion, several speakers said. A firm’s guiding principles serve as a corporate backbone, informing decisions about how to expand a company, and who to hire as the team gets larger. A well-defined company culture may also help business owners delegate more responsibilities to senior team members.
Zawadi Bryant co-founded NightLight Pediatric Urgent Care in Sugar Land, Texas, to provide quick treatment for children’s minor medical needs. As the company expanded from one clinic to eight, Bryant trained her new staff members on the clinic’s core values to ensure each clinic was built on the same themes and commitments. She now compares her clinics to McDonald’s restaurants, aiming to ensure that each one provides the exact same quality of service and hospitality as the first.
“Scaling is about having that consistent people, process, and product idea. And to be able to communicate that to your team,” Bryant told the crowd. “I spent a lot of time working with our management team on what our company culture is.”
Authenticity is a crucial ingredient in a winning marketing strategy
An effective marketing strategy can be tough to create, but Ripl’s Chief Operating Officer Clay McDaniel has a simple suggestion for business owners. McDaniel says the most effective ingredient in a successful marketing strategy is your own business story.
“Your involvement in social media is what your customers want from you,” McDaniel said. “They don’t want to hear some kind of saccharine, removed arms-length message or to have one post every month with a not-very-important news item. They want to see the authentic you living and working and struggling and experiencing the joy of building your own business and being your own boss.”
McDaniel also advises business owners to limit their social media presence to the platforms they actually think they’ll use, and not try to maintain an active presence on all of them. Outside of social media, McDaniel encourages businesses to invest in sleek websites and sharp email campaigns to maximize marketing impact.
Houston’s business community still feels the pain from Hurricane Harvey
With scars from Hurricane Harvey still fresh on the minds of Houston’s business owners, many of our speakers shared the lessons they learned, the challenges they faced and the opportunities they found in the storm’s wake. Almost all of the local business owners featured at Small Business Series: Houston felt some impact from Harvey’s flood waters, changing their businesses forever.
“Know your insurance, and then know what’s in your lease” said Bryant, who faced major flooding in one of her clinics. “Put someone in charge of that.”
Like many other Houston business owners, Marcus Davis closed his restaurant, The Breakfast Klub, for five days following the storm. He said the lost time had lasting impacts for the area’s small businesses, especially those who were still building the appropriate insurance policies and cash reserves to survive a major disaster. “I went on a rampage of letting people know the importance of supporting small businesses through that time,” Davis said. “[For] a lot of small businesses, it takes time to get to those safety nets — to have the insurance, to have the cash reserves to be able to withstand the storm, literally and figuratively.”
Some members of Houston’s startup community found silver linings in Harvey’s dark clouds. Lawson Gow runs The Cannon, a business incubator that welcomed storm-focused startups after the flood waters receded. They include a business focused on water quality, and a business that maps out available public spaces so that people can find refuge in a disaster.
“Entrepreneurs solve problems,” Gow said. “There was this surge of a new wave of startups solving problems that had now been exposed by Harvey.”
Full list of the Small Business Series: Houston Speakers:
Lily Jang, Host, Former KHOU Anchor
Zawadi Bryant, Chief Executive Officer, NightLight Pediatric Urgent Care, and 2018 Dream Big Small Business of the Year Award Recipient
Jessica Moser, Senior Vice President, Small Business Solutions, Group Benefits, U.S. Region, MetLife
Clay McDaniel, Chief Operating Officer, Ripl
Betsy Furler, Host, “Your App Lady”
Angela Hood, Founder and Chief Executive Officer, ThisWay Global
Jeff Moseley, Chief Executive Officer, Texas Association of Business
Jesson Bradshaw, Chief Executive Officer, Energy Ogre
Marcus Davis, President and Chief Executive Officer, The Breakfast Klub, Inc.
Lawson Gow, Chief Executive Officer and Founder, The Cannon
Maria Rios, Chief Executive Officer, Nation Waste, Inc.
Hunter and Griff Jaggard, Co-Founders, FireDisc
Jeanette Mulvey, Content Director, CO—
Tom Sullivan, Vice President, Small Business Policy, U.S. Chamber of Commerce
Published June 13, 2019