Lessons from Successful Entrepreneurs

There are thousands of books, magazines and blogs proffering advice to small business owners. But the advice I heed the most comes from CEOs, founders and presidents that have successfully run their businesses (or even sold them).

While at the New York XPO on October 17, 2012 (I was there for the Small Business Influencer Awards Gala), I caught the session, “How I Did It: Lessons From America’s Best-Run Companies.” Three business owners shared their tips for running successful companies, moderated by Steve Strauss, senior business columnist for USAToday, and a Small Business Influencer Champion. Here’s the good stuff.


Work/Life Balance

We’re all in search of that mythical balance between our professional and personal worlds. But does a balance really exist? Sabrina Parsons, CEO of Palo Alto Software (a Small Business Influencer Champion) says no:

“There is no work life balance. It’s about compromise. It’s about you being happy with your choices…choose [what’s priority], embrace it, own it, then make the compromises to make that happen.”

Parsons, who was initiated into her father’s company as a teenager when she was punished by being forced to put labels on floppy disks, makes sure that family comes first.  She works 7:30 to 4:30, then can take her kids to soccer practice. The compromise comes when she gets back on her computer after the kids are asleep.

Building the Right Team

Steven Aldrich, CEO of Outright, advises business owners to avoid hiring people identical to you:

“…have a team that doesn’t duplicate yourself…[instead focus on] skills that are complementary to yours.”

He stresses the importance of delegating what you’re able to, and says you should focus your efforts on actions that will move the needle the most, and delegate the rest.

Parsons adds to the topic by saying it’s important to not overwork your staff, and that letting people go home and rest their brains can keep them from getting burned out, and can help them come up with fresh ideas.

Listening to Customers

Mike Muhney, CEO and Co-Founder of VIPOrbit (as well as Co-Founder of ACT!, which was purchased by Sage), says he cares too much what customers say about his brand. He personally reaches out when a customer expresses frustration through social media.

“It hurts me when someone writes something bad [about my brand] on a Tweet…we blend a culture that really goes beyond the norm in demonstrating how we care about people.”

Muhney says that the true test is when a customer is really upset with your brand, as this gives you the opportunity to stand behind your word. After all, he says, “people just want to be heard.”

The panel session was filled with more fantastic advice like:

  • A business plan doesn’t have to be written in stone; it’s designed to make sure your business is going in the direction you want
  • Knowing your business’ metrics and numbers can help you make better decisions
  • Empowering team members to help customers makes for happier employees and customers

Susan Payton Susan Payton is the Communications Manager for the Small Business Trends Awards programs. She is the President of Egg Marketing & Communications, an Internet marketing firm specializing in content marketing, social media management and press releases. She is also the Founder of How to Create a Press Release, a free resource for business owners who want to generate their own PR.

14 Reactions
  1. Great insight. Thank you!

  2. Susan, this is a great post. There is no better way to learn about operating a business than listening to successful business owners. We can read all the books we want, but listening to others really resonates. Thanks

  3. I couldn’t agree with Kip more… there isn’t any better way to learn than from those who have done it and who have been successful. In case anyone is interested, Lisa Anderson, founder and President of LMA Consulting Group, Inc., has come out with a really great book titled, “Leverage Social Networks to Drive Business Results.” the book hits on the importance of social networks to any organization.


  4. These are inspiring small ideas that we can learn without paying a huge price and making sure we are on winning track…

  5. Susan, this is a short yet impactful post you’ve written. I found the work/life quote by Sabrina rather interesting. I suppose when you think about it, there are compromises that are made in life when it comes to business and personal priorities. Currently, I’m comfortable with the choices. I don’t really see any compromises that I’m making in my personal or business life.

    I also liked the quote by Steven about diversifying your team. This is definitely a big point to pay attention to, especially if you desire to grow your business beyond yourself and your local area.

    Thanks for sharing these quotes with us. I really appreciate it!


  6. Elder Ayang Samuel Imong

    This very inspiring and very business owner need to know these.It’s good to follow those that know the rules of the game.


  7. Hi Susan. Just wanted to say “Thanks!” for the mention of the session, VIPorbit, and me that you posted. Thanks for attending the session as well – without which you would not have been able to write your post, and the firsthand account it provided you from each of us on the panel as well as Steve the moderator.

    You do know, though, that your photo captured me in the lime-green jacket and so I have people who have already begun their efforts to blackmail me….. :-).

    Take care, Mike

  8. Absolutely, Mike! And you know you liked wearing that jacket! It brands you, just as you said.