Skip to main content
Home » Small Business » Inspiring the Entrepreneurs and Small Business Owners of America
Small Business

Inspiring the Entrepreneurs and Small Business Owners of America

We asked our panel of entrepreneurial experts to share how small business owners can survive and even grow during a pandemic, and why Main Street shops are the backbone of the U.S. economy.

Robin Sharma

Author, “The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari,” “The Greatness Guide,” and “The 5AM Club”

Who inspires you most in business and why?

I am inspired by many people in business. Of course entrepreneurs like Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, and Aristotle Onassis are energizing for their ability to see possibility where the majority sees ordinary. Yet I also gain huge enthusiasm seeing everyday business owners pursuing their dreams, transcending struggles, and contributing value to their communities — especially in these volatile times.

If a small business owner had to take three keys away from “The Greatness Guide,” what would you want them to be?

“No Ask No Get” would be one of them. Asking for what you want is such a simple practice, yet so few people do it. We assume rejection and we fear failure. So we don’t ask for what we want, causing us to miss great victories. The ideas in the book about being a leader without a title who lifts people up versus tears others down are also worth considering. Finally, the importance of using hard times as a tool to grow stronger are relevant as we navigate the pandemic and economic upheaval.

In your opinion, why are small businesses the backbone of the American economy?  

Small businesses employ people. They deliver rich value to the communities they serve. Their owners are innovators and some of the most productive people in the economy, and they are the risk-takers who build a better world.

What are the top challenges facing small businesses today?

One top challenge facing small businesses today is letting go of the way things have always been done, and pivoting to a new and better way to operate so the business grows. We must adapt to the new environment rather than resist and cling to the past. 

Another challenge is managing the relentless change coming at entrepreneurs. I think it’s important to remember that deep change is really just progress in wolf’s clothing. We must train our brains to focus on the opportunities in storms rather than fight change and hope things will return to normal. They will not.

What, in your opinion, is the biggest challenge for entrepreneurs when looking to grow their business?

If I could select only one challenge entrepreneurs face in growing their business, it would be the challenge of becoming different. Too many businesses stagnate because they lack originality. They are too similar to the place next door. The marketplace rewards freshness, uniqueness, and magic. A great entrepreneur understands this and has the courage to do something completely different from the herd. 

What advice can you provide to small business owners who do not know how to manage all aspects of their company?

The first piece of advice would be to manage yourself before you manage your business. In my book “The 5AM Club,” I share a transformational morning routine to activate peak focus and elite productivity. Starting your day well will set the tone for consistently strong days. Managing yourself well also includes getting very fit, taking time for daily learning, and creating space for solitude. 

Once you, as a small business owner, are feeling positive, energetic, and confident, I’d then say the finest way to manage all the competing priorities of a business is becoming really good at planning your days. A clear daily plan is essential. An excellent executive assistant is mission-critical. And populating your team with A-players who will get your vision done without making excuses or complaining is a key to winning.

Melinda Emerson

“Small Biz Lady;” President, Quintessence Group

What is the top challenge facing small business owners today?

Access to capital is a huge concern, with only 5.2 million small businesses benefiting from PPP (Paycheck Protection Program) loans, the rest of the businesses who didn’t apply or qualify for benefits have been utilizing unemployment resources to sustain their households. 

With the pandemic effectively shutting down and crippling businesses in the United States over the past six months, business owners are struggling to survive. As of May, 41 percent of Black-owned businesses and 17 percent of all other businesses had already gone under. The first place people look to buy now is online, and the businesses that are still alive are being forced to invest in their websites and online marketing, and many have had pivot to find new revenue sources and business models. It’s a tough time. 

What’s your advice to small businesses looking for their “brand purpose”?

For small businesses looking for brand purpose, it’s about reconnecting with your “why” story.  Why did you start your business and why should you still be running it? Perhaps it’s time to create a new mission and vision for your business, but it should be based on your best customer’s future needs, not their current ones.

What would you say to an aspiring entrepreneur hesitant to take the risk of starting their own business?

The world is still waiting on a better mousetrap, and if you build one, the world will beat a path to your door, no matter where your door is. Lots of great businesses were started during recessions, including 3M(Scotch Tape), Microsoft, Uber, Square, and Slack.

In your opinion, why are small businesses the backbone of the American economy?

Small businesses create 70-80 percent of the net new jobs in the American economy. They are a part of every local community in this nation. Who is your dentist, auto mechanic, florist, pizza shop owner, barber, nail stylist, and shoe cobbler? Local businesses tend to hire from the community, and they are community leaders that help local schools, youth sports leagues, and Girl Scout troops. 

Main Street, USA, is Everywhere, USA. That’s why the government needs to do more to help save small businesses right now. Over half of small businesses have been forced to go out of business since the start of the pandemic. This will have long-term effects on the economy if the government doesn’t step up with relief that actually serves the community of businesses with under $20 million in revenue, not nonprofits, Fortune 1000 brands, and sports teams.

What role have you seen social media play in the success of small businesses today?  

Social media is a mandatory marketing channel. You must take part in it. Whether you sell B2B (business-to-business) or B2C (business-to-consumer), you must engage with customers online to build relationships and demonstrate your expertise. You don’t need to be on every platform, you should just focus on one or two where your best customers spend time online. 

Beyond money, what do you see as a measure of a successful business?  

People go into business to live their best life on their own terms. If that’s not happening, then something is wrong. Are you living your dream life? Are working with who you want to work with, doing work you love, and getting paid what you want to get paid? That’s how I measure success now. 

There was a time when I was much younger I defined success by how many hours I could work and our gross revenue. But when I worked like that, I didn’t have a life and it destroyed my marriage. After I became a mother nearly 15 years ago, my whole mentality changed.

Ramon Ray

Founder, Smart Hustle Media

What is the top challenge facing small business owners today?

Small business owners are not monolithic and all of them face many different challenges. Before COVID, small business owners were focused on how to operate and grow. 

Now, as we are still in the reopening phase, business owners are asking: “How do I adjust to the new world we’re in?” “How do I function as a business when I have to follow new protocols?” “How do I offer new products to current customers, find new customers, or offer new products and services to a new set of customers?” “When I am in conversations, how do I keep the customers I have, get them to buy more, and get them to refer new customers to me?” “What financing options do I have to keep my business afloat while not going into debt that will destroy my business?”

There are many more challenges small businesses face, such as hiring, emotional stress, and restructuring technology and operations. Right now, this is amplified.

What’s your advice to small businesses looking for their “brand purpose”?

Be authentic, be purposeful, and be who you are. Small business owners need to be their own celebrity CEO and in order to do that, they need to know who and what they represent. Ideally, you should not have to look too far to know what your brand is all about, beyond money. 

As marketer Seth Godin often talks about, ask yourself: Who are you serving and what problem are you solving for them? No one wants to buy a hammer and nail. What we want is to hang our family portrait in our living room.

What would you say to an aspiring entrepreneur hesitant to take the risk of starting their own business?

Be hesitant. That’s good. When I was fired from the United Nations, I was scared and anxious and worried. However, that hesitation and caution propelled me to make smart decisions with calculated risk. The only way to grow a successful business is to take a risk. One popular radio host says it’s OK to make “non-fatal” errors. It’s about how much risk and the results of what happens if that move does not work out that trips up aspiring business owners. Take risks, just take smart risks, or as I’d say “smart hustle.”

What’s one aspect of doing business in America that is different from anywhere else in the world?

America is absolutely the land of the most opportunities. I’ve traveled around the world and just about every entrepreneur will tell you that America is indeed land of the most opportunity for all. In America, we have proven systems that work, business laws that are not hindered by corrupt officials wanting bribes, and a large ecosystem of consumers ready to buy whatever you can invent. Just ask any entrepreneur who’s been on “Shark Tank” or who we’ve featured on

What qualities do successful entrepreneurs have in common?

Entrepreneurs must be able to inspire their team, and ensure the right people are doing the right thing at the right time. They must be able to attract the right people to work for them and embrace their vision of serving their customers. 

Entrepreneurs must have a mindset for business that includes: a desire to learn, the ability to solve problems, creativity, and leadership. They must also have a strong business mind and a general knack for understanding sales, marketing, hiring, and finance. They don’t have to be an expert in all of these things, but must have an overall knowledge of how these work for their business. Successful business owners must also be very focused on who they’re serving — not “everyone,” but a very specific type of customer.

In your opinion, why are small businesses the backbone of the American economy?

While large companies power the global economy and tectonic foundation of the American economy, it is small business owners that power America on a day-to-day basis. It is not an airline that is the lifeblood of the local neighborhood — it is small businesses. “Mom and pop” shops that provide the necessities and comforts for our lives. Entrepreneurs with a dream and innovation to provide unique solutions to our daily problems. Without small businesses, there is no vibrant neighborhood. Without a neighborhood, there is no America.

What role have you seen social media play in the success of small businesses today?

Social media has been an empowering force for good for small business owners. With social media, a mom in Atlanta, a college student in Wisconsin, or a couple in North Carolina can dream up an idea on Monday, and by Wednesday morning reach thousands of potential customers to test their idea and start selling. Social media connects us all and enables the smallest of small businesses to start their dreams. Social media creates immediate connections, and for small businesses, this is vital.

Beyond money, what do you see as a measure of a successful business?

Small business ownership is a choice. It’s a choice for freedom. The freedom to serve who you want (customers) with whom you want (your team), and create what you want (your products and services). The measure of a successful entrepreneur with a successful business is if they are living the life they want, empowering the lives of their customers, and enabling their team to live the lives they want. I try to do that everyday.

Melissa Butler

Founder and CEO, Lip Bar

How did you navigate starting a business with limited funds?

When you’re starting a business, oftentimes you don’t realize what that really means, unless you’re starting after having business experience or after having been mentored. For entrepreneurs like me who essentially started a business to solve a personal problem, you attack it with your personal resources. 

For me, I didn’t have a ton of money to pour into the business at ground zero, but what I did have was my purpose and my passion, and that passion is really what led me to investing my time and to understand that in order for my business to give me 100 percent, I had to give it 100 percent. 

Having limited resources meant that we had to get scrappy and we had to get creative. We couldn’t think of competition in the same way that big business thinks of competition. We couldn’t follow the trends, we had to make our own trends, because we knew that if we tried to compete with the big businesses in the same way that they compete, we would lose every time. They were competing with dollars and we were competing with authenticity. 

I would recommend for any founder, if you have limited capital and limited resources, then make sure you’re spending your time and your money on the big bets. Take some big bets because those are going to make the biggest impacts and it’s going to give you the biggest learning lesson. 

We went on “Shark Tank,” we went to get funding, but also we weren’t looking for that much money but at the end of the day, we were looking for exposure. So think about ways you can grow your business without money. How do you get more popular? How do you really stand out in the crowd? That’s what you really need to focus on. Money is secondary.

What can budding entrepreneurs and small business owners can do to find their brand purpose? 

If you don’t know what your purpose is, then I question what your business is. You don’t have a business if you don’t have a purpose because, at the end of the day, every business should be solving a problem. Your purpose should be to make your customers’ lives easier, better, faster, healthier, whatever your value proposition is, that is your purpose. 

By understanding your purpose, you very clearly understand who your consumer is, you know how to talk to your consumer, and know what it is you can do to serve your consumer better. Purpose is first. Your idea should be rooted in purpose and rooted in passion. 

Without that, you won’t have a sustainable business,business is difficult. It’s not something that you just wake up and say, “Hey, I want to be an entrepreneur.” You need to have a strong hold on your vision, because it’s your vision that holds you and it’s your vision that says, “This is worth getting up and working on every single day.” 

Without that purpose, you really don’t have a business. You may have a passion, you may have a hobby, but it won’t be a business, because that purpose is what fuels that business to keep going, even when you don’t have momentum.

When you did start seeing success, how did you ensure that you were being responsible with your finances? 

When we first started seeing success, and I was coming from a Wall Street background, to be completely honest, I wasn’t looking at my margin and my gross profit. I didn’t even know the true cost of my goods. I had a roundabout cost, but I wasn’t taking into consideration all of the things that went into getting that product online or getting that product on the shelves, so I wasn’t being responsible. And I’ll tell you what else: We weren’t growing because of it. 

It wasn’t until we really started measuring everything, even social media is so easy and so fast, but it’s like everything that you do has a metric attached to it, and at the end of the day, it is a business. If you are truly running a business, you should be able to track and measure all of your outputs, and based on that you want to understand that by tweaking things, and testing and learning from it.

Managing your finances is so incredibly important, but it’s also underrated because a lot of people start businesses and don’t want to deal with the finance part because it’s not fun. They want to deal with the problem, they want to deal with the customer, they want to deal with marketing, they want to deal with the language, all the cheeky stuff. But honestly, the foundation of your business is making sure you can actually sustain. We weren’t being responsible with it, but I would absolutely encourage everyone to make sure that is their No. 1 priority. 

Beyond money, what do you see as the best gauge of a successful business?

For us, it’s always the impact on the customer. Lip Bar is all about changing the way people think about beauty, and what that means for us is making sure that they believe they are enough, and making sure that our customers see themselves in the beauty industry. 

For us, one of the big moments that let us know we were at this inflection point was our customers telling us they feel more confident because of our marketing or they’re seen within the beauty industry because of our retail presence, so it’s really listening to our customers who really value customer listening, and by listening to our customers, that’s how we’re able to optimize and continuously grow the business. There’s nothing more validating than hearing your customer say that you did something to change their life or change their mind. 

What is the best advice you’ve ever received as a business owner and entrepreneur?

I would say, and it sounds so simple and it is simple, but it’s much more difficult in practice, it’s that you just have to keep going. It’s so much easier to stop than keep going. You need resilience, and not just in the start-up community, but particularly within the beauty industry, you need to have that resilience. You need to have that thick skin. 

You need to understand your purpose, and I think the most impactful thing that happened to me in this period was someone reminding me, “I know it’s difficult but keep going.” It’s that resilience that has kept us over time because, at the end of the day, this was a part of that advice when they said “keep going.” 

This is me interpreting it in my own words now, but my job is to optimize. My job is to get a little bit better every day. I can’t focus on going from Point A to Point Z, I just have to focus on going from A to B. If I just keep going and focus on that little bit of growth, when I look up, I’ll see that not only did I do A to Z, but I’m on the second round of the alphabet. 

Keep resilience as your No. 1 priority and keep going because, over time, you may not always win, you may not win the first time, but you keep learning and you’re going to keep getting better, so your baseline continues to change and your foundation continues to grow.

What would you say to an aspiring entrepreneur who’s hesitant to take the risk of starting their own business?

I would challenge them to question why they’re fearful. Oftentimes, we are fearful because we think other people are so much more equipped. I can tell you firsthand that I was not equipped. I didn’t know what I didn’t know, and I certainly didn’t know about the business industry that I was getting into. Challenge yourself to ask yourself the tough question of “Why do I not believe in myself?” Because ultimately, that’s what it comes down to. 

It sounds like such a hard thing to say, “I don’t believe in myself,” no one wants to say that and believe that about themselves, but that’s what it really is, because why is it so much easier for you to believe in someone else than it is to believe in yourself? That’s the first thing I would challenge them to think about, and I would remind them that confidence is everything. 

There’s no reason for you to not start. You start and you will fail, and you will make mistakes, but you’ll also learn, and that learning is what’s going to allow you to get to that success you want. But you can’t win it if you’re not in it.

Next article