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“Shark Tank” Star Lori Greiner Offers Her Tips for Small Business Owners

Photos: Courtesy of Patrick Ecclesine

Whether trying to get a business off the ground or getting it to turn a profit during the pandemic, small business owners have plenty of questions right now. Lori Greiner, dubbed the “Shark with a heart” and one of the star investors on ABC’s “Shark Tank,” shared some advice for these entrepreneurs during this difficult time. 

What are the top challenges facing small businesses today?

Due to the pandemic, there are different challenges facing small businesses today, depending on what that business is. Some businesses have had to close their doors, like restaurants and small shops, and then struggle when they reopen to get the word out, get foot traffic, and get customers because a lot of people are not going out like they once did.  

People are shopping online, more people are cooking at home, so small businesses need to be creative and use incentives. If open again or reopening as many are, I think one of the most important things is to do everything to get the word out that you are open, doing things safely and with the utmost care. Even sharing what some of those things are on menus, on your website, in posters in windows, make sure people know you’re back in business and why they should feel comfortable going there. Make sure it is a good experience once people start coming back in. Go over and above with your caring and customer service.

If you can’t be open and had to close your doors, you need to pivot. For example, if you’re a restaurant and you have one thing people adored, that was your most popular thing, that people were always coming in for (i.e., everyone loves your brioche cinnamon rolls) think about how you can sell that thing online. I know several people who took their best recipe, highlighted it, and made it an online product. Put up signs in the windows of your restaurant or store telling people to go online: “Your favorite — my brioche rolls — available online now!” Use your storefront to put up signs directing people to your website. People will still drive by, and I’m sure they miss going to your restaurant, so they will catch that sign.

Digital presence is critical. Other things you can do to get the word out include: starting a blog, and joining up with food bloggers and other influencers to help support each other. Put the word out for them and they’ll put the word out for you. Now is a time where people need to band together and lean on each other. It works when you always offer to help back and barter — “I’ll do this for you if you do this for me. Let’s help each other.”

Remember how you started and all the creativity and innovation you used to start your business. Start to think that way again. 

What advice would you give to small businesses looking for their brand’s purpose?

Think about what your brand purpose is — what is important to you? For me, it was always creating quality products that everyone could enjoy at an affordable price, and giving back by helping others. 

For example, today, I find with many of my “Shark Tank” entrepreneurs that we talk about brand authenticity, mission statements, giving back to the environment, and products that care about the environment, quality, etc. These are the kinds of things you can share when talking about your brand.

Once you’ve figured out what’s most important to you, make sure you are always sharing that statement in everything you do (e.g., social media, website, packaging). I’m a believer that people like to know the face behind the brand, it helps them to relate to you. Put a face to the brand and an emotion to it. When people feel emotionally connected to something, they like to support it, rather than a large corporation that they don’t feel any personal attachment to. 

What steps do you recommend for entrepreneurs to obtain and better manage capital?

Stay lean and mean, do everything you can yourself, and outsource things that you need, as opposed to hiring staff to do things. Hire smart; you don’t need a big staff, you just need good people. You don’t need a big office space — people work from home. Don’t buy inventory without orders for it or a place to sell it.  Be conservative and order carefully.  The key here is stay tight to your budget and not to overspend, only spend on what you absolutely must. 

One of the greatest things for me was that I had to learn all facets of my business, I couldn’t hire on staff, I had to learn everything for myself. It made me stronger, smarter, better, and more able to really run my business in all arenas. Remember no one will love your business like you do, so it’s best that you be the one able to be involved in and make the decisions in all areas of your business.

What are some important start-up qualities investors look for? 

I look at both the product and the entrepreneur — to me, they are equally important. For the product/business, I look for something that:

  • Has broad appeal; something a lot of people would need or want
  • Solves a problem
  • Is unique or different to what else is on the market
  • Can be made at an affordable price

In an entrepreneur, I look for hard-working, passionate, driven people. If I love the business and the entrepreneur is like that, it’s the perfect mix.

What is the one question every investor will ask an entrepreneur before investing? 

I wish there was just one question but there’s not. There’s a ton of questions you’ll be asked, when you watch “Shark Tank,” you learn them quite rapidly. 

Investors always want you to describe your business in a sentence or two — of course they want to know your sales and the trajectory. They are always looking to see how well you know your business and how invested you are in it. Because, while they look at the business and the numbers, they’re also sizing you up at the same time. 

Definitely watch “Shark Tank” on Friday nights at 8 p.m. (7 p.m. CT) on ABC. That’s the new standard for the past decade on how to learn the answer to this question. 

How do you overcome fear of the unknown if you’re someone who has had to pivot their business? 

You know the famous Franklin D. Roosevelt saying: “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” This is really true, especially if you’re someone having to pivot and change your business model because of things out of your control. You have to do everything you can to pivot and keep your business alive, or create a new business to go forward. Remember you were successful the first time and you can be successful again.

Don’t become immobilized by fear. Take action, and know you have nothing to lose and everything to gain. There’s never failure in trying. Be proud of what you tried and not ashamed of what doesn’t work out. Use the same great drive, tenacity, and knowledge you did the first time all over again.

To become more comfortable with risk, try stepping out of your comfort zone once a week. This might scare you, but each time, you’ll see there wasn’t anything to be afraid of. It will give you more strength and courage to try the next thing. Anyone can develop fearlessness. It’s about attitude — it’s mindset.

Why should small business owners take advantage of HR automation tools?

There is a ton of documentation and forms to fill out for HR due to all the labor regulations, payroll, insurance, and tax-reporting related stuff.  It’s too much for a small business owner to master, and if a big employment issue comes up because you didn’t handle any one of these things right, you could be instantly overwhelmed.   

HR automation tools have checklists and the correct document flows for you to follow, whatever you’re doing. And they send and track the return of forms you need signed by the team for you. It’s better for everyone. What entrepreneur has time to keep track of everyone’s sick days?

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