By Chris Bosak
The Hour, Norwalk, Conn.
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) A panel of local entrepreneurs were quizzed on a wide variety of entrepreneurial topics during an event last week at the Microsoft store in Danbury. The event took place in honor of the first Small Business Development Center Day. All three entrepreneurs on the panel have utilized the services of the Danbury SBDC office, which is led by business adviser Nelson Merchan.
Starting a business is the same as it’s always been. Then again, it’s completely different.
Entrepreneurs need to embrace the tried-and-true methods of succeeding in business, such as networking, gleaning customers through referrals, staying ahead of trends, and spending money wisely.
Equally important these days, however, is using social media to its fullest extent, embracing the unknown and accepting an open society — even to the point of helping a competitor.
Those were among the messages shared by a panel of local entrepreneurs quizzed on a wide variety of topics during an event last week at the Microsoft store at Danbury Fair mall.
“Sometimes you have to be more fearful of not doing something,” Erica Sullivan, who founded Castle Hill Chocolate in Newtown last year, said. “Otherwise you know you’ll regret it if you don’t go forward with it.”
The panel also included Andrea Gartner, who is opening Pour Me Coffee & Wine Café on Main Street in Danbury soon, and Dawn Reshen-Doty, owner of administrative outsourcing company Benay Enterprises.
“I’m the one who says: Where’s that mountain? Let’s climb it,” Gartner said.
The event, attended by about 30 people, took place in honor of the first Small Business Development Center Day. All three entrepreneurs on the panel have utilized the services of the Danbury SBDC office, which is led by business adviser Nelson Merchan. JoAnn Cueva, director of the Greater Danbury Chamber of Commerce, served as the moderator.
Gartner referred to entrepreneurialism as an “American cultural phenomenon.” The former executive director of CityCenter Danbury, Gartner has a specific and detailed vision for Pour Me Coffee & Wine Café.
“I’m on a mission to make my bathrooms the best place in the city to change a baby,” she said, drawing chuckles from the audience. “I remember being a mom and being frustrated by that.”
Pour Me will include organic food and drink options, as well as foster a community feel with some products being supplied by local food artisans.
“I’m committed to using local businesses whenever I can,” Gartner said. “I’m building a narrative and promoting local small businesses again.”
All three business owners touted the benefits of networking, both with organizations and other businesses in the neighborhood. Reshen-Doty said a great way to expand one’s network is to attend meetings of business organizations to which one has no affiliation.
“Find an organization where you don’t know anybody and put yourself out there. You’ll meet people you haven’t met before,” she said. “These people can give you advice and you can give advice to others.”
Sullivan said she has knocked on the doors of other businesses in her area just to see “if we can collaborate and create a new buzz.”
“The grassroots effort cannot be ignored,” she said.
Sullivan said she founded Castle Hill Chocolate following a holiday season in which she sought out novelty chocolates to purchase for stocking stuffers. She didn’t find a chocolate store in Newtown and a friend told her the closest one was in Ridgefield.
“I saw an opportunity and, being an entrepreneur, I went after it,” she said. “I had no plans of being a chocolatier. Ever. I researched and figured out everything I would need, looking at every little aspect of what it would take to be successful. Before you knew it, I had a 30-page business plan.”
Gartner said even after exhaustive research and extensive planning there will be things entrepreneurs will not be able to do on their own. Letting go of perfectionist tendencies is also important, she said.
“The biggest thing is acknowledging there will be things you don’t know and being able to reach out to people who can help,” Gartner said.
She used social media as an example. “I know what I don’t know so I enlisted a 20-year-old college student to help (with social media),” Gartner said.
Staying on top of social media trends can be a full-time job, Sullivan said, but it’s an important task in terms of reaching the right audience.
“Two years ago I would have said Instagram is absolutely the best social media site for my business. Then, all of the sudden, Instagram became for a younger audience,” she said. “It changes on a dime. There are all these things out there, but that doesn’t mean you have to be on all of them. You have to be very specific and not use it as a blanket.”
Reshen-Doty noted the business community is more open than in previous years and willing to share information, either through social media or traditional networking. Supporting each other is critical for business success, she said.
“It’s a much more open society. It used to be that you were so afraid that your competition would know what you’re doing,” she said. “Now it’s more open. Be vulnerable and ask for help. Nine out of 10 people will help you. Say, I’m going to avail myself to all the resources out there shamelessly.”
Getting over fears is a skill Reshen-Doty has learned over the years. She said many younger entrepreneurs head into the business world knowing failure is likely to happen at times.
“Young people know they’ll have 10 careers and three failures. I love that way of thinking,” she said. “I wish I was more like that when I was younger.”
Following more than an hour and a half of fielding questions about entrepreneurship, Sullivan expressed gratitude about living in a time and place where career choices, such as starting a business, are available.
“Some people are born in places where the government says what you can and can’t do,” Sullivan said. “Sometimes you have to take a step back and be grateful. None of this is an entitlement and it shouldn’t be looked at as an entitlement.”