To make it in today’s changing small-business environment, entrepreneurs need to do the big things and small things, according to a panel of five local business owners who spoke at the Entrepreneur Expo held Monday morning at the Microsoft Store in Danbury Fair mall. The event, which drew a crowd of budding entrepreneurs, kicked off National Small Business Week and was hosted by the Small Business Development Center and Greater Danbury Chamber of Commerce.
“Networking is tremendously important,” Rafel Sgammato, founder of music therapy business Nostalgic Notes, said. “The events are usually early in the morning — and I’m not a morning person — but get up.”
“It’s ginormous,” Michael Sauvageau, co-founder of Noteworthy Chocolates, said. “I try to do four networking events a week. It doesn’t end when the event ends. If you collect a bunch of business cards and don’t do anything with them, what the point of even going?
“Of course, networking isn’t just about what other people can do for you,” he added. “The best networkers are those who have other people in mind. It’s about relationships.”
Bobbi Jo Beers, new owner of a Traveling Chic Boutique franchise, agreed and even goes as far as considering very few people competition. She said her boutique is different from brick-and-mortar stores, but even owners of similar businesses have much to learn from each other.
“I’m a big believer in relationships and seeing what we can do for each other,” said Beers, a former president of the Bethel Chamber of Commerce.
Mark DePaolis was among the budding entrepreneurs in the crowd and was happy to hear any advice Beers had on franchising. Beers, who said she didn’t set out to become a franchise owner, was drawn to her business because of the flexibility it offered. DePaolis bought into an ice cream franchise and will be opening his first store in the Danbury area later this year.
“She answered a lot of my questions,” he said of Beers. “This event was fantastic.”
DePaolis has previously owned a video store and worked in the corporate world for 18 years. He offered his own advice to people who lose their jobs when a corporation cuts workers. He suggests “stepping away” from the situation for a few weeks before deciding what to do next as emotions run high immediately following the departure.
Starting their own business was a difficult decision and challenge for many of the panelists. Sgammato had to move back with her parents, Beers and Sauvageau dipped deep into their savings, and Jasson Arias worked 80 hours a week as a bartender to save money. He continues that work ethic with his food truck business Rice and Beans.
“I’m a strong believer in the more hours you put in the more successful you’ll be,” he said. “There are no shortcuts. You need to make sacrifices to move ahead in life.”
Arias is a prolific user of social media — particularly Facebook and Instagram — to promote his food truck. He said the videos that resonate most with customers are the ones of him talking or making something. He said people approach the truck and say things such as: “I saw you on Facebook. I can’t believe I’m meeting you in person now.”
While the panelists spoke of the many challenges they faced along the way to building their businesses, they all agreed it was worth the effort.
“There are ups and downs and when they are down it’s easy to get discouraged and give up,” Sgammato said. “It’s a scary leap. It took me 13 years to get here and it’s a long and difficult journey, but it was totally worth it.”