Story & Photos by Emily Siddiqui
Entrepreneurs, college students and other guests enjoyed a day packed with expert information in starting or improving their businesses at the Small Business Conference, held Wednesday, Feb. 28 at the Hudiburg Chevrolet Center.
Interactive workshops throughout the day included a variety of topics relevant to small business owners and entrepreneurs, such as strategy, marketing, social media, cybersecurity, financing, credit, tax reform and government contracting.
Keynote speakers of the morning included Toby Brown, Adam Edwards and Rachael Gruntmeir, all of whom are the CEOs of their respective companies in Oklahoma City.
Many SBC attendees came to gather business intel and strengthen their professional endeavors. Motivational speaker, mental health advocate and author Benedria Smith attended the conference to learn how to improve her multifaceted business, which has recently expanded into publishing. Her favorite workshop was the second session, where speakers discussed branding, marketing strategies and the importance of businesses’ engagement with their target audiences.
“The biggest thing I’ve learned [today] is to be smart, not perfect,” Smith said.
In the opening conference session, panelists spent time emphasizing the value of small businesses making themselves well-known if they are to compete in the market. Brown “advised us to not be afraid to rise above the radar,” Smith explained.
Following the morning sessions and luncheon, attendees were treated to three keynote speakers: Cornell Wesley, Economic Development Representative at U.S. Department of Commerce; George Nigh, former Oklahoma Governor; and Robert Funk, founder and CEO of Express Employment Professionals. Rose State President Dr. Jeanie Webb welcomed the speakers as they took turns reminiscing Oklahoma business history, sharing stories and speaking of a bright future.
Wesley talked about the involvement of state programs in job creation, and gave advice to those just starting out in the world of business.
“You have to surround yourself with like-minded people; you have to place yourself in environments where tools or resources are available to you, and you have to be hungry and intentional about accessing them,” Wesley said.
While Nigh admitted he’d never had a business of his own, he shared his experiences and knowledge gained in business, not only as a political figure, but also as an Oklahoma citizen. He took the audience back several decades to when large companies such as Love’s Travel Stops and Country Stores, Braum’s and Sonic Drive-In were once small businesses. He did this to remind entrepreneurs that success starts small, and to put into perspective the progress of Oklahoma as a whole.
“I don’t really know much about business … but I know what government’s responsibility to business is, and what government’s responsibility to education is,” Nigh said.
Funk spoke of the unique opportunities Oklahoma gives to business people like himself.
“I believe that Oklahoma is the land of opportunity … We are more entrepreneurial than most any state in the nation,” he said.
Funk also described why it is so crucial for small businesses to have the right people on their teams.
“I have seen great companies with great ideas falter because of the people that they selected. I’ve seen some other companies that didn’t have the greatest idea, but they had great people, and they rise to the top. It’s the quality of the individuals that makes the difference in the success of your small business,” he said.
After the keynote session, conference attendees continued on to more workshops. Those who registered in advance also had a chance at the end of the day to have one-on-one consultations. A panel discussion was held to bring the day to a close.
For information regarding next year’s Small Business Conference, contact Rick Woodard at firstname.lastname@example.org or 733-7392.
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