Tips From A Female DC Entrepreneur Who Grew Her Home Business Into a Multi-Million Dollar Enterprise
Most, if not all of us, have heard the statistic that around 90 percent of startups fail completely. This doesn’t have to be you.
Bev Gray is on a mission to meet all of the changing demands of exhibitors’ trade show needs in any venue. This has been her goal since starting Exhibit Edge in 1992, when her first client requested her team’s services. At that point, it was just her and her husband. Now, her organization and their footing in the Washington D.C. market have grown immensely.
Her company’s success does not preclude challenges faced or mistakes made along the way, however. “Being 30 years old when Exhibit Edge was started and making a profit the first year, there is an excitement … That excitement led to spending some of that profit early on,” Gray said. “We would have been better positioned to buy company assets, including a building, hire more experienced people, and weather hard time if we had built up that cash first.” In other words, even the best coaches sometimes make the wrong call. That doesn’t mean they can’t ultimately win the game.
After 25 years of effectively steering Exhibit Edge through a rapidly changing market, Bev shares her top 5 tips to being part of the 10 percent of startups that succeed — even while experiencing some failure along the way.
1) Don’t let your desire to grow your business distract you to from the core purpose of its existence: to serve your clients’ needs.
In other words, don’t forget the “why” of your business that got you to create it in the first place. Ultimately, your team is there to execute your client’s vision. Leaders can fall into traps where they focus just on producing financial growth rather than what organically causes it: satisfied clients.
2) Be willing to make changes to your original business vision based on the needs of your clients and the market.
Business plans exist for a very important reason, but don’t be afraid to change yours as market circumstances evolve. Exhibit Edge has very deliberately rebranded in recent years in order to be attractive to buyers. There is always a new and younger market to engage.
Furthermore, don’t be afraid to break the rules of business if it makes sense for you and your customers. They are looking for creative solutions to their problems, so don’t get stuck on how your industry is supposed to operate.
3) Welcome innovation and don’t be afraid to stand out.
Female entrepreneurs unfortunately aren’t commonplace at this point. Don’t let that — or any other rare quality about your company — make you feel that you don’t belong in the market. Use your unique background to provide an unmatched experience for your clients. On the flip side, embrace uncommon or contemporary ideas, yourself. For Exhibit Edge, that means implementing new and unfamiliar technology in order to better serve clients. Figure out how that applies to your team.
If you can, find your own ways to be innovative. For example, think outside the box when it comes to acquiring new clients. Beyond attending trade events, the Exhibit Edge team stays on top of local business publications to find companies that are expanding — and could use their services.
4) Take a break sometimes. Seriously.
The stereotypical business leader may be that workaholic who lives, breathes, and eats his or her work every single hour of the day. The level of passion this suggests is absolutely necessary, but that lifestyle is simply unsustainable. Worse, it makes you, your clients, and your company ultimately worse off.
An entrepreneur must learn to take breaks in order to be productive. Purely physiologically, focus is one of the strongest limitations the human mind possesses. Take short breaks throughout the day so you always have a fresh mind.
5) Don’t fall into the trap of “all startups have high overhead, so it’s expected for my business to do it too.” Don’t overexert your company.
Successful entrepreneurial ventures require business acumen in addition to a passion for its growth. Although it may be seen as the norm to throw money at flashy new offices and gadgets, it’s better to stick strictly with what your employees need to serve your clients. Your team is your greatest asset. Figure out exactly what they need by designing a strong culture of communication, and avoid a pitfall of unnecessary office perks. Your employees will thank you for it.
Some failure is a part of the startup cycle, but the steps outlined can help you avoid a major misstep. By keeping what is most important in mind — your clients and your team — you can steer your ship successfully, even if you encounter turbulent seas. The only true failure is giving up.
Bev Gray is the President and CEO of Exhibit Edge, a leader in the trade show industry. In 2004, Exhibit Edge received its Woman-Owned Certification by the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council, WBENC. Exhibit Edge prides itself on always moving forward and staying ahead of the curve while still maintaining exceptional customer care.