Washington area small business owners share their secrets to success


Heidi Kallet, owner of The Dandelion Patch, center, and Amy Nichols who founded Dogtopia, spoke at The Washington Post's annual Small Business Forum on Thursday. (Dayna Smith/FOR THE WASHINGTON POST)

The Washington Post last week gathered a group of entrepreneurs from around the region to discuss the challenges facing small businesses and the strategies they use to keep their companies moving forward. Below, we pulled together some of the highlights from the discussion:

Amy Nichols, owner of Dogtopia, a pet day care business, based in Tysons Corner:

On effective communication: “Make sure you are setting your employees up for success. That was something I learned early on, that just because I understand what I’m asking them to do doesn’t mean they do. It’s not fair to hold someone accountable for something that you did not explain properly in the first place.”

On keeping records: “I went from everything being in my head to putting things on paper and creating an operations manual ... putting more online, making things more self-service, so that it’s easier for our franchisees to get what they need.”

Heidi Kallett, owner of the Dandelion Patch, a stationery retailer with locations in Leesburg, Georgetown, Reston and Vienna:

On planning: “Spending some time every single day focused on tomorrow and not today — that’s a really hard lesson, that’s a really habit to get into. But if you’re so focused on the day-to-day, you’re never going to get to a place where you’re focused on five years from now; and that’s the strategic part ... and you’ve got to carve time out to do that on a regular basis.”

Nizam Ali, co-owner of Ben’s Chili Bowl, a renowned eatery in the District:

On community engagement: “We like to treat people like they are entering our home, and I think it comes back to you. The way you treat the community, the community responds and it comes back to you.

On hiring for your needs: “Have all your bases covered. If you don’t know marketing, or you don’t know social media, you have to find someone that’s an expert, because if you don’t cover all of your bases, you won’t succeed.”

David von Storch, owner of Urban Adventures, a lifestyle company that includes spas, restaurants and fitness centers throughout the District:

On social media: “I think social media is the most important way to communicate now ... Our best referral is a good customer, so for us, our members are our best source of revenue, our best source of new members ... and we probably spend more money and more time on social media than we do on anything else.”

On trusting your gut: “When you feel like something’s going wrong, it is. Because your gut is right, when it’s your business and you feel something is wrong ... sometimes you have to acknowledge a failure, acknowledge that you miscued or misfired, and you have to assess make changes.”

J.D. Harrison covers startups, small business and entrepreneurship, with a focus on public policy, and he runs the On Small Business blog.

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