11 top small-business owners give tips for success

Relationships are essential to making a small business thrive. That’s according to 11 Small Business Administration honorees who shared their best advice about how to run a successful company.

Whether referring to employees, customers or bankers, our panelists speak of their relationships in terms of “team,” “network,” and even “family.” Excellent relationships can lead to your employees becoming your best recruiters, your clients becoming your best salespeople.

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More common themes emerged from our discussions with these small-business luminaries.

When it comes to financing, for example, be frugal. Sprinkled throughout our conversations, we heard things like, “Don’t borrow money until you don’t need it,” “Once your business is established, the banks will come knocking on yourdoor,” and “Debt is a four-letter word.”

Also, your company is going to grow, of course. So when you’re looking for a location, make sure it’s one where you can expand.

Here is more from the 11 SBA honorees:

Paula Klein, owner and project champion, Smartt Interior Construction LLC, North Dakota 2015 Small Business Person of the Year

Paula Klein would probably rather be made fun of for her Fargo accent – “We kind of carry it as a badge of honor now,” she says – than be labeled a “manager.” Klein’s company, Smartt Interior Construction, partners with Dirtt (the branding with the double-t is not a coincidence), implementing the Canadian company’s prefabricated construction materials in offices, health-care facilities and other environments

“The word ‘managing’ employees – I don’t know if you can do that. I think you can engage, inspire, excite,” advises Klein. “Especially in a small business, we all need to be just so excited to come to work, and then you don’t really have to manage them because they’re looking for the same outcome you’re looking for. … If you get that kind of buy-in, there’s not a lot of management you really need to do.”

Before asking for a loan, Klein first made sure she had a client and that she delivered an outstanding result. This approach made the bank want Smartt as much as Smartt wanted the bank.