The laws of business haven’t changed. The strongest and most agile will survive. And entrepreneurs who want to succeed had best realize that, consultant Stephen Harvill warned on Saturday.

Seize the moment to grow while bigger companies founder, he said at the second annual Conference on Entrepreneurship, Innovation & Success.

“Entrepreneurs, you are limited only by your own imagination,” Harvill said. “Focus on what you’re good at and what’s a priority. Focus on leverage points, those lines of business that have a return on investment.”

And, he added, be ready to deal with change at warp speed.

“The only constant is change and the business community is rapidly making Darwin’s natural world look like an evolutionary snail,” said Harvill, president of Dallas-based Creative Ventures. “The big guys are losing their grip on markets and the small business owner is gaining more advantages every day.”

He stressed that standing still was not an option, that griping about the economy didn’t pay the bills.

“Seek opportunities that create market share,” he explained. “No longer can we use the economy as a crutch.”

More than 275 entrepreneurs and business executives gave up a Saturday of sleeping in and honey-do lists to hear speaker after speaker rally them to new levels of energy. Drive and determination were two words that topped the list for what it takes to make it, said conference organizer, Dan Davies, publisher of Business Leader magazine. “Clearly, this group is ready to get back to business,” he said.

Davies recognizes the last 18 months have been challenging. “I say challenging because as entrepreneurs we are eternally positive and never use words like ‘difficult’ or ‘tough’.”

The conference at NCSU’s McKimmon Center attracted a myriad of small- to mid-sized company leaders — a true snapshot of what Harvill said are gaining momentum at breakneck speed. He touted the necessary components of success such as inspired thinking, innovative action and power found in new strategies as being crucial.

“From technology to business philosophy, small agile business owners are filling and creating new profitable niches,” he said.

Lessons learned

Ed Weems, chair for the Triangle TEC (The Executive Committee) International, was glad to see so many executives gathered together in peer groups to hear, to share, to talk about success and horror stories. He also said he believed business focus is starting to change — from just surviving in tough times to growth.

“Companies are concentrating more on profitability and sustainability,” Weems pointed out. “The energy has been focused on positive next steps, a shift in focus from what we’ve seen (in 2002.)”

Weems explained key priorities for business in moving ahead:

  • Market diversification both in geography and customer base
  • Conserve cash and be cautious because banks are offsetting lower percentage rates by charging an inflated percentage on over prime

One of the four tracks scheduled throughout the day focused on female entrepreneurs and female-owned businesses.

Mary Cantando, president of Contando and Associates, LLC, highlighted the importance of elevator pitches and the ability for owners to sum up what they do and what benefit it supplies quickly and succinctly.

“Talk about the results you’re looking for,” she said. “People don’t care about features, they care about what you can put on a plate and buy.

“I’ve said for many years, ‘the only way you can coast is downhill,’ and people have to be willing to do the peddling,” Contando added. “There’s tremendous knowledge here and the leaders are in the trenches willing to guide others in this process. I’m here to take advantage of that.”

Where to get information?

At a standing-room-only lunch, Sam Richter, president, James J. Hill Reference Library in St. Paul, MN, offered entrepreneurs alternatives for finding information they need.

Richter said he talked regularly to CEOs on how to compete with large corporations by leveling the playing field with access to information. He said much of the best business information is only available via costly subscription databases, but added there are alternatives.

In the discussion titled “Is Your Business Consultant Some Yahoo Named Google,” attendees learned some alternative resources readily available online and elsewhere. Richter has implemented programs fro Coca-Cola, 3M, and National Geographic.

Will the program, itself a source for a considerable amount of information, be back next year?

Davies said to do so is in his plans.