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posted: 1/7/2013 6:00 AM

Successful entrepreneurs tell what they would do differently

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The best way to learn can be to ask a simple question -- which is why I built on a suggestion from Julie Baron, principal of Communication Works, Arlington Heights, and asked four successful business owners what they would do differently the next time around.

The four are Tom Walter, president and CEO, Tasty Catering, Elk Grove Village, and co-author of "It's My Company Too!" a new book on employee engagement techniques; Eric Glab, co-owner and sales manager, CertaPro Painters of Palatine; Paul Chaudury, whose Fresh D'Lite Grill in Geneva is in its third year and "no longer losing money;" and Kevin O'Brien, whose one-time Obrien Document Solutions has evolved into Obrien, a Bartlett company that provides strategies and processes for 21st century businesses.

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Their insights are almost as valuable as an MBA.

• Walter, Tasty Catering. "I'd assemble a board of advisers from all the business disciplines: CPA, CFP, attorney, banker, marketing, publicity and an accomplished entrepreneur. Too many years were wasted while I developed emotional intelligence and acquired knowledge.

"My hiring philosophy would have been 'screen for skill but hire for attitude.' Then I wouldn't have gone through the pain of talented misfits.

"Lastly, I would have our staff define the workplace culture -- purpose, values, vision and mission -- so that personal and professional alignment would have taken place earlier."

• Glab, CertaPro Painters. "I wouldn't have gone in so hard, so fast. I would have taken a slower, more methodical approach that would allow me to understand the business and our customers better.

"We're making more money than ever before, but that's an arbitrary measure. Do what you enjoy doing, and the dollars will follow."

• Chaudury, Fresh D'Lite Grill. "I wouldn't change the product concept (healthy food, tastefully prepared), but I would change the way we communicated the idea.

"We attracted health-conscious customers from the beginning, but taste-conscious customers were apprehensive. As we evolved our message, we started attracting a much broader customer base.

"The old message was 'fast, fresh and healthy' with many pictures of perceived healthy foods such as wraps and salads. The new message is 'America's favorites, delicious and Good 4 U.' Our focus is on the taste, with pictures of an Angus burger, Philly Cheese sandwich and Mediterranean pizza. We changed our logo to emphasize grilled foods.

"(Our promotions) focus on delicious food outside the restaurant, with nutrition numbers -- calories, sodium and the like -- on tables inside.

"Now our business is growing pretty much every month."

Kevin O'Brien, Obrien. "Never allow complacency to settle in. In my earlier days, I'd take things for granted. We'd have a good year, and I'd think we were in. You have to look at complacency as an enemy -- and fight it.

"(Success) requires a lot more planning, (including) financial planning. Tie the sales program in, and have continuity."

• Jim Kendall welcomes comments at JKendall@121MarketingResources.com 2013 121 Marketing Resources Inc.

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