Local Business

Entrepreneurs share secrets of their success

CRYSTAL LAKE – It takes more than a sharp résumé to land a job at many small businesses.

When considering prospective employees, a panel of local business owners said they have high expectations for new hires.

Those looking for a job at Crystal Lake-based transportation company JA Frate should be ready to pass the dinner test, said president Jill Dinsmore.

“Although you interview for skills and experience ... I really won’t hire anyone who I wouldn’t have over to my house for dinner,” she said. “Because if I wouldn’t have them in my house for dinner, then why would I send them to our best customers?”

Dinsmore was part of a panel of McHenry County business leaders who spoke at a gathering for entrepreneurs this week. The panel featured other business owners from companies of different sizes in different industries. Panel members fielded questions on a variety of issues, including how to find and hire quality employees. The event, called Entrepreneur U – Make It Grow, was held Tuesday at the Crystal Lake Holiday Inn. It was sponsored by the Northwest Herald and the McHenry County Business Journal.

Good hiring decisions can give small businesses a tremendous boost, while bad decisions can be a drain on time and resources, panel members said.

Chris Leathers, owner and president of Your World Fitness in Spring Grove, called employees “the heartbeat” of his business. The enthusiastic 26-year-old entrepreneur, the youngest member of the panel, said his success depended on the quality of his employees, from the personal trainers to front desk workers.

Medcor, a McHenry-based health services company, has had to change its hiring practices as it has expanded, said Executive Vice President Curtis Smith. When the company started in 1984, executives personally knew all of the employees. But that’s not possible with nearly 1,000 employees in 34 states.

“We’ve faced a challenge in growing the business because the entrepreneurial spirit of the company is hard to translate,” Smith said. “People are getting hired and working literally thousands of miles from our headquarters.”

As the company has grown, Smith said it has become important to not only hire the best people but to also make sure they have the support they need to be successful.

“You have to have the right support, and the tools and the training, so you can carry forward that spirit the company was founded on,” he said.

Finding quality candidates can be another obstacle for local business owners.

Medcor pays employees for making successful hiring referrals to the company. Smith estimated about half of the company’s new hires come from employee referrals.

Fellow panel member Sue Dobbe, founder of Dobbe Marketing in Crystal Lake, said she relies on the reputation of her company to attract talented employees.

“If you develop a good message and a good organization,” she said, “people come to you.”

Orrin Kinney, owner of the Starline Factory in Harvard, said finding specialists in different areas, such as accounting and information technology, can be especially difficult. Sometimes it means taking a chance.

“You don’t always know exactly what to look for,” he said. “You just hope you make the right choices.”

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