Small Business Expo is America's largest networking and educational event for business owners, start-ups, and entrepreneurs, and it's coming to Phoenix on Tuesday, September 21, 2021. Joining Dr. Adrian McIntyre to talk about it is Zach Lezberg, CEO & Producer of Small Business Expo.
Founded in 2008, Small Business Expo helps small business owners and other entrepreneurs take their businesses and ideas to the next level, offering quality free content and providing a thriving venue for some of the most exciting business theories and innovations.
Zach Lezberg, CEO & Producer of Small Business Expo, started his first entertainment business (a DJ company) at the age of 11. After graduating from the University of Miami, Zach moved to New York City and recognized there was really no solid way for small businesses to access a business community, other than through the local chamber of commerce. In 2008, he experimented with creating a trade show targeting small business in New York, and soon thereafter expanded to Los Angeles, Dallas, and Miami. In 2021, what is now known as Small Business Expo will be offered in 45 cities across the United States.
While it wasn’t his original mission, through the development and growth of Small Business Expo, Zach has become the voice of small business in America. In liaising with approximately 1.2 million small businesses and entrepreneurs who subscribe to his content and attend his shows annually, he has his finger on the pulse of their daily struggles, frustrations, and fears, and works tirelessly to ensure they have access to education, business resources, and networking opportunities to grow and expand to the next level. “Small business owners who come to Small Business Expo and are part of our community, run the gamut from what I call the ‘wantepreneur’ — those who have been thinking about starting a business and just need that extra push to get going — to people who are already deep into operations and need help with growth, getting organized, becoming fiscally responsible, networking, marketing, social media, and much more. Small Business Expo gives them access to absolutely everything they need in one place to maximize their time.”
And while COVID has really been hard on small business with a number of companies failing as a result of lockdown and breakdowns in supply chains, Zach sees an entirely new breed of small business coming out of COVID and successfully moving forward. “Americans are really entrepreneurial by spirit. Many have left or been forced out of corporate America and they turn to doing their own thing. It’s my goal with Small Business Expo to ensure they have access to the tools to be as successful as they possibly can.”
Broadcasting live from the PHX.fm studio in Phoenix, Arizona, it's time for Valley Business Radio, spotlighting the Valley's best businesses and the people who lead them.Adrian McIntyre:
Welcome to Valley Business Radio, where we tell the stories that traditional media tends to ignore and help connect you to the right people. I'm your host, Dr. Adrian McIntyre. I'm joined in our virtual studio today by Zach Lezberg. He's CEO and producer of the Small Business Expo. Zach, welcome to the program.Zach Lezberg:
Thanks so much. Thanks for having me.Adrian McIntyre:
I'm very interested to hear about this because this is in a way not only about an event that's happening here in Phoenix on September 21. That's Tuesday. But it's also about the state of affairs for small businesses in the United States. There are 30 million small businesses in this country -- businesses with less than 500 employees. In other words, 99.9% of all companies qualify under small business labels. You've been putting on the Small Business Expo for a while. I want to hear about the event itself. But let's talk about you. How'd you even get into this world in the first place? Your background is not in business.Zach Lezberg:
It's actually funny that you say that. I went to school for producing, actually film and theater, a double major in producing film and theater and a minor in business. When I graduated from University of Miami -- by the way, Go Hurricanes! -- I was actually up in New York City working for a company that produces major Broadway shows like Wicked and all the all the big blockbuster hits on Broadway. When I was there for years, then I realized there was no networking event for the show business industry. And so I started a trade show for show business called ShowBiz Expo. And that took off really fast, but that was also back in 2008-2009, during the recession. Show business kind of ... it was not up like it used to be. And so what I ended up doing was quickly pivoting. And I realized a lot of people were getting laid off and needed to start an at home business. That's what a lot of small businesses kind of boomed at home because people were being laid off. And I realized there needed to be something for small businesses and entrepreneurs to network. And I used my experience with what I did with ShowBiz Expo to start Small Business Expo. We started it in New York, then added LA and then Dallas and Miami. And we started expanding. It just exploded. The amount of support was huge. And yeah, so we're bringing it to Phoenix this coming Tuesday. And we're so, so excited about it, you know, small business, the passion that's there, it's just, it's unbelievable. We're just so excited about it.Adrian McIntyre:
You know, it's interesting. They say there's no business like show business. And in a way, I think what they're talking about is what you just mentioned: that passion, that ethos of creativity and expression and the human spirit, and all of these things. Small businesses, though, are not always glitz and glamour and lights and, you know, music. I mean, there's a lot of daily grind. There's a lot of highs and lows. There's the revenue rollercoaster and all the rest. We're going to talk specifically about the details of the event so folks can attend and benefit from it. But I'd love to hear what you see through the lens of Small Business Expo, particularly after 18 months of the Covid-19 pandemic, which has been brutal for a lot of folks in a lot of ways, personally as well as professionally. What's happening out there now, as you take this show back on the road? What are you seeing? What are you hearing? What are you learning?Zach Lezberg:
Yeah, you're definitely right about that. I mean, running a small business is not all glitz and glamour. People don't realize how hard it is to run a small business. It's not just as easy as opening up a business and watching the cash come in. Especially these last 18 months have been devastating for many, many small businesses that are out there. And you know, Small Business Expo is there for everybody, whether it's for somebody that's starting a small business, or has a dream of starting a small business, or has been in business for many, many years. Especially right now, this event, it's not only there to help people grow their business, but it's there to inspire. It's been 18 months since we've all been together. And it's really just a matter of bringing everyone together to feel that passion again. And to really ignite that entrepreneurial spirit. We found in the last several shows that we've already ... because we started back up in Chicago in August. We recently just had our Los Angeles show last week. And it's so amazing to see all of these small businesses coming together. The attitude and the enthusiasm even after the last 18 months has been overwhelming. People are so ready to get back to business and just kind of almost put this whole awful 18 months behind us and move on. That's what we're seeing. We're seeing people sharing ideas, the enthusiasm, the passion, the inspiration, and just everyone coming together to continue their small business and build it and grow it and even a lot of people coming because they have this dream of starting a small business. And so people are actually taking those next steps and starting.Adrian McIntyre:
So really something there for everyone, regardless of where they're at in the lifecycle of the business. They could have an idea or they could already be well underway. They could be a seasoned and grizzled veteran who's looking to reignite that passion. You know, one thing that we can say for sure is that a lot of the work of small business is isolated from other business owners. People, you know, have their heads down. They're in a silo, whether it's a home-based business, or a small shop, or even, you know, a team of up to 300 working remotely for the most part. People have that sense of isolation. And there is something to be said for just being around other business owners who are in the same boat as you, working on the same struggles as you. Maybe they've tried something that you could benefit from. Or maybe you're the one who's bright, shining smile could lift their spirits. I mean, there is a community here that's not common, day to day, week to week, even in the best of times. Talk a little bit about what happens at the Small Business Expo. What can people expect? By the way, it's free to attend. So we're going to have the link and all the information available right here along with the show. But what would people get out of coming? What the program? What it like?Zach Lezberg:
And again, you nailed it on the head. The sharing of ideas and learning these experiences, you're going to end up walking out, hopefully walking out of the show learning from other people's mistakes, so that you don't make those same mistakes. And that's a big part of it. At the show, we have a lot of stuff going on. It was funny, actually, I was walking down the Los Angeles show, down by the workshops, and I heard a few people that were commenting, they were like, "there's too many workshop choices. I don't know which one to go to. I can't make a decision." And that's what it's about. There's just so many workshops and seminars at the show, anything from how to get to the top of search results on Google, to social media marketing, how to do your taxes at the end of the year, legal tips from lawyers, should I be an LLC or an Inc and what's the benefits? So there's a lot of great workshops and seminars. We have something called Speed Networking, which is kind of like speed dating, but it's actually about building your business network. And they're short, two-minute one-on-one sessions that you meet a business owner, and then a bell goes off and you go to the next table. It's a quick way to meet a lot of people in a very short period of time. We have an amazing Exhibitor Hall where there's different exhibitors showcasing their products and services that can help you start your business or even improve on your business, and different tools to help grow your revenue. There are keynote presentations. There's a business card exchange, where you exchange business cards with different industries. So there's so much to choose from when you're at the show, and you will walk out of it with a plethora of knowledge.Adrian McIntyre:
One of the things that I think typically frustrates people who attend larger events is the sense that they're in the right place, but they don't know exactly who to connect with. The conversation that could change your life and could change the future of your business might be there in the room. But if you don't know who's there, you might leave not having made that connection, not having had that conversation. So I am delighted to hear that you've designed in so many different ways for people to get exposure to each other in fun fast way. I mean, you know that there's something I kind of miss about the high school days when you would go to an event and they'd have those kind of dumb "getting to know you" icebreaker type exercises with, you know, the lifesaver on the toothpick, or all these other horrifying things when you're 15. As grownups, sometimes it's nice to have the fun come back. It doesn't all have to be hustle and grind and lead-gen and business cards.Zach Lezberg:
And you know, it's funny you say that because we actually, from the minute you walk in our door, we have music pumped up, gets everyone into the mood. There's some great lighting at the show. We have a DJ that DJs our happy hour at the end of the day to make that really fun. And by the way, it is free to attend. Even our happy hour has an open bar, and it's free to go to that as well. So you get some free drinks at the end of the day, loosen up network some more. One thing I also forgot to mention is we have something called "Get dotted," which is at the front entrance of our show. And what it is, is it's a color-coded system where you choose a color dot when you enter the show, and you put it on your shirt, and that represents what industry you are. So like you just said, if you're looking to meet with maybe investors or social media people or lawyers or whatever, you can track those colors down by looking at what color they are and then that's an easy way for you to break the ice and introduce yourself.Adrian McIntyre:
And one thing I would add there is, just for folks' mindset about approaching this. We are so accustomed to thinking about our customers or clients or patients or the people we're trying to acquire as buyers in our business. It's important to also think about partners, about the people who are in non-competitive roles serving the same customer, client, patient, etc. So you really need to be thinking about the vendor chain. For example, if you're a wedding photographer, you know that that same client, that couple who's going to get married, also needs a cake, and also needs a wedding planner, and also needs a venue, and also needs a florist. And so be thinking for your own specific business category: who are the other people in your vendor ecosystem? And how can you form alliances with them? Because whoever gets the first call could also be a referral partner for everyone else in that vendor chain.Zach Lezberg:
That's a really good point. Absolutely.Adrian McIntyre:
Now, a lot of people are concerned about Covid. Even though vaccination rates are up, yay. And you know, people are still being cautious. There's going to be a lot of folks with a wide variety of views about what it is to get together in person here in September of 2021. So talk to me a little bit about the Covid situation, about the precautions, about what people can expect and the range of options they might have.Zach Lezberg:
Absolutely. So we care a great deal about the safety of our attendees and exhibitors. We do follow whatever the city and state and CDC recommendations are. So we do recommend wearing a mask. In addition to that, our team is actually constantly sanitizing all of the common areas. There's signs around the show that ask people not to shake hands with each other. So we're breaking that barrier of being uncomfortable, like "Do I shake somebody's hand? Do I not shake somebody's hand?" So we ask that people not shake hands, and then also maintain a comfortable distance from each other, even when networking. All of our areas are separated a little bit more than they usually would be. But what we found in all of our shows is people are actually very comfortable. We make it a very clean, safe, fun environment for everybody. It really hasn't affected anybody. I think that people are ready to get out there and network. But we do take those safety precautions pretty seriously.Adrian McIntyre:
You know, one thing I've certainly found for myself is that the difference between online commentary, judgment, venom, and all the rest -- again, regardless of which end of the political spectrum it's coming from -- and then what it is to be with people who are there for a common purpose, because they're part of this community, and they're committed to not only their own business, but to the community as a whole ... You generally don't tend to find a lot of, you know, people are respectful. I would be wearing a mask. I would not be getting up close with people. I am personally comfortable knowing that others are going to respect that choice.Zach Lezberg:
Absolutely. Just on that note, we actually, even on our signage too, it actually says, please respect those who wish to wear a mask. Everybody has the right to choose what they feel comfortable with. And it's based on whatever those city guidelines are. Every state is different, too. So we change our guidelines as we go to each state because every state has different views of it.Adrian McIntyre:
Everyone can get details about the show and can register in advance at thesmallbusinessexpo.com. You scroll down and find Phoenix, and all the details are there. We'll also link to it from this episode. It just is interesting to me that as we find our way together out of this thing, that somebody like yourself, Zach, with a background in show business ... by the way, if I'm going to attend a conference, I want to attend one put on by somebody who comes from that background. I know that the music, the lights, the production is going to be on point, right? But there's more to it than just that, because this is not a spectator sport. I know we touched on this a little bit, but let's be really specific. How do you get the most value out of attending a show like this? In other words, in addition to making the decision, okay, I'm going to go. Registering ... again, it's free (thank you sponsors for everything that's being provided!). But what should they do mentally to prepare? How could they get the most value and give the most value to others out of showing up at this event?Zach Lezberg:
Good question. As I mentioned a little bit ago, there were a couple of attendees that made a statement that it was great to hear: there was so much to choose from, they didn't know what to go to. My advice to anybody that's planning on attending -- and I hope all of you will, it's a really great event -- is register for the show, it's free. And then you're going to get a confirmation email with our event app, which has our full agenda, the schedule for the day. You'll see who's speaking and all the different things that are going on throughout the day. And you can add those items to your personal agenda inside of the app. Take a moment to plan out your day, and include your lunch and your breaks and all that, and figure out where you're going to go throughout the day, so that you have a scheduled plan. And don't forget to leave time for the Exhibitor Hall and the speed networking and all that, so that you have a day planned out. I would also bring a notepad, take notes in these different workshops, and be prepared to exchange information in the app. You can actually scan people's badges, which saves all their contact information. So we've made it contactless so you don't actually have to touch business cards anymore. And you'll be able to scan the barcode on each person's badge to be able to follow up with them afterwards. And that's what I would do. A lot of people think that it's magic. You just show up and boom, your business is going to be ready to go. You've got to take those steps, you've got to hustle, you've got to follow up with the contacts that you made, take the knowledge that you've learned and execute on that, and basically participate in the show. Don't just be an observer, actually hustle and participate.Adrian McIntyre:
The Small Business Expo is happening in Phoenix on September 21, 10am to 5pm at the Phoenix Convention Center. There is a full agenda, and then some, of events, workshops, keynotes, and just the opportunity to interact with people not only in your own industry, but in your own community. Zach Lezberg is the CEO and producer of Small Business Expo. Thanks so much, Zach, for creating this event and for the passion that you bring to small business.Zach Lezberg:
Thank you so much, and thank you for what you do as well.