Last week, Fremont’s small business workshop series concluded with an interactive panel discussion among five successful CEOs. While their companies are distributed across various industries, they shared many common threads throughout the lively discussion, including a heartfelt desire to offer advice to new business owners.

Here are some key takeaways from the discussion:

Many of the CEOs started small — in their garage with a few dollars, some equipment, and an idea. They struggled to engage the next customer or secure funding, but through determination and persistence they quickly outgrew the garage. Benjie Craig, CEO of Jemby Electric, shared how he had worked in the industry for many years before finally deciding to take a risk and start his own business. He was able to land a big client, and within six months he hired two employees; most importantly, he could do things the way he wanted them done.

All of the CEOs shared the importance of creating relationships and building trust with customers in growing a successful business. Nirav Shah, CEO of Velocitum Software, said that establishing strong relationships requires listening to your customers to find out what they want and need. Listen to create a loop for honest feedback — both good and bad — then take the feedback and use it for continuous improvement. Talking and listening to customers makes them happy and more willing to continue working with you.

The panelists also shared how they use creativity to find new customers and keep the business growing. Dorian Webb, moderator of the panel and CEO of Dorian Webb Lifestyle, knew that she wanted to target celebrity clients with her unique, semiprecious jewelry and Venetian glass housewares. But she had to think creatively to determine how to reach those clients. Finally, Dorian realized that she could get the celebrities to try her products by working with their stylists.

Another piece of advice covered diversifying offerings to keep your business relevant. For example, Pam Isom, CEO of ICE Safety Solutions, shared that the company saves money on employee travel costs and national outreach by offering virtual reality training.

Pivoting or repositioning a business can also be an effective means of keeping it healthy. Donna Novitsky, CEO of Yiftee, said it was important for the company to pivot from consumer-focused to merchant-focused, which not only included getting the board of directors on the same page, but also getting employees to work together to engage new customers.

The CEOs ended the session by sharing final words of wisdom. Nirav advised, “Don’t be afraid to take that first step.” Pam shared the acronym HOPE: “Happy, opportunity, profitability, excellence.” Donna quoted Winston Churchill, saying “Success is the ability to go from one failure to another without losing your enthusiasm.” Benjie said simply, “Be passionate, remember your goals, and work through the challenges.”