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Small business owner took a leap, now helps others achieve career success

Diana Peters

Entrepreneur Diana Peters believes that success in business requires a delicate balance of embracing risk and preparing for it. “Jumping into the water without knowing how to swim and no flotation device is not a wise decision,” she said. “You need to plan how you’re going to get to the other side.”
More than a decade after starting her business, Symbol Training Institute, Peters has seen that strategy pay off. Peters, who grew up in Skokie, Ill., where Symbol is based, was working as an attorney recruiting coordinator when her father came to her with a business idea. He had been running a tool-and-die shop in Skokie since shortly after emigrating to the U.S. from Ukraine and was interested in creating a manufacturing training center. He persuaded her to join him. “At the time, I had a great career already, so it was a leap of faith when I left my job to help start Symbol,” she said.
At the outset, Peters covered administration and marketing while her father taught all the classes. Now, Symbol employs more than 15 instructors and nine staff members, while Peters runs day-to-day operations. The company also has expanded its focus and now trains people changing careers, many of whom have never set foot in manufacturing shop floors. 
“My favorite part of my job is helping individuals improve their lives, all while helping to combat the skilled labor shortage in the manufacturing industry,” Peters said. “We really get to know our students on a personal level as we run a family business, and the ability to improve someone's life is immeasurable.”
Along the way, there have been trials. Like many small businesses, Symbol faced challenges with cash flow during start up. Frugality was essential to the company’s survival. Additionally, being a woman in a male-dominated field and not having a background in manufacturing forced Peters out of her comfort zone initially. “It took a lot of courage to make those cold calls and get appointments,” she said. 
The company’s steady growth eventually forced the family to look into acquiring a larger facility. In 2012, Symbol didn’t have the cash reserves required for a traditional loan and secured assistance from the Small Business Administration. The SBA does not make direct loans to small businesses, but rather the agency sets guidelines for loans and guarantees that they will be repaid, reducing the risk to the lending partners. For Symbol, that meant securing a loan with less money down and with a longer amortization period and, eventually, moving into a building four times larger than its initial facility.
“It was a wonderful move, and we increased our capacity to train,” Peters said. “As a result, our top-line revenue has grown 300 percent since the move.”
Symbol also has added a second location in Addison, Ill., and plans to continue to expand, both in terms of location and training curriculum. Because it operates within a niche market, “any growth or expansion moves have to be closely analyzed and studied,” Peters said.
In other words, it helps to have a plan to get to the other side, even after you’ve made the big leap.

Company Name: 
Symbol Training Institute
Location: 
Skokie, Illinois