My name is Barbara Oliver and I am currently the president of Enterprise Publishing, Inc. I am also the publisher of MBE Magazine. Creating a small business as a minority is not a whole lot different than for any other small business owner.
Dealing with Discrimination
There are still discriminatory practices, and for that reason it makes it very difficult for those who are people of color to be taken as experts in their fields. It makes it very difficult for them to be able to step out and do what it is that they need. However, with a publication like ours, MBE Magazine, and an organization like ours, Enterprise Publishing Inc, we connect with those organizations that are really designed to help them succeed and give them a leg up and give them credibility by promoting them to with whom companies they are looking to do business. People typically view minority businesses as small companies don’t have knowledge or expertise. It can be very frustrating and sometimes that makes those other businesses give up a little too early.
Where to Get Support
MBE Magazine is designed to give you a sense that you’re not alone and there are lots of people out here, some of them currently quite successful, that started out in the same place with the same challenges. A lot of minority businesses—not all, but many—have challenges with financing their businesses and that’s a big challenge for a lot of people, especially when starting out, but it seems to be that much harder for minority businesses and women business owners as well. People tend to doubt female business owners because they don’t have a man behind them. That is coming around. I think this is going to be the millennium of women, but it’s still not where it needs to be.
Additional Challenges in Getting Financed
There are some serious challenges. There are still stories out there where you go into the bank and you sit down with your information and they look at you and they barely look at the paperwork, and they say, “Oh, well, you’re just starting out, and we can’t do much for you,” and they send you on your way. In instances like that, you might end up finding some friends or family to help you out with their initial financing. You might go to the SBA and try to convince them to help you out with a bank. Usually it’s the banks that will say, “Okay, we have these loans that are through the SBAs,” and you go through that process. Or you go to what is called a CDFI, a community development financial institution, where they lend to the community through community dollars that will help build the community, whether it be through employees or whatever.
Other Financing Options
These are the options that you can take besides going to outside lenders, and it gets to be tough because you don’t know what you’re supposed to know. It’s supposed to be trial and error, but that’s where some of the free opportunities are for you to learn how to go through the process. A lot of CDFIs will help you. There are some banks that are very small business oriented, and they too will help you. A lot a lot of the organizations out there that are free that are going to help you though, are the Small Business Development Centers, the Minority Business Development Centers. There are also some other women’s organizations or even local chambers that offer opportunities such as classes that you can take that will give you an understanding of how you can prepare yourself to be financed.
How to Approach Marketing
Once you’ve identified who your market is going to be, then start finding ways to network in that market. So if you’re looking to do business with corporations and you have no idea where to start, you can go to their websites. There’s usually a lot of information on the websites about doing business with those companies. A lot of the organizations that we deal with have educational forums, seminars, and online help to help you understand how to market yourself to different corporations.
You could also join your local chamber. Corporations are members of those chambers for a reason. They want to meet other potential opportunities at those chambers. If you go to a local chamber, you can start there and see some of the large corporations that have local memberships and take the opportunity to talk to them and gain insight on how to do business from a local standpoint and work your way up from there.
Be Prepared for “Yes”
One of the things that you need to be doing on a constant and regular basis is making sure that you’re prepared for when that “yes” comes. You have your product and you go out and you’re talking to somebody and they ask, “This is a great product. Can you do however many units?” and you’re not prepared to provide that, then why were you out there in the first place? Your credibility then gets whacked in one second. If you’re not prepared to do a higher volume, always be looking out for a potential partner to help you. So if you do get that yes, then you can step back and say, “Oh, I think I can do this. There should be no problem.”
However, you should be running to that partner and saying, “Hey, I have an opportunity for both of us to work together and get this contract.” Even though they tell you yes, you’re not getting it right away; you still have to go through the process, but by the time you get to the point where you can come to them and say, “What’s your price point?” and all of that stuff, you’ve got your partner in hand.
Facing the Competition
There are always going to be challenges depending on who you speak with. You’re going to be challenged by the fact that there are other minority and women business owners out there who are in your same industry, so you need to know your industry. You need to know who your competitors are, and you need to know your value proposition. A lot of that comes together when you put together a capability statement. A capability statement is not a big document. It’s what you would introduce yourself with. It’s like your calling card, but it’s a little bit more specific to you. It has information about what your difference is, who might be your clients, what the product is in a specific manner. Typically, a capability statement is about one page. So you take that with you and you take that around. It’s just a matter of continuing to do your best practices and always being engaged in networking.
Everyone Is a Salesperson
The Women’s Business Enterprise National Council has their summit and salute every year in March. I just came back from the event in New Orleans and we had a great session where they were talking about how your customers are also your salespeople. You can go to your customer and say, “We’ve been doing a good job for you all these years, and we’d be very interested in doing more. Do you have any suppliers that might be able to use our product that you could introduce me to?” That way you can get your clients to be your salespeople as well.
Everybody in your organization is a salesperson no matter their title or responsibility. Every time they have to communicate with anyone outside the business, they should be in that mode that says, “This is an opportunity and I need to take advantage of it. My salesperson isn’t with me, but I should know enough to be able to get interest from the person I’m talking to if I believe that person is a good fit for us.”
Sustainability and Sacrifice
When I took over the magazine I really didn’t know much about entrepreneurship. I knew what I needed to do, but it can become really daunting when you feel like everything’s on your shoulders, which it kind of is. As a business owner, you’re responsible for your employees and their welfare, because you’re paying them and they’re doing their job and you need to be able to make sure that you continue to pay them a living wage. It becomes really difficult when you’re so bogged down in the minutia of making sure that you have money coming in on a regular basis, being able to make payroll, and all of those things.
Dealing with Challenges
There are going to be times when you can’t make payroll and there are going to be times when payroll is tough to do. That’s the biggest, most daunting thing that I’ve come across, and it is the thing that made me come really close to wanting to give up. If I can’t pay my employees, it keeps me up at night and that happens to a lot of small business owners and entrepreneurs. We talk about that at the magazine a lot, when we speak to these other entrepreneurs about how they got to where they are. They had some tough times. We talked to a couple of different folks in the magazine where one guy was at the conference, networking, and he was all dressed to the teeth and nobody would have known it, but he was staying in his car. That was the only way he could afford to be at the conference. So he made the decision that he had to be there and he had to show up, but he couldn’t afford to be in a hotel. So he lived in his car for the time he was at the conference and did what needed to be done in order to make sure that he came across, but these are the sacrifices that you make if you’re really committed.
On Not Giving Up
You can’t give up, because the moment at which you give up could be the very moment at which the tide would have turned. Don’t choose to give up because you’re under the gun; you’re not alone. When you’re at that point that’s so low that you don’t know where you’re going to turn, get up, get out of the office, and go do some networking. You would be surprised. Go network: go to your church, go to your community, and do something good for someone else. You would be surprised how much that brings perspective to what you’re doing and what you’re trying to accomplish.
There are many of words of wisdom out there I could share, but the one thing I ask everybody to do when they’re discouraged is to get up and just go do something for somebody else. It worked for me. I was having a really tough time. I got up and I went to church and I engaged with the people at church. I spoke with folks. That’s the other thing: you need to talk to somebody. Many churches have counselors, so you can just go in and sit down and pour your heart out. You will feel better, and in feeling better you will feel like you can go on and take that next step. You take it one day at a time.