Years ago, a mentor told me that to be successful in business you have to be willing to simply hang out with folks. You really do!
I started making deals once I started hanging out at:
- prebid meetings
- small business conferences
- chamber meetings
… and just plain old-fashioned asking for face to face appointments and scheduling phone chats.
However, what start-up business owners are not told is to watch your expenses.
Trade dues, chamber memberships, parking and lunches can get expensive. One year I spent $10,000 in trade dues and membership directory ads.
I recently talked to a small business specialist in a federal government agency. She told me to watch out for their events, attend, and get to know them better. She said, “Clo, you need to get in their face”. But, she added that I need to be careful about the pricey registration fees and travel costs. She said, “if you make the investment, don’t dare go and come empty handed”. The truth is that most of the time, you leave these events empty handed.
Recently, another federal agency small business representative asked me to visit his office in Maryland. He added that I really needed to invest in an office space there too. I told him I would only make the investment if there was a real business opportunity available for me so that I could recoup the expenses. Making these business development investments is a risky catch-22. Be careful not to get hung out to dry!
I wish the corporate and government small business advocates would put themselves in our shoes. To make business development more affordable for start-ups, they need to:
- use live virtual chats for face to face meetings (e.g. using Skype);
- have large business sponsors pay for events so that our registration is free; and
- have large business sponsors donate toward making travel grants available to us.
I think most small business advocates are clueless about what it takes to build a business from the ground up because they have never done it. They get their pay check every two weeks and they do not really care about learning what they really need to advocate for. They can start by advocating for a way to get us where we need to be.
Nell Merlino and her Count Me In program staff were the first real small business advocates I met along the way. In 2007, Nell paid for my flight and hotel to an event in Charlotte NC. The event was sponsored by large businesses like Dell, Office Depot and Sam’s Club. It felt great to get that level of support. Small businesses need more support like this across the board – -from celebrities and large corporations!
The Count Me In program is having an Urban Rebound-North Carolina Conference and Competition for Women in December. It’s funded by a grant from the Sam’s Club Giving Program. Learn more at countmein dot org backslash URNC.
by Clovia Hamilton, President