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Managing for Success: 5 Tips from Minority Business Owners

by Liz Hester, Staples® Contributing Writer

August marks the celebration of Black Business Month, which encourages people to patronize the more than 1.9 million U.S. businesses owned by African-Americans. We’ve asked some minority business owners and those who work with them to provide advice on managing for success.

Tip #1: Don’t Freak Out!

Pamela Mitchell, founder and CEO of The Reinvention Institute, speaker and author of The 10 Laws of Career Reinvention: Essential Survival Skills for Any Economy, cautions that any business will have its ups and downs. The key to success is how you handle them.

“There will always be problems,” says Mitchell. “Business is a series of solving problems. As much as you can, don’t torture yourself.”

She recommends staying focused on your current project or problem, solving that and remembering that things always shift and evolve. This does take some mental discipline, but it will help keep you grounded and moving forward.

Tip #2: Hire the Right People

While this might seem obvious there are a few important guidelines to keep in mind.

Mary Shulenberger, CEO of Parle Enterprises Inc., a promotional advertising company in Brisbane, CA, says one of her first mistakes was employing family members, which caused problems when it didn't work out.

Now she approaches hiring by making a complete list of qualities a candidate should possess. Shulenberger isn’t afraid to demand the best, despite being a smaller company in a competitive market.

“Don’t settle,” she says. “There are qualified people out there, who might work for options or future opportunities. Be creative to get who you want.”

Mitchell suggests looking for employees who complement your skills and personality. While this requires understanding your strengths and weaknesses, it helps you make sure your company is balanced.

Tip #3: Network

Becoming a certified minority-owned business doesn't guarantee you’ll get work, says Norberto Velez, president of Customized Performance Inc. in San Jose, CA. But many companies and government agencies are looking for verified minority-owned firms to bid on projects. A good way to do that is through local minority business associations, such as the Minority Business Development Agency.

“Participate in the council,” Velez says. “You learn so much from other minority business enterprises and sharing ideas.”

Tip #4: Take Advantage of Government Programs

There are many programs offering resources for minorities ready to start or expand businesses. The Small Business Administration is an excellent resource and lists several federal programs that offer services and assistance in everything from starting a company to finding funding.

Tip #5: Be Savvy About Finding and Accessing Capital

Matt Camp, president of ICIC, a Boston-based nonprofit research and strategy organization that supports urban small business owners, offers these suggestions for those looking for capital.

  • Do your homework: “Find out what type of financing support is right for your business,” he says. “Entrepreneurs should get savvy about all their options and choose the financing model that best aligns with their business goals and capital needs.”
  • Grow your network: “A lack of access to capital largely stems from a lack of access to capital providers,” he points out. “Entrepreneurs located in underserved areas often don’t have the same network as their suburban counterparts.”
  • Practice your pitch: “We've found that many entrepreneurs lack experience speaking with investors,” Camp says. “Learn how to position your business according to what investors are looking for in an investment.”

No matter if you’re looking to start or expand your business, there are many resources available to help. Be sure to check with your local minority associations and government offices for available services.

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