This week the St. Pete Chamber reached out to me regarding their new member driven blog. Asking if I’d like to kick things off on this new initiative, which is part of their completely redesigned, awesome new website. My first thought was, yes, I’d love to help get this project off the ground, and maybe get a little PR for my business at the same time. About ten minutes later I was thinking, what the heck am I going to write about?
I’m writing this midway through Global Entrepreneurship Week, which is a celebration of the innovators and job creators who launch startups that bring ideas to life, drive economic growth and expand human welfare. This sparked my idea to write about being an entrepreneur, but rather than tell my personal story of how I became an entrepreneur, or go into too much detail about what we do at FOODNOW, I would rather use this forum to point out some of the things that everyone who aspires of business ownership can do to accomplish these dreams.
CHAMBER OF COMMERCE
Joining my local chamber was one of the first things I did when I started my business. Having just moved back to my hometown from several years spent away, I viewed this as the easiest way to get in contact with my local business community. Within the Chamber itself there are a wealth of opportunities available to expand your knowledge base, get you more involved within the community, and improve upon your own business. I have outlined a few which I have taken advantage of below.
When I started FOODNOW in 2011, this was called The Business Assistance Center, and it truly was some of the best assistance I’ve received to date. The Greenhouse is where I first presented my idea, and business plan to several of their unbiased volunteers & employees. Once we deemed that my idea was viable, from here The Greenhouse helped me to obtain beneficial demographic & legal information to create, and launch in the Saint Petersburg market.
Whether you are just starting a business, growing your business, transplanting your business, or in the nurturing stage of your business, The Greenhouse can help you. A great bit of advice I can give is to join their mailing list, or import their events to your calendar. Most of the classes they offer are free of charge, but the value provided within them is great.
FOCUS St. Pete
FOCUS St. Pete is a community orientation program for professionals who are eager to learn more about the community we live, and do business in. For me, this was not only informative, but also a great time. I’m born and raised in Saint Pete, but continue to learn more and more about the history, government, inner workings, and challenges facing our community today. This is a thirteen hour crash course spread out over three days, so expect a very dense schedule. In just three days I made friends, gained a few new customers, and established contacts with people I conduct business with today.
One thing in particular that I would encourage anyone interested in starting a business, or in my case had already started a business, to do is to enroll in the Entrepreneurial Academy. The Entrepreneurial Academy is a ten week course that focuses on the essentials of owning a business. My goal is to always be expanding my knowledge base, and moving forward in the most positive direction. This course was an incredible resource for learning, networking, and also having a good time every Monday evening!
Leadership St. Pete
I will begin by saying that out of everything mentioned up to this point, this is the only program I have not attended myself, but it is too good to leave unmentioned. Leadership St. Pete is a dynamic, intensive, interactive, six-month experience designed to promote and enhance community leadership through an in-depth introduction to social, economic, business and political issues in the Saint Petersburg area. The mission of Leadership St. Pete is to identify, recruit and develop leaders who represent the diversity of our community and who will assume future leadership roles within our community. I would suggest taking the steps I did, in attending FOCUS, and/or Entrepreneurial Academy before Leadership St. Pete. I will be applying in 2016, and truly cannot wait for the experience!
It wasn’t until year three of FOODNOW that I committed to hiring a professional business coach. Many people may believe that hiring a business coach is a last ditch effort to save a failing business. This was not the case for me at all, nor has it been for the majority of the other business owners I have met through group coaching events and classes. Although the role of a business coach may be difficult to define, I can almost assure you that anyone who has ever had a good coach will tell you that their role is indispensable. Our business coach is Juliet Kyes, from ActionCOACH Tampa Bay, and her role within our company has been as integral to our success as anyone on our team. Below are some of the ways in which having a professional business coach has helped me and my business.
Better Focus: As we were growing at a very fast pace, I became overwhelmed juggling so many different things at once. My coach helps me to see the big picture, and then focus on the specific areas that need my immediate attention.
Goal Setting: Business was booming, but we became accustomed to simply keep it going, rather than setting and achieving specific goals.
Accountability: This is probably the best, and most needed benefit for me personally. As the head of a company, we hold plenty of others accountable, but not having someone to hold us accountable can be a problem.
Personal Development: A totally separate blog post could be made on the personal lives (or lack thereof) of entrepreneurs. Most of the entrepreneurs I know are so consumed with their business, that there is little time for anything else. My coach is committed to helping not just grow my business, but also help me develop as an individual.
Experience: A great asset of a successful business coach, or coaching firm, is the experience they have working with businesses, and business owners of all kinds. Having seen most things before, they can save you the expenses and headaches of turning down a wrong path.
Increased Profitability: My business had seen 100+ percent year over year growth for three years prior to hiring my coach, but some of the changes we have since put into place are proving to increase my numbers where they really count, the profits!
Financial Planning: I have always been more focused on the service side of my business. I’ve always put the customer first, and will do whatever it takes to deliver a good product, and create a happy community of loyal customers. My coach has helped me to get a better grasp on the numbers, which was my weakest point.
There are a number of great networking groups that take place here in Tampa Bay, with everything from industry specific, to demographic focused groups. It can seem a bit overwhelming with so many options, many seeming so similar, but finding the right group(s) can be a huge benefit to your business. When I began attending networking events, it seemed quite monotonous. Walking around, exchanging business cards, then going back to the office and looking at my new stack of business cards. Over the years I have become a better networker, still not great, but much better than I was. Below are some of the tips I’ve picked up over the years, which you can use as well.
Plan: Like most things in business, planning is key. Although some of these events have free food and drinks, that shouldn’t be the main reason you are there. Write down your goals of the event beforehand, so that you can remain focused once you are there.
Help Others: Walking into the room with the mindset of helping others, will help you land some quality, lasting contacts. Understand what you are able to provide, and then relay that message to those who you meet.
Follow Through: So you’ve got the stack of business cards, which will most likely remain just a stack of business cards. If you’ve connected with someone you feel will be potentially beneficial to yourself, and your business, reach out to them to let them know you are interested in what they have to offer.
A mentor is a person with more experience in business, or life in general, who can help you as an entrepreneur. A mentor to me is similar to a professional business coach, but on a more personal level, and unpaid. A mentor can assist in a range of scenarios, providing advice on business strategy, helping to connect you through networking, or acting as a confidant when your work-life balance gets crazy. Below are a few places to begin your search for a mentor.
Family & Friends: Start close to home, you never know what you’ll find. Simply having someone to bounce things off of is important, and there are people around you who will be happy to hear what you have to say. I would caution to make sure this mentor remains honest, and not simply supportive of every idea you have. You are looking for honesty here, not compassion.
Extended Network: If there is someone you have in mind outside of your network, as for an introduction. Taking someone out to lunch, or for a coffee can begin the process of establishing a mentorship.
Government Sponsored: There are many options listed on the SBA website for mentorship programs. One I have worked with locally in the past is SCORE. SCORE provides free and confidential consoling, mentoring, and advice to small business owners nationwide.
Warren Buffett says, “I just sit in my office and read all day.” He estimates that he spends 80 percent of his working day reading and thinking. When I first learned this, I couldn’t believe it, but the more and more successful people I interact with, the more this has become a reality. It is like compounding interest, in that the more you read, the more knowledge you gain, which can never be taken away. I have found that the best way for myself to consume the knowledge held within books is by listening to them. I’m on the road often, so my audible.com account is indispensable. Forgoing the radio even on quick trips around town can add up to a great deal of knowledge gained, with no real effort expensed. Below are a couple of my favorite business books.
The Art of War by Sun Tzu
Good to Great by Jim Collins
Scaling Up by Verne Harnish
The Monk and the Riddle by Randy Komisar
Eat That Frog! by Brian Tracy