Full SpeedAhead

Black businesses keep an edge on the competition by leveraging partnerships and tackling technology.

would most likely affect less than 1% of its membership, and minority enterprises would be assessed and qualified on a case-by-case basis.

Minority organizations are divided about whether the rule would be good or bad for minority businesses. The debate wages over to what degree minority business owners are in control of their firms if they don’t retain majority ownership and the impact on the majority of NMSDC minority firms that won’t be able to attract equity capital.

“We believe the 51% should stay in place even though we understand what the NMSDC is doing to try to attract capital. But only a few [larger] firms will benefit and I feel many smaller firms could get hurt by it,” says John F. Robinson, president and CEO of the National Minority Business Council (NMBC) in New York.

Information technology and e-commerce will be one of the most challenging issues facing small black businesses. To survive, they’ll need to use technology more efficiently and as an integral part of their competitive business strategy. Also, the Internet represents a vast territory of unlimited potential to market,
promote and buy and sell products and services (see “Working the Web,” August 1999).

“E-commerce is a whole new way of doing business that has become the hottest sales and distribution channel in decades,” says Creighton W. Lee, marketing executive, black-owned businesses at IBM Americas in White Plains, New York. “It brings a tremendous opportunity to grow your business to compete by transforming critical business systems to customers, distributors, suppliers and employees through Internet-based systems. Black business owners are moving just as aggressively and quickly as any small business owner toward e-commerce because they’re aware that to grow, they need e-commerce technology.”

According to the Office of Advocacy of the Small Business Administration, large and small businesses are capitalizing on electronic commerce and the market demand for it. From 1996 to 1998, the percentage of small businesses with access to the Internet doubled from 21.5% to 41.2%. And in 1997, small businesses earned an estimated $3.5 billion in e-commerce sales, with future projections ranging from $25 billion to $300 billion and more. Moreover, it’s estimated that by next year, nearly one-third of all business-to-business transactions will be performed through e-commerce.

However, barriers to e-commerce include start-up costs, security of data and skilled personnel to maintain a site. But Lee says the benefits of e-commerce are worth the investment because it allows small business owners to reach new markets globally, creates customer and brand loyalty and allows collaboration with manufacturers to grow revenues and market share.

But Martha V. Daniel, president and CEO of Information Management Resources Inc. in Costa Mesa, California, which provides information technology consulting, says e-commerce isn’t for everyone.

“A lot of people go out and decide to put tons of money in a Website without putting any thought behind it,” says Daniel. “It’s like printing 5,000 brochures, randomly distributing them and wondering why you don’t have any business.”

Daniel says the first step is initiating communication on the Internet, then

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