As you read these words, we at Black Enterprise are working enthusiastically and feverishly to finalize the details of the 2011 Black Enterprise Entrepreneurs Conference (www.blackenterprise.com/ec), to be held May 22–25 in Atlanta. This event, which each year attracts up to 2,000-plus accomplished business owners and aspiring entrepreneurs, always generates great excitement at our company. That’s because the Entrepreneurs Conference, the largest annual gathering of black businesses in the U.S., is a living embodiment of the entrepreneurial achievement that Black Enterprise has championed for more than four decades.
For me, our Entrepreneurs Conference represents a principle of business success that I have promoted and seen demonstrated throughout my lifetime as a business owner: We cannot build businesses of size, scale, and significance in the global marketplace without aggressively and effectively building and leveraging our relationships with others.
In fact, isolation is the enemy, helping to kill off hundreds of thousands of businesses each year. Especially if you are a black entrepreneur, or aspire to be one, you need to establish mutually beneficial relationships within your industry, with customers, suppliers, other business owners, bankers, lawyers, financiers, and corporate managers to grow your business. It is simple common sense that if you are in business, the more people you know, the more business you can attract and the better informed you will be to succeed as an entrepreneur. Networking often seems an overused and outdated term. But make no mistake—it’s still how business gets done.
Of course, true networking is about far more than meeting in hotel conference rooms to push business cards on each other, or even connecting on your favorite social media platform. It’s about forming authentic relationships based on a mutual desire to help each other and a genuine willingness to contribute and bring value to the table. Simply put, in order for black businesses to become full participants in the global economy, we have to be able to count on each other as vendors, customers, investors, and partners in joint ventures and strategic alliances.
A great example of this can be found in the story of Carol’s Daughter, the haircare and beauty products company founded as a mail-order and online business by Lisa Price in the ’90s. Price, who started out by experimenting with homemade fragrances and bath products in her kitchen in Brooklyn, has grown her company into a nationally recognized brand with a flagship store in Harlem and retail partnerships with the likes of Sephora, Macy’s, and Home Shopping Network. A key turning point in the success of her business: connecting with music industry executive Steve Stoute, who so believed in the potential of Price’s business that he organized an investment group, including celebrities Will Smith, Jada Pinkett Smith, and Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter, to finance expansion and a national advertising campaign. Stoute announced the deal at the 2004 Black Enterprise Entrepreneurs Conference, in an effort to inspire other black businesspeople to come together to do such deals in increasing numbers and size.
As we say at Black Enterprise, the Entrepreneurs Conference is for those who want to do business, not just talk about business. If you’re serious about entrepreneurship—and I believe you are—I look forward to seeing you in Atlanta. Let’s continue to work together to grow our businesses and make deals happen.