I am thrilled by the overwhelmingly positive response that we have received from attendees of FWD, our upgraded summit designed for entrepreneurs, founders, and creators that was recently held in Charlotte, North Carolina. Meeting the needs of an array of business owners cannot be a one-size-fits-all proposition, so we built upon our Entrepreneurs Summit’s 23-year tradition to design a brand new experience for more than 1,200 entrepreneurs to achieve peak performance.
We developed three distinct tracks for those seeking to launch startups, grow established firms, or innovate their operations through digital technology. Our event was also chock-full of speakers to offer guidance, from high-profile business innovators to BE 100s CEOs. We’re also proud of providing a platform to build networks, share ideas, and forge partnerships.
I gained the opportunity to connect with an array of entrepreneurs—both informally and formally—through my “Ask Butch” session in which I fielded questions on a range of business topics. During FWD and other such events, I have been struck, however, by the fact that too many African American business owners have been sabotaging their efforts. In fact, it is critical for many of our firms to go back to business basics to gain the proper footing. Here are a few action items:
Develop a strategic plan. It may sound rudimentary but I still find an alarmingly high number of entrepreneurs that cannot clearly articulate nor have created a detailed plan to achieve their business objectives. It is critical to understand your industry and its key performance indicators.
Gain certification. You will not be able to get out of the starting blocks to pursue corporate contracts if you don’t have a minority business enterprise (MBE) certification. For example, owners of African American-owned businesses are unable to access specific services offered by the National Minority Supplier Development Council (NMSDC) without that confirmation of minority ownership status. Moreover, keep in mind that there are a number of government-based and industry-specific certification programs. The paperwork and process may be laborious but lack of such engagement most assuredly will keep you on the sidelines.
Don’t fall in love with your idea. I have heard countless pitches over the years from culinary entrepreneurs who have mined the family recipe book and have produced the ultimate barbecue sauce. My response: The last thing a retail chain needs is another such condiment and as such, the likelihood of gaining the attention of buyers in that oversaturated market is zilch. It’s fine to be passionate about your idea but I routinely stress that entrepreneurs must learn to pivot given their organization’s skill sets and identification of prospective customer needs.
Don’t network, build relationships. I am a strong proponent in using our events to build your business network. However, the intention is not to have a series of one-sided, drive-by conversations. You want to build a lasting relationship based on trust and mutual benefit—and that requires time and the understanding that partnership possibilities may be years in the making or may not come. By effectively connecting with other entrepreneurs and corporate executives, you can tap into a larger pool of contracts that may offer synergistic possibilities.