Now more than ever, small businesses need able advisors to help them discover competitive advantages and address the current economic and social challenges. Peeling back the layers of that expertise, the most successful advisors offer strategic growth and operational efficiencies that inspire confidence and empower clients to act.
BLACK ENTERPRISE caught up with Bola Audena of MBA Growth Partners to discuss why supporting Black and minority-owned small businesses matters, especially during our current reality.
BLACK ENTERPRISE: Tell us a bit about your business and why you started it.
Audena: I am the CEO and Managing Partner of MBA Growth Partners, a business advisory and management consultancy for small to mid-sized businesses. We provide go-to market strategies, strategic planning, and operational efficiency services to firms, with a focus on women and minority-owned organizations. Prior to starting my own enterprise, I spent close to 20 years working in the corporate sector for other organizations (inclusive of consulting firms). I finally realized my time, talent, and energy are best spent working to support businesses within our communities.
When my family and I spent a year “buying Black,” we realized that while there is a great deal of entrepreneurship taking place in our communities, most businesses are not enjoying large scale success. Many of our businesses employ less than five people, and that’s largely because we’re not taking advantage of the systems and organizational efficiencies needed to scale generally and at faster rates. Hence the reason my husband and I decided to merge our skill-sets to start MBA Growth Partners. He provides the legal advisory services, and I bring the business acumen. We also want to provide a platform for other consultants looking to offer client services under our umbrella organization. In this way we can help new firms hit the ground running without worrying about the overhead.
Is there an appreciable difference between branding and marketing and why do small businesses need to get these distinctions right?
Brand is the total sum of all your business assets. Your brand is what you are known for in the marketplace. It’s what people think about when they think about your business and the product or services it offers. Your brand represents the feelings evoked in your customers and the goodwill that makes them want to do business with you (or not). It essentially speaks to the value proposition that your business brings to the marketplace. It takes a long time to build your brand, but unfortunately, it can be destroyed quickly and easily. As such, it is important to take the time to be intentional about your branding, its evolution, and how it is perceived and received in the marketplace. Branding is critical to your entrepreneurial success because it is an invaluable asset you are building over time.
Marketing, on the other hand, is the effort you undertake to inform your target customers about your products and services and why your potential customers need them. Marketing contributes to the development and sustainment of your brand. Each message conveyed about your product or services serves as brush strokes in the overall picture you are painting. Your marketing efforts serve the specific purpose of creating awareness about the reasons customers should buy your products, services, and engage your company as a whole.
What has been your biggest challenge in business and how did you overcome it?
Business, much like life, can be challenging. But also, much like life, it’s a journey and some days will be better than others. The goal is to have more good days than bad, and to make improvements on your craft over time.
One of my biggest challenges was finding out how much time it can take to convert credible leads into paying clients. Just because someone has a need, budget, and thinks you are great for the job, does not mean you will get the job. The amount of time it takes from the initial engagement, to putting someone on contract and starting the engagement, can be protracted and circuitous. That said, it is important to develop a daily practice of filling your pipeline with leads and potential clients. You may not know how long it will take to convert prospects to clients when you are first starting out, but you should create a budget and forecast your plans anyway. Then, continue to do the basics of networking and business development to market your services. With consistency and faith, results are sure to come.
What are you most proud of in your business?
Ultimately, the pursuit of job creation, wealth, and independence for the Black community. It is immensely important that we contribute our time, talents, and passion to the progress of our community. Our collective minds and talents are uniquely positioned to address the issues of our community. Now more than ever, it’s important that we start, run, and scale Black enterprises. Our consulting firm is fortunate in that we get to work with Black and minority-owned businesses, with the aim of contributing to their viability and growth.
We also take great pride in showing our children the process of being part of the solution by building something from the ground up. The pride is multiplied when they get to watch us add value to other businesses. It reminds us that the work we do matters.
How has COVID-19 impacted the structure or function of your business?
One of the key lessons we’ve learned from COVID-19 is the importance of building relationships and growing one’s network to advance business and personal goals. As humans, we’re built for change and growth, and it’s natural to want to support our own. It becomes a lot easier to accomplish our goals when we have support and can leverage the collective wisdom of our network. Your network is an asset. Do not be afraid to reach out to them for support, especially during difficult times like this. We are stronger together.
What’s your best advice to Black women entrepreneurs who are concerned with developing a sustainable, successful enterprise?
Get started. The sooner you get started—whatever starting means to you—the sooner you begin creating, refining, and scaling your business. It’s all about trial and error, which happens when we approach business as a practical matter. Just as you cannot theorize your way into swimming or riding a bike, you cannot theorize your way into running a successful business. You’ve just got to get started, expecting to fall and get bruised along the way, while harnessing the energy to keep going.
Remember that with everything else you’ve ever started and subsequently “mastered,” it took courage and commitment. Business is no different. Begin with the basics of structuring your business, learn how to responsibly manage your finances and business operations, then incorporate processes and systems to scale your business.