Selling: Key for Start-ups

Bryan Freeman, founder of SnackWorks, was the keynote speaker to the Entrepreneurship Academy here at the Delta Epsilon Chi conference I am attending this week with my students. One of his main points was how important it is for entrepreneurs to know how to sell. No other activity is more important for a start-up than getting customers to buy the product or service and get cash flow coming in the door. And yet, many entrepreneurs are not prepared to sell.
The selling process for any start-up entrepreneur is a relatively simple process, according to Freeman, if executed properly:
Make the call! Get over your fears and start calling on potential customers.
Start-up entrepreneurs hesitate to get out and mix it up with their customers. It may be due to fear of rejection, uncertainty about their product, or inexperience with selling. Selling is a skill that can be improved and honed over time.
Develop your elevator story. Be able to tell what you do in three sentences or less.
The attention span and patience of any potential customer is going to be very short. Develop a clear, concise message of who you are and what you offer.
– Explain the benefit, not just the features.
For example, a feature is that your product tastes better. The benefit is that it will increase your customers’ sales by 20% with an increase in margins on their sales of 10%. Customers will come to your business if you offer clear benefits to them, not just nifty features. They will need to be motivated, so make it easy and make it logical for them to choose you.
– Validate these benefits.
Be able to offer specific examples of how your product or service helped other customers. Testimonials and references do help. Getting the first customer can be the hardest, but it becomes the most important because it begins to build your legitimacy.
Ask for a relationship. Set up the next contact as you finish up this contact.
You have to manage the relationship with your customer. “if you build it they will come” is a lie when it comes to entrepreneurs.
Bryan founded SnackWorks after leaving school in 1998. He recently sold the company for about $20 million. He must really know how to sell!

Entrepreneurial Showcase: Conexion Americas

Conexion Americas provides financial, entrepreneurial and small business education and assistance to the Hispanic community in Nashville, TN. One of the founders of this non-profit entrepreneurial venture is Jose Gonzalez, a graduate of Belmont University’s Massey School MBA program. The specific services they provide to the Nashville Hispanic community include:
– Financial literacy education
– A homeownership program
– Taxpayer education and assistance
– Small business education, networking opportunities and peer interaction
Jose worked on the planning for Conexion Americas while in his MBA program. The idea evolved over time and he says that the final outcome looks nothing like the original idea, he credits being part of the MBA program as being a major catalyst in getting Conexion Americas started.
“Part of the reason why I decided to go to business school was so that I could reevaluate my career path. When I was going through my MBA program at the Massey School, I determined that I wanted to find something where I had a distinct competitive advantage but that I also felt passionate about. After many months of conversations and evaluation of various ideas, I was lucky enough to find two partners that shared vision, values and had tremendous energy. We pent a couple of months putting together a business plan and decided to launch the organization.”
Conexion Americas builds upon the experience and history of the Hispanic Family Resource Center (HFRC), a nonprofit organization founded in 1995 to provide information and referral services in Spanish and help Hispanic families and individuals connect with needed resources.
In 2002, the HFRC Board of Directors faced the challenge to respond in a comprehensive way to the needs of the growing Hispanic immigrant population of Middle Tennessee. They wanted to broaden the scope of the organization and have greater impact in the community. However, the organization had limited capacity to respond to this challenge.
Simultaneously, Jose and his partners were developing a business plan for a new Latino organization that would work to assist the Hispanic communities of Middle Tennessee to improve their living conditions. After learning about the HFRC Board’s desire, Jose and his partners approached the existing organization and proposed to combine efforts: The HFRC would provide the infrastructure and seven-year history; the new group would provide a new vision, new leadership and capacity for implementation.
In April of 2002 the HFRC Board embraced this opportunity and a renewed organization was born: Conexion Americas. Since then, the original information and referral service of the HFRC has evolved into the Spanish Help Line for Middle Tennessee in collaboration with the Crisis Intervention Center. New programs in the areas of social, economic and civic integration have been developed and launched.
Funding for the venture came from various sources. The ‘seed’ money was primarily provided by some of the larger local foundations in Middle Tennessee.
“In that sense, raising money for the venture was not much different from a for profit venture where ‘angel money’ would provide the basis for growth. We prepared a business plan, went around the city, pitched the plan, and the ‘investors’ looked at the market opportunity, the management team and the implementation plan and they believed and provided initial support.”
The biggest challenges have been the continued search for financial support to sustain the programs they have launched. One of the biggest surprises is the support and overall positive attitude and image that main stream Tennessee has of the immigrant community.
“This community is recognized as hard working, family oriented and making strong contributions to the society and economy of Tennessee. Unfortunately however, there is an anti-immigrant ‘vocal minority.’ We spend more time than we would like, educating, responding and working against the anti-immigrant movement than we would like or anticipated.”
Jose sees a bright future for the social entrepreneurial venture he helped to found.
“We’re still a young organization. We’re consolidating many of the programs we’ve launched over the last three years. I’d like to see Conexion evolve in its resources, both human and financial, to be able to get to a point where I feel comfortable saying that this organization is here to stay and will be here 20 years from now.”

10% of Small Business Planning to use Blogs

Small Business Trends has a post on a study that finds that 10% of small businesses plan to use blogs as part of their marketing efforts.
An example of this can be seen with one of my soon to be graduated students who runs the A Thought Over Coffee. Jason is trying to build a buzz the new coffee shop he plans to open in Bozeman, MT.
My one caution is to be aware of noise. As more web sites and blogs pop up it gets harder to get attention and drive folks to your sites. This needs to be an active process. These are not passive media. You need to find ways to get people to these sites and give them reasons to return. Also, it takes time to build interest in a blog. Patience and persistence are key to giving it a chance to work for you business.

Regulatory Reform for Small Manufacturers Considered

Small manufacturers will benefit from regulatory reforms being considered by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) according to congressional testimony given today by Thomas M. Sullivan, Chief Counsel for Advocacy of the U.S. Small Business Administration. Sullivan testified before the U.S. House of Representatives, Committee on Small Business, Subcommittee on Regulatory Reform and Oversight.
“For manufacturing firms employing fewer than 20 employees, the annual regulatory burden in 2000 was estimated to be $16,920 per employee nearly 2 1/2 times greater than the $7,054 estimated for firms with more than 500 employees.”
(Source: SBA Office of Advocacy)

Entrepreneurship as Economic Development in America

Entrepreneurship as a force for economic development is alive and well in America’s cities. The Institute for a Competitive Inner City (ICIC) and Inc Magazine have announced the annual Inner City 100, which includes the fastest growing businesses located in America‚Äôs inner cities.
Microenterprise, a major force in urban buy topiramate economic development, is also contributing to growth. From 2000-2002 microenterprise employment grew by 5.1% according to the Association of Enterprise Opportunity. At the state level, microenterprise employment grew in every state but Alaska.
Both of these reports are from the National Dialogue on Entrepreneurship.

TAG Named Fast50

The ACCESS Group (TAG) and its affiliate companies have been recognized as a 2005 Business Tennessee Fast50 company by Business TN Magazine. (Co-founder Charles Hagood is a Belmont Massey School MBA alumnus).
The statewide business magazine announced its annual list of companies last week. The Fast50 is a list of the fastest growing companies in the State of Tennessee as determined by the business periodical. TAG provides various engineering, project management, and consulting services to client companies all over the world, in addition to complete turn-key plant relocations services to industrial clients. TAG clients include such notable companies as GE, Cessna, TYCO, Brunswick, Volvo, and other notable companies.

Walter Williams on Free Enterprise

Here is part of the text from a speech titled “The Entrepreneur As American Hero” that columnist Walter Williams gave at Hillsdale College:
“Whenever the profit incentive is missing, the probability that people’s wants can be safely ignored is the greatest. If a poll were taken asking people which services they are most satisfied with and which they are most dissatisfied with, for-profit organizations (supermarkets, computer companies and video stores) would dominate the first list while non-profit organizations (schools, offices of motor vehicle registration) would dominate the latter. In a free economy, the pursuit of profits and serving people are one and the same. No one argues that the free enterprise system is perfect, but it’s the closest we’ll come here on Earth.”
(Thanks to my favorite octogenarian entrepreneur, R.M. Cornwall, for sending this my way).