Entrepreneurship 101: It Takes a Village to Start a Business
Most small business entrepreneurs can thrive just by tapping into the many easily accessible resources in their community.
In 2014, I started my business teaching financial wellness to people with little to no income.
Creating my business from the ground up
I launched the enterprise in Oberlin, Ohio. It’s a small college town, and one of my first moves was to start rallying my “dream team” of coaches and allies. I searched from my city’s economic development office, to the local Small Business Development Center, to the entrepreneur business department at our local community college.
I had started numerous businesses earlier using only internet-based resources.
This time, I found that reaching out to people and organizations in my area was more helpful.
The first person I met with was Cullen Naumoff, who is the director of sustainable employment (DSE) at The Oberlin Project. The Oberlin Project is a project to improve the resilience, prosperity, and sustainability of our community, and Cullen is a wonderful friend to have.
Getting a leg up from a friend
Cullen introduced me to the Business Model Canvas, or BMC, which is a strategic management and entrepreneurial tool. It allows you to describe, design, challenge, invent, and pivot your business model. At first, the BMC looked daunting, with its little boxes and big expectations.
I felt overwhelmed, but Cullen was happy to walk me through it and ask me questions to help me along.
At the beginning of last year, I realized that my business model had changed, and I completed a new BMC.
I sought help on that one, too, but this time with Lisa Huston, the director of the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) in our county – a non-profit organization that helps entrepreneurs in all stages of their business.
When the village helps you move your business forward
Cullen introduced me to Lisa and the SBDC, a branch of the nation-wide Small Business Association; and Lisa has not only helped me with my second BMC, but also with my accounting practices.
She even pointed me to free computer programs like Zoho that help me track my clients. And she recently sent me an Excel spreadsheet to use for projections – at no cost.
Cullen and Lisa have been incredibly helpful, but the star of my dream team is Cindy Andrews, the executive director of the Community Services Organization in Oberlin. One glance at her bio and I immediately realized that her knowledge could be helpful for me.
I needed help selling and marketing my business. She had done exactly that for 25 years as a sales director for one of the country’s leading computer companies. I scheduled a meeting with her and asked three specific questions about marketing that I had prepared in advance:
First, “What is the most effective way to get the word out about my business?” She told me to go to networking events. It’s important to socialize with people who want to grow their businesses, too.
Second, “How important is it to have a targeted audience?” Her answer – very.
You want to use your funds and time wisely, and a targeted audience is how you ensure that you do that.
And lastly, “What is the best advice you can give to me, based on your experience?” Let your passion shine through, she said.
Since then, I have used all of her advice to build a successful financial wellness coaching business. We have also continued to meet, and she has continued to support all of my efforts. Once I had my plans in place, I realized that I needed a website. I had failed miserably at creating my own. So I contacted the local college’s student service office and asked if there was a student who was interested in creating websites, and who could create one for me.
Lo and behold, I was told that they had a student who wanted to do an independent project (for college credit) in website creation. He was a delight to work with, and two months later, I had a marvelous website.
Chances are that there are smart, talented people, ready to help you in every community across this great entrepreneurial country. But those key connections can only happen if you look for them, identify their talents, and boldly go and ask for their help. I am really happy I did.