Kathey Porter (@50_bdb) is an expert on small business development, supplier diversity and entrepreneurship. She’s the Director of Small Business and Vendor Diversity Relations with the University of Florida and has been an adjunct instructor for 12 years. She recently launched BusinessFAB (Fearless. Awesome. Boss), which advises women entrepreneurs on opportunities with corporations, government and higher education. She is the co-author of 50 Billion Dollar Boss: African American Women Sharing Stories of Success in Entrepreneurship and Leadership. Visit http://www.50bdb.com for in-depth tips, advice information.
SmallBizLady: Why are women, specifically African-American women, choosing the entrepreneurial route more than ever?
Kathey Porter: There are many reasons that drive a person to start a business. However, for women, many surveys suggest financial gain is included but not the driving factor. Some of the top reasons include:
- Opportunity to be their own boss
- Greater control of their own destinies
- Desire to pursue their passions
- Financial gain
- Desire for work/life balance
- Flexibility to spend more time with family and children
SmallBizLady: Women are starting businesses in record numbers, yet struggle to scale their businesses beyond the $1 million point? Why?
Kathey Porter: Looking at the phenomenal growth, there is no doubt of their motivation. Yet, they remain challenged by the lack of resources available to them. Further, they are often challenged with asking for funding or assistance and they do not always have access to the appropriate circles where a lot of these transactions occur.
SmallBizLady: What should women think about when trying to transition an idea into an actual business?
Kathey Porter: This may vary for everyone, but a few things to think about are:
- Let inspiration find you
- Find your mission
- Have patience and perseverance
- Trust your instincts
SmallBizLady: How can one turn their passion or hobby into a viable business?
Kathey Porter: Everyone wants to be an overnight success, but those are few and far in between. “Slow and steady” is a much more realistic strategy. Remember, most Fortune 500 companies started out as a small business. To brand your passion and understand your unique value proposition, you should:
- Understand there are riches in the niches. Big companies focus on the biggest bang for the buck. There is a growing market for products and services that are personalized and intimate
- Seek out defining moments that make sense for the brand and your target audience
- Become the “champion” for your brand
- Effectively communicate and stress your point of differentiation and why you do it better than on one else!
SmallBizLady: There’s been a lot of talk about the importance of a mentor. How can women attract the right mentors to help their business?
Kathey Porter: There’s been a dearth of women entrepreneurs that one could closely align with and develop that type of relationship. Fortunately, that’s changing. For women trying to find mentors, they should:
- Think outside the “ideal” mentor box
- Have several mentors
- Realize every relationship has potential
- Create a reputation worthy of mentorship
SmallBizLady: How important are strategic partnerships for a small business?
Kathey Porter: Strategic partnerships should add value and be mutually beneficial. Just because you are a small business, you should not think that you cannot add value to a large organization. In order to seek and forge strategic partnerships, you should
- Choose partnerships that create value
- Study the industry . . . yours and your potential partner’s
- Leverage partnerships to expand your reach and lower costs
- Use your network. See who is looking for expertise and position yourself to provide that service
SmallBizLady: There seems to be more networking events for women in business, yet, people still struggle. How can they leverage networking relationships?
Kathey Porter: Managing and cultivating relationships can be challenging. To create a network to help grow your net worth, you should:
- Strive to build relationships that are more than just transactional
- Stay engaged and in touch with your network
- Understand that every kick can be a boost
- Be consistent and deliberate when using social media
- Be more interested than interesting
- Pay attention to industry trends, and know what is now but focus on what is next
SmallBizLady: As funding is a challenge for everyone, how can women find the best solutions to fund their business?
Kathey Porter: I get asked this all the time. There is no doubt that money is needed in order for a business to start, grown, thrive and succeed. I don’t think there is a one-size fits all strategy that works with funding a business. However, there are many ways in which someone can get ENOUGH funding to finance their dream venture:
- Create a plan outlining your long-term goals and objectives to determine the right financing option
- Focus on maximizing sales rather than incurring debt
- Consider alternative funding options
- Consider collaboration or partnership to achieve goals (a percentage of something is better than 100% of nothing)
- Do not be afraid or intimidated to attract and pursue big investors. Sometimes a small business specializing in specific area is just what they are looking for
SmallBizLady: What should established women-owned businesses think about when they are looking to scale and grow their businesses?
Kathey Porter: First, understand that growing a business is a process and will not happen overnight. If they have maximized their present state and are ready to take their business to the next phase, they should:
- Ask for help (sounds simple, but no one likes to feel needy)
- Step out of their comfort zone (probably one of the hardest things to do)
- Take advantage of unexpected events and leverage that 3-min pitch
- Seek and leverage media exposure; social media puts this in your hands
- Remember, all opportunities are not good opportunities for you
SmallBizLady: Where should one look if they are thinking about starting a business but not quite sure what they want to do?
Kathey Porter: Think about non-traditional and “out of the norm” opportunities for women such as construction or construction related trades. Also, consider growth industries such as technology or even opportunities for corporate intrapreneurship if you are not quite ready to make the leap into owning a business full-time. Not all industries are “sexy” but a business that is making money is very SEXY!
SmallBizLady: There are many agencies that specifically support the growth and sustainability of minority and women-owned businesses. How can women leverage being a woman-owned business?
Kathey Porter: No matter the industry or type of business you are looking to start, the decision to take the plunge to start a business can be a tough yet exhilarating decision. However, in today’s economic climate, there is no reason to go at it alone or start from ground zero. There is an array of government agencies, private entities, and nonprofit organizations trying to bridge social and financial gaps with help directed specifically at minority women entrepreneurs. Finding that resource help often takes diligence and creativity—qualities that successful business owners tend to have. The services offered are varied, and are more than sufficient to help get you on your entrepreneurial way or accelerate the growth of your business.
- Small Business Administration
- Service Corp of Retired Executives
- Small Business Development Centers
- National Women’s Business Council
- Minority Business Development Agency
- Women’s Business Centers
- Certifying agencies – NMSDC, WBENC, etc.
- Supplier Diversity/MWBE (Minority/Women-Owned Business Enterprise) Programs—corporate, higher education, and so forth
SmallBizLady: Why is it also important to support women entrepreneurs?
Kathey Porter: The success of women entrepreneurs is one of the likeliest ways to increase the investment in and the success of other women in business as tend to understand the challenges women face and are more empathetic towards investing in other women.
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