I was invited to do a presentation on marketing strategy to a group of African-American entrepreneurs last month. As customary, each person was asked to stand and introduce themselves and describe their business. As they did so, I was struck by their stories:
There was a pastor who was in the process of buying a building that would house the daycare he owned and provide incubator space (under his management) for other small businesses. One of the businesses to be in the incubator was a sales office for a supplement company of which he was a distributor. The next person was a woman who was creating natural hair care products who also sold alkaline water. The third person was an independent salesman for an insurance entity who also bought, renovated and sold homes. He did the renovations himself because he was also a carpenter.
There were 60 entrepreneurs and small business owners in the room and nearly 80% of them were trying to manage multiple enterprises. Now, that’s very industrious. However, as a marketing consultant I had to ask them two fundamental questions: “Are any of your ventures successful?” (meaning, are they turning a profit?) and “Why are you trying to do so many things?”
The answers varied but most weren’t as successful as they wanted. If they were turning a profit, it was small or in only one of their ventures. While they truly wanted to make money, they also had a deep desire to help their communities by providing services and products that uplift, educate, and heal. I got it. I understand. There are so many holes of need and opportunity in our communities that those with heart, knowledge, and skill want to fill them all.
We know there is a need for quality housing. So, if we have any skills or know-how, we feel we must physically renovate homes. There are tremendous health needs in our communities. So, if we find a product or service that we believe can aid in healthy living, we want to provide that as well. And because we believe we are supermen and women, we try to do it all – at once.
I found (and what generally is the case) that many had lost focus on the fundamentals of business planning and marketing. Their time, talent and treasure were stretched too thin. That is a formula for failure in any business.
Enterprises are truly needed in our community but they must be successful. Without focus, entrepreneurs and small business owners become tired and frustrated and soon abandon, if not one, but all their businesses. Along the way they have wasted thousands of dollars and leave the community with empty store fronts, loss of services, unemployment, and even worse for residents, disillusionment. And even if they don’t abandon the businesses, they never reach their full potential.
I’m all for people getting their work on, but at some point, you’ve got to ask yourself, “Why I am doing all these things if I am not profitable?” “What is my true focus?” I’m not saying that we can’t have multiple businesses, but they should be on a solid foundation.
Some of us are very talented people. Ideas flow like rivers. I’ve had great ideas, too. But I also know where my true strength lies and I realized a while back that I must work that strength and make it successful –not just for me but also my community.