Competing in Business as an Underrepresented Entrepreneur

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From time to time, I post guest-written blogs that are pertinent to my consulting areas of diversity and career development.  Within diversity, as a certified LGBT-Business Enterprise via the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce, I am very interested in diversity within the small business realm, and want to promote larger companies doing business with diverse suppliers.

This blog has been contributed by Marissa Perez, co-founder and head marketing writer at Business Pop. She has spent the last 10 years honing her marketing skills, and now she wants to share her knowledge with those who have decided to take on entrepreneurship.

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Entrepreneurship is on the rise among underrepresented groups. There are more minority-, women-, and LGBT-owned businesses today than ever before, including women of color and non-white LGBT business owners. Diversity in entrepreneurship is a trend that thankfully shows no signs of slowing. However, the reasons for turning to entrepreneurship aren’t always positive.

Despite increased emphasis on diversity and inclusion, minority, female, and LGBT employees still face bias when it comes to hiring and career advancement. One recent study found that not only do managers tend to hire employees ethnically similar to themselves, but peers are also more likely to recognize the contributions of white men over women and people of color. Meanwhile, LGBT employees continue to face high rates of workplace discrimination with no legal recourse in 29 states. With these barriers, it’s no surprise that so many underrepresented groups are turning to entrepreneurship. Unlike employees, entrepreneurs are in charge of their own career advancement — an enticing prospect for people accustomed to glass ceilings. However, small business ownership isn’t without challenges of its own.

Not only do underrepresented groups have a harder time getting funding, but they also have less access to business networks and skill development. This makes it harder to gain footing in a business landscape where entrepreneurs are competing against everyone from the small business owner next door to major players like Amazon.

While there’s no easy solution to the challenges faced by minority, women, and LGBT business owners, there are a few things entrepreneurs can do to build a business that competes in today’s marketplace. This article will explore a few of them.

Don’t Rush Through Business Planning

The smartest thing entrepreneurs can do is develop a solid business plan. The planning phase is an opportunity to flesh out ideas, test prototypes, and ensure an idea is financially viable.

The planning stage is also when new entrepreneurs should learn as much as possible about running a business. Small business associations are a great place to learn about fundamentals like financing and hiring, but independent research may be necessary for industry-specific information. Luckily, there’s no shortage of info available online. E-commerce businesses, for example, can look to online wikis to learn about topics like warehousing and fulfillment, while entrepreneurs in other fields can search for resources from industry organizations.

Invest in the Customer Experience

The customer experience is one of the most important factors for today’s consumers. It’s also the biggest way that small businesses can stand out from major enterprises like Amazon and Target. While staff are an important part of the customer experience, entrepreneurs shouldn’t put customer satisfaction solely in the hands of employees.

Not only is labor expensive, but employees can’t do their jobs effectively without the right tools. That’s why it’s so important for new business owners to invest in software and technology that allows them to manage sales, inventory, email marketing, and other aspects of the customer experience. While there are a lot of software options out there, many small businesses find that a full-featured point of sale system offers the tools they need in a cost-effective package.

Build an Authentic Brand

Great customer experience is a key element of a strong brand, but it’s not enough to make a business memorable. That’s where branding comes in. A brand shows your customers who you are and what you stand for, and it’s one of the best tools that underrepresented business owners currently have at their disposal.

While minority status can be a hindrance in the corporate sector, it’s a point of leverage in the small business sphere. By highlighting their company’s commitment to diversity and inclusion, business owners cane some entrepreneurs worry about alienating consumers, research shows that authenticity is appealing to the 72 percent of Americans who prefer to support brands that reflect their values. While the key to cultivating customer trust and loyalty.

Starting a small business is never easy, and women, minority, and LGBT business owners face more challenges when entering the entrepreneurial space. However, as the growing numbers of underrepresented business owners demonstrate, these challenges may be big, but they’re not insurmountable. By connecting with supportive organizations and taking these steps to build a strong business, entrepreneurs from all backgrounds can succeed in small business ownership.

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Please do check out my related two part series on the under-representation of minorties in senior business roles.

Part 1 – Huge Gaps in Diversity in Business Leadership – A Systemic Issue Needing a Systemic Approach

Part 2 – Five Tactics to Address the Systemic Issue of the Lack of Diverse Business Leaders

Stan Kimer is a diversity consultant and trainer who handles all areas of workplace diversity and with a deep expertise in LGBT diversity strategy and training and with a unique program for long term career development.  Please explore the rest of my website and never hesitate to contact me to discuss diversity training or career development for your organization, or pass my name onto your HR department.  [email protected]

10 Success Principles from Barbara Corcoran, Real Estate Mogul and Entrepreneur Extraordinaire

It is amazing the things you can uncover when cleaning out piles of papers from over the years. While doing some New Year’s cleaning, I found some notes from the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce’s 2012 Business and Leadership Conference keynote delivered by super successful real estate mogul and entrepreneur Barbara Corcoran. I found that these 7 year old notes I took are still fresh and pertinent.

Someone who built a multi-billion dollar business starting from the ground up with nothing (no old family money, no super wealthy backers) but grit and her own business savvy is certainly worth listening to. Here are Barbara’s 10 principles to succeed:
1. Be great at failure, since success most often comes after trying and failing multiple times.
2. Perceptions creates reality – so don’t stray away from going after publicity.
3. Everybody wants what everybody wants – very important for marketing a product or service.
4. Expand before you are ready.
5. Shoot the dogs early. If something is not working, don’t drag it out. Stop!
6. There are basically two types of people – expanders and containers. Recruit skills that are opposite of yours since both are important.
7. Recognition often motivates people better than money. Be generous with your praise and recognition.
8. Fun is good for business. Creating fun in your business helps drive loyalty.
9. During bad times, stay positive and remember the best is ahead.
10. You have the right to be here. This was a particularly important message for LGBT and other minority owned businesses. We all have something to offer.

Yes – hearing from the super successful is certainly one of the best ways to learn skills and principles that can help each of us succeed. And every year, the National LGBT Chamber continues to offer their annual excellent conference with outstanding keynotes, workshops and networking.

NOTE: Consider attending this year’s NGLCC International Business and Leadership Conference in Tampa August 13 – 16th!

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Blog author Stan Kimer founded his own successful innovative diversity and career development consultancy in 2010 after a 31-year career at IBM. Check out my website and offerings … and / or subscribe to my monthly newsletter.