Let’s Talk, which popped up in cities like New Orleans and Detroit is an open conversation with local small business owners about the challenges and opportunities they face on a daily basis and an opportunity for existing or aspiring business owners in the area to connect.
Moderated by Square CEO Jack Dorsey, the Harlem panel included Marva Allen, the owner of Hue-Man Bookstore, Erika Dilday, executive director of the Maysles Institute, Seven Brown, owner of the Harlem Skin Clinic and Emmanuel Pena, owner of Astor Row Cafe.
Everyone on the panel provided great insight on the mistakes they made when first starting out, the differences between having a vision and a plan and how to build a team and navigate the bureaucracy of local government to get necessary resources.
However, the biggest takeaways or tips from the night that all small business owners need to think about as they go into the new year are:
1. Make time for skills training and professional development.
When the panel talked about the mistakes they’ve made, one of the recurring themes was that there was always one area that was vital to their business that they did not have expertise in. And instead of consulting with an expert in that area (if resources were available) or learning more about the issue so that they could solve it internally, they simply neglected it.
The lesson here is that it’s important to make time for skills training. Look for local workshops that you and your staff can attend in areas such as public relations, taxes and accounting, management and more. Or, set aside some time to take relevant online courses through free educational organizations like Coursera or Codecademy.
2. Talk to other business owners in your neighborhood.
When Jack asked the panel and the audience whether or not they talk to one another, I promise I almost levitated out of my chair because in most cases, the answer is NO! All too often, small business owners view each other as competition instead of prospective collaborators which makes it extremely hard to help or support them.
Because of this culture rooted in fear or the constant looking over one’s shoulder, business owners in communities like Harlem miss out on mentors, opportunities to share contacts, resources or information, possible partnerships and more. This is something that definitely needs to change.
3. Have a long term vision and strategy for how you want to grow the business.
It’s great to launch your business with a dollar and a dream but it’s important to spend some time planning for the future. Talk to other business owners in your industry or in other fields about how they survived the first few years or the recent economic downturn. Learn from their mistakes. Plan for contingencies and have a clear idea of how you define success in your business and what that would look like for you at the end of year 1, 2 or 10.