Tuesday, May 5, 2009

New Realities, New Rules, New Opportunities


When I am asked advice about how to grow a business, I always reference my experiences at the Black Enterprise Entrepreneur Conference (BEEC). As I plan my business strategies at the beginning of the year, BEEC is always at the top of the must do list. Even when times have been lean, I have managed to find a way to attend the ONLY entrepreneurial conference that helps make me money.

For the last few years, I have been able to get my fellow brothers in the pest control industry to the conference as well. Each passing year, we have become more determined to work together on larger contracts and grow our companies together. What I have learned the most by attending the conferences is the power of collaborating and working together for the greater good. Being in an industry where there are few women in leadership roles and even fewer minorities as key influencers, it is even more evident to me the power of connecting with others who are visionaries and rain makers.

When you are in the presence of those who want to see you succeed, who teach you to think successfully, and who create venues to help you not only network but to close the deal, you are affected in a positive way. You leave the conference WANTING to be successful. And when you are hungry enough and have drive and ambition, you will walk in your destiny no matter what the economic barometer says.

When I started Holmes Pest Control, there were no black mentors for black pest control operators. I mentioned this to several editors at Black Enterprise one year and the response was what’s stopping you from getting an organization started to help others? I thought for a second and asked the same question. "Minorities in Pest Management" was founded shortly after that conference. The idea to network with other pest control operators of color across the country seemed farfetched back in 2000 but now we are not only networking and sharing our business knowledge with one another but actually doing business with one another. We are steadily building a network of small companies working together to bid on larger national accounts, one contract at a time.

The idea had been discussed often but we needed creditability and resources to make it happen. Implementation and being able to move forward from great ideas to actual contracts were fostered by many contacts met through a series of meetings held at events sponsored by Black Enterprise. Black Enterprise helped open the door to large corporations that usually take years to cut through because of all the diversity/small business/minority/certification alphabet soup jargon.

Networking and building solid relationships with giants like David L. Steward of Worldwide Technology and learning the art of negotiating from hotel builder R. Don Peebles has helped me bring pest management from the back of the room to the forefront. Being able to share resources with other pest management firms, large and small, helps me leverage those relationship to help change the rules on how business is done with minority owned businesses, especially pest control companies.

Another valuable tool I have learned from attending the Black Enterprise Conference is the power of micro lending. Micro lending is often the only way businesses in third world countries get credit to finance their companies. Several businesses loan small amounts to help a company get started, work as a bridge for slow cash flow, or to help avert a crisis. Micro lending was first introduced to me by another pest control owner in 2005, when a young man wanted to start a company but was short on capital. A larger pest control company loaned him the start up capital and mentored the PMP for one year. The lender invested $3,500 and had two other friends to invest $1,500 each. All were paid back in full with a nominal loan fee.

Three years ago, several pest control companies wanted to not only attend BEEC but exhibit as well. Not everyone was prepared mentally or financially to take off a week and attend the conference in the middle of swarm season. After much discussion, e pooled our monies to cover the exhibition and accommodation fees for those who wanted to attend. We worked relentlessly to help each other rearrange our schedules to make sure our customers were covered for that week.

Surprisingly, the trip paid for itself for many very quickly and was a boost to our psyche to be in an atmosphere that was very supportive and encouraging of our efforts to network with national and international conglomerates. The companies that participated in the endeavor in 2005 were the same companies that have funded other ventures to help support and mentor new pest management professionals and have also raised thousands in scholarships dollars for minority students interested in fields related to the pest control industry.

The conference has helped us face the realities of business. We faced our realities; we were not going to grow our companies if we did not work together. We saw that the rules for doing business with minority firms had changed; diversity is not a department and it must start with the CEO and the board of directors. We had to look for new opportunities to bring business to the table; going to local events that attracted only your neighbors, being referred to anonymous websites, and waiting for government agencies to hold a meeting s for minority firms had become a bit dated and mundane. We are shifting gears and driving our businesses into larger markets with greater profit margins.

This year at the conference, many favorites are back and some new faces are being profiled. Brandon and Lorielle Broussard, Simon Bailey, R. Donahue Peebles, Chris Bryant, Chares J.Ogletree Jr., Judge Glenda Hatchett, and Genma Holmes to name a few. BEEC is being hosted by General Motors and Exxon Mobil May 17-20 in Detroit Michigan.

Some of the event highlights this year will be; the Town Hall discussing President Obama’s Economic Agenda, Small Business Boot Camp, B.E. 100s Awards Gala, the ever popular Elevator Pitch and more than 16 sessions on growth and development, securing capital, new trends, social technology, and more.

The conference promises to teach attendees how to be more innovative in a down economy. When times get tough, people become smarter is what Daddy taught me. With as many small companies in Tennessee that are tier 1 and tier 2 companies to the auto industry, I would think that many folks from the volunteer state are already in Detroit. But if you are considering going and your wallet is crying, I thought I would kick some stimulus money your way. Use code EC2009 when registering online to save $100 off the early bird special. Look for me, I will be there because I cannot afford to miss this one.

www.blackenterprise.com

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