What we’ve learned from conversations with over 500 small business owners

What an exciting year for Interise and our alumni business owners!  Through conversations with alumni of the StreetWise ‘MBA’™ at our StreetWise Summit and thrive!, in our online Alumni Network, and during in-person meetings, phone calls, and emails, we have learned a lot about what small business owners need to stay on track with their growth goals. 

Here are some of the most common challenges faced by small business owners this year and areas where they have resolved to focus attention in 2016:

Access to Capital  

Our alumni business owners complete their programs having created a 3-year Strategic Growth Action Plan™, filled with inspired growth goals.  With the know-how gained from the StreetWise ‘MBA’™ class, and the support they have from classmates and their instructors, they are poised to expand their teams, purchase new equipment, bid on a big contract, or maybe even open a new location.  But how does a small business owner navigate the numerous financing and lending opportunities available to them?  What are the best options to finance your immediate goals on your path to become more profitable?

Here are a few tips and resources to point you in the right direction! 

“Our biggest issue right now is access to capital – lots of people are willing to lend you money, but some have even ended up on American Greed!…Post Katrina, there is a big rush to engage minority and DBE contractors, but we [first] need the capital to hire more people, be more efficient, to get the contracts.”

– Allan Jones, New Orleans ‘12
GalCan Electric

GalCan logo

Opportunity Finance Network’s (OFN) mission is to connect people, businesses, and communities to affordable and responsible finance products and services.  Check out their CDFI locator.
–    Learn about online and alternative lending before taking the plunge. This report from the Cleveland Fed on online lenders and this document on the alternative lending landscape from Accion offer good insight. 
–    The SBA offers helpful information about identifying the financing you need in their Learning Center, including this 30-minute training video

Hiring the right people and maintaining a strong work culture 

Interestingly enough, a conversation I have had several times this year involves losing a high level employee, which ultimately ends up being a good thing for workplace culture.  Have you been avoiding letting someone go, despite poor job performance or morale, because it seems easier than hiring for that position?  “Employees who walk out the door cost their companies up to 200 percent of their annual salaries to replace.”[i] This also highlights the importance of hiring the right people from the start and maintaining a strong work culture to improve retention.    What are the steps necessary to filling open positions with employees who will have a positive impact on the team, and on the CEO?  The following resources offer advice on building strong company culture, hiring the right people, and other HR basics.

“Loyalty to employees can cripple a company if they aren’t the right fit for future growth.”

-Karen Mantzouranis, Newark ‘15
Main Street Movers

Karen Mantzouranis

HRHero is an employment law resource with state and federal information, as well as an Employer’s Forum for HR professionals. 
·       Learning to Lead is a workbook on becoming a leader, by Warren Bennis.
·       StreetWise ‘MBA’ alumni, review Session 10 in your StreetWise ‘MBA’™ binder.  It is jam packed with information and resources to identify the talent and culture you want at your company.

Operationalize your growth plan

Your business is growing, and growing quickly.  Systems and processes that used to work when you were the one “in charge of everything” are no longer holding up as you delegate and scale.  How do you operationalize your growth plan?  What improvements do you need to make in your existing policies and procedures to accommodate your rapid growth?  What strategies and processes do you need to adopt to engage your staff in implementing your growth plan?

“Because of the rapid growth I’m dealing with a lot of growing pains. I’m taking the next 2-3 months to improve current operations. And if we can get this so it’s a well oiled machine then I’ll continue growth next year. But with the challenges we currently have, there’s no way we can grow at all.”

– Salt Lake City alum

·       B2BCFO serves small business owners by offering CFO and exit strategy services. 
·       Interise has an Advisor Network for alumni of StreetWise ‘MBA’™ programs to provide voluntary one-on-one guidance.  Contact lfortinsky@interise.org for more information.
·       9yahds is a new cloud-based tool to build, execute, and manage systems and processes.

Networking can be strategic! 

When many business owners hear the word “networking,” they cringe.  Stiff conversations, rifling off a canned elevator pitch, and exchanging business cards hardly seems like an effective way to attract business.  But networking can offer opportunities beyond your next client or sale.  Think about the different types of relationships that can be formed with people in a room – might you meet a potential mentor?  A candidate for a job opening?  A fellow CEO with a connection to a mastermind group or new business association?  Work on making networking a business lifestyle, and see how it can have a positive effect on your company’s future growth! 


“Networking is actually a strategic approach!”

– Anita Gupta, Dallas ‘13
ANR Consulting Group, Inc.

Anita Gupta

·       The Strategic Networker demystifies the networking process when you’re trying to figure out where to start! By John-Paul Hatala.
·       Me 2.0 is a book on building your personal brand, by Dan Schawbel
·       Here is a great blog post to help understand the deeper purpose of networking, and how to build a strong professional network.

 From: Love ‘em or lose ‘em: Getting good people to stay. Kaye, Beverly, & Jordan-Evans, Sharon. Berrett Koehler Publishers, Inc., 2014.