Houston is one of the most diverse cities in the nation. Anyone who’s lived here has probably met people from all corners of the globe, sampled exotic food, and learned about cultures and practices they didn’t know exist. Not coincidentally, Houston is home to the third largest amount of minority-owned businesses in America. These small businesses play a major role in keeping our economy strong.
If you belong to a minority group, your background has played some part in forming your business story. Some may choose to leave this aspect of themselves out of their business brands and models. However, when you tell the story of how you ventured into the business world, including your background and heritage will allow others to relate to your experiences and gain a better understanding of the value you have to offer.
Many minority groups, especially recent immigrants, may feel like fish out of water when it comes to understanding American business laws, regulations, and culture. Even entrepreneurs who were born and raised here might not be familiar with the resources available to help establish and grow their businesses.
At Small Business Innovation, we want to strengthen Houston’s small business community by empowering business owners of all backgrounds. Here are 5 tips to help you overcome some of the challenges that come with heading a minority-owned business:
1. Breakdown barriers by building awareness. Today, minorities only make up 7% of the business owners pitching to angel fund investors. Of those, only 13% are invested in. Calling attention to these problematic numbers will lead to people to seek out solutions. Conventions that bring together minority-owned businesses with investors are already taking place, but you can propel the movement by taking steps of your own.
Shine a spotlight on the minority-owned businesses you admire. You can share articles featuring your favorite businesses with your social networks, or refer up-and-coming entrepreneurs to investors and consultants who can aid in the establishment process. By emphasizing that success knows no color barriers, you’ll help bring attention to the many innovative individuals whose voices might be currently stifled.
2. Don’t shy away from your identity. Establishing a personal brand is tough. You are called on to pick and choose the parts of your identity that you want to showcase to the world, and then you must shape those aspects so that they effectively tell the story of who you are and what you can offer. Because minorities are so often overlooked by investors, we might think that leaving out our ethnicity when crafting a personal brand is the smartest choice to make.
However, everyone’s ethnicity has made some impact on their identity, whether large or small. Rather than shy away from this impact by default, try identifying it first. Does your strong work ethic originate from an immigrant past? Has your culture influenced your creative style or the way you do business? Chances are, the impact your ethnicity has had on your identity probably informs your professional image in one way or another. Allowing that to shine through in your personal brand could help differentiate you from the rest of the market and perhaps help you share your business’s story more effectively, too.
3. Don’t be limited by stereotypes. Many minorities are discouraged from pursuing business in certain industries simply because people of similar backgrounds have not yet made a mark on that industry. Don’t let fear of the unknown stop you from pursuing a passion. If people of your ethnicity have not yet ventured into an industry, make strides to be the first; you’ll be leaving a legacy and opening the door for people of your ethnicity and other minorities to become involved. On the other hand, some entrepreneurs are wary of going into industries that are already very much associated with their ethnicity. No one wants to live out a stereotype, but if your passion happens to align with something people of your ethnicity are already known for, or perhaps even a business that is already run by your family, you shouldn’t let other people’s conceptions stand in your way. All fields need entrepreneurs who are innovative and can bring a fresh perspective to the table. What you have to offer as an individual is different than what anyone else has brought before you. Stereotyping can be a dangerous practice that inhibits progress. Don’t let either of these stereotypes prevent you from pursuing what you love.
4. Expand your network. Because minority-owned businesses do not have as much representation in the workforce, people of diverse ethnic background may have a more difficult time finding connections within their own communities. This is a disadvantage you can overcome by actively seeking mentors and other people who can help you expand your network. Consider joining industry-specific organizations in which you’ll be socializing with people who can give you advice and help you access the resources you need to gain firmer establishment in your field. You can join associations that cater to your field or venture into those that do not directly relate to your industry but do help you gain an understanding of a certain aspect of business, such as marketing or accounting. This will help you connect with all corners of the business world and strengthen every aspect of your own business.
5. Use government resources. Government entities like the Small Business Administration want to bolster the minority-owned business community. Along with loans and grants, jumpstart programs are offered that can help business owners gain the skills they need to succeed. The 8(a) business development program is one that is offered to businesses that are put at a disadvantage due to discrimination. The program offers management and technology training sessions, counseling, and a mentorship program. Members of several minority groups can automatically qualify for this program, and minorities outside of these groups can qualify by presenting evidence of discrimination and an economic disadvantage.
Small Business Innovation Consulting is proud to serve all members of the Houston small business community. Contact us for more information about how we can help you expand and achieve long-term sustainment.