How to Succeed as a Small Biz Start-Up

by Vicki Northrup

They are a young couple just starting out in life.  Having relocated here from Idaho, they met with several of us at the Chamber last week to discuss starting their own business, a frozen yogurt shop.  As usual, we were leery of their pending success having met so many “hobbyists” who start a business based on their hobby, hoping and praying it somehow takes off and they’ll become millionaires – overnight.  They create unsustainable business models, lack the proper funding and, above all, refuse to learn from others.  We approached this couple with an open mind, however, just on the off chance they could emerge as our poster child of how to do it the right way.

After running through our checklist to gauge their seriousness and business mindset, we began to conclude they had done their homework and were not reluctant to reach out to the brains of our county to seek their advice on how to open this business.  Both graduated from college and have strong marketing minds, but may need guidance as to how to spend advertising dollars wisely.

They met with the Small Business Development Center at Brevard Community College.  Good move.  They planned to visit the Women’s Business Center at Florida Tech to glean the advice of one of the strongest advocates of small business in our county.  We educated them about Workforce Brevard and how to best utilize their services, especially now when the agency is offering paid salaries to workers that the employer trains.  Finally they said joining the Chamber was at the top of their list of things to do immediately.  Since this is their first try at starting a business, I felt compelled to ask what they knew about chambers of commerce.

Why Be Involved?

As it turns out their family back in Idaho opened frozen yogurt stores years ago, joined their local chamber and the results were so positive that this young couple believed it is an integral part of running a business.  Ah, such smart kids!  I dug deeper.  What had their family experienced as a result of their chamber membership that led them to believe it’s not an option?  Community involvement was their answer.  What better way was there to reach the community than to be visible at chamber events, meeting people that will put them in touch with the schools, nonprofits and other business leaders?  It came down to connections and they understood it better than most.  They completed the application, wrote a check and were on their way.  I had brief visions of attending their tenth anniversary.

I’ve compared notes with my chamber colleagues to the north and we all hear the same sad story when we ask why a member did not renew their membership – they report they didn’t get anything out of it.  This is true, unfortunately.  They didn’t get anything out of it because they put nothing into it!  Chamber membership is not about giving an organization money then waiting for the phone to ring.  It is, on the other hand, all about taking advantage of what’s being placed before you.  If a member never leaves his house or business to let the world know he exists, how is the chamber going to help?  Simply put, we can’t.

It’s Not Either/Or

There are two ways to market yourself: invest money in advertising or get yourself out in the world and talk, talk, talk.  One takes cash, the other takes time.  You choose.  The smartest companies utilize both.

We may have found a startup that is destined to succeed.  And if all works out as planned we’ll use them as a shining example to the others that arrive in the future asking how to best launch their business.  Have a plan, stick to it, keep a tight lid on the money, don’t envision success that hasn’t happened yet, meet the right people who can help guide you and, above all, “listen” to their advice.  Finally, take advantage of the connections you will make through your chamber membership.  It’s the least expensive part of your marketing budget and can be the most lucrative . . . if you use it wisely.

Vicki Northrup is the president & CEO of the Greater Palm Bay Chamber of Commerce.