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In today's business environment, entrepreneurs must develop a flexible business model to gain financing, contracts, and market share

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The streamlining has been done. Expenditures and cash flow are closely monitored. Virtually all excess has been trimmed down to the bone. Today, small businesses are running lean and mean — or not at all. Challenges — from access to capital to increased competition from larger businesses to healthcare costs — are confronting today’s entrepreneur at every turn. Unfortunately, when small business catches a cold, it’s pneumonia for African American-owned enterprises. Too often, black-owned businesses are left out of lucrative contracting, partnerships, networking, and financing opportunities.

And with roughly 22 million small businesses (over 820,000 of which are black-owned according to the latest Census count) in the U.S. employing some 51% of the private sector workforce that generate revenues accounting for half the nation’s gross domestic product, what happens to the success of small business has a profound effect on the economy. “The biggest problem by far facing entrepreneurs today is the uncertain business environment, particularly in the wake of the slowing economy, post-Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and the accounting scandals that have rocked corporate America,” says Todd McCracken, president of National Small Business United, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group representing 65,000 small business owners.

Today’s entrepreneur needs to be even more flexible in the face of the current business environment, which also mandates that entrepreneurs pool resources, leverage businesses, and forge alliances. “It’s so valuable to have partners and form alliances so [businesses] can not only absorb changes in the economy, but take advantage of changes in the economy,” says Ronald N. Langston, national director of the U.S. Dept. of Commerce’s Minority Business Development Agency in Washington, D.C. “Those businesses that think they can do it alone today are going to fail.”

Despite these difficulties, many of today’s black entrepreneurs are meeting the challenge. Realizing the need to be proactive while rolling with the punches, these entrepreneurs are learning that to survive, one has to think outside of the box. They’re forming partnerships, taking advantage of networking opportunities, and finding ways to finance their ventures. In short, they’re doing whatever it takes to maintain a thriving business. Here are a few of them.

When Genma Holmes, 35, attended the Black Enterprise/Microsoft Entrepreneurs Conference in Nashville, Tennessee, she carried with her a list of prospective clients and partners in a book bag. By the time she left, Holmes had landed contracts and made contacts with clients that she expects will more than double her company’s revenues by the end of 2003.

Holmes’ company, Holmes Pest Control, generated some $90,000 in 2001 and she expects that as a result of attending the Entrepreneurs Conference, the firm will not only double its revenues by the end of next year but also generate almost $300,000 in annual revenues by 2004, and possibly reach half a million by 2005.

At the Entrepreneurs Conference, Holmes worked with contacts from the state of Tennessee to get a feel for the companies that were going to be there. She also used the Conference’s schedule of events as a guide to help find companies

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