Are you a small business owner with big dreams? One of this morning’s most informative sessions–titled “Operate Small, Supply Big” and hosted by American Express OPEN– provided practical, actionable advice to entrepreneurs eager to land contracts with large corporations and the government.
Three speakers served on the panel: Phillip Ashley Rix, founder and designer chocolatier, Phillip Ashley Chocolates (a FedEx supplier); Frantz Tiffeau, director of Supplier Diversity and Development at Nationwide, chief sponsor of the Entrepreneurs Summit; and Michelle Thompson-Dolberry, American Express OPEN adviser on Small Business Growth.
The most repeated word of the session? Relationships. Planning ahead and being strategic were among other themes that emerged.
Let’s examine these themes within the context of the session, which was expertly moderated by Derek Dingle, senior vice president and chief content officer of Black Enterprise.
The primacy of relationships.
All the panelists emphasized that business comes out of relationships. Thompson-Dolberry says a company that’s trying you out will spend $50,000 or $100,000 in business with you. “It’s OK to start small,” she says. “Businesses can grow within the relationship.”
Rix is so committed to managing relationships with clients, he has a designated relationship manager on his team, as well as customized CRM software (short for customer relationship management). Rix previously worked in corporate sales, so he brought that knowledge and experience into play for his own company. Although he didn’t start small, developing relationships even to the point of being kept on retainer has been key to his success.
He says that even payment schedules can hinge on relationships. “Developing relationships with people in accounts payable can help you negotiate how you get paid,” Rix says.
Planning ahead to succeed.
Tiffeau stressed the need for businesses to invest in relationships by planning ahead–by 12 to 18 months–and learning about the culture and needs of the company they’re trying to woo. This is time well spent, he says.
“The more you know about a company, the more you can value their culture and target your business to meet their needs,” Tiffeau says.
Thompson-Dolberry agreed. “If you’re looking for $500,000 to $1 million in business, you’re looking at 18 months down the road. If you’re thinking tomorrow, you’re looking at $5,000.”
Rather an incentive for planning ahead, I’d say.
Strategy goes hand-in-hand with planning, but takes it further. “You need to know about compliance issues, and other requirements of the federal government,” says Tiffeau, “if you’re going to be doing business with financial services companies.”
Does the government require your business to have a recovery program? How do you fill the government’s requirement for past performance? “Work as a subcontractor to another business that won the contract,” says Thompson-Dolberry.
For more, log on to the Entrepreneurs Summit homepage.