By Cathy Harris, Syndicated Columnist
With small businesses being the backbone of the community, one would think that these business entities would be in a position to save the black community. But if you are a black business owner, then you should be well aware of how it really works and of all the struggles of black businesses.
Unlike other nationalities and communities, in the black community misinformation, community myths, urban legends, and old wives tales will always be the primary reason for timely and relevant business information not being disseminated properly.
Many people don't know what to look for when they are seeking to join a local or national business group. Therefore, they end up joining the wrong group and get off track by losing their focus.
The following top 12 business questions are what you should ask yourself before joining any local or national business groups:
1. Is the Leader (CEO/President) of the Business Group Ethical?
The primary objective of any business network is to assist the network to achieve their goals - not just his or her goals. Everyone needs to understand that all leaders were followers at one time. But being a business owner, especially the head of a business network, means you must become a leader.
Not just a leader but an effective leader with your number one trait being honesty. It's up to the head of any business group to set the tone for their group because again, "It's their business!"
2. Is the Membership Fees or Activity Fees Too Expensive?
This is where you have to be really careful and investigate potential business groups. Some of these groups might run their business simply to collect extremely high monthly or yearly membership fees.
You can check to see how much other groups are charging for their fees and compare prices. Does the fees fall in the same range as other business groups or do the fees seem extremely high for what they have to offer?
Even if the funds are low, investigate what the funds are used for.
If you don't receive a clear answer on how the business group is using the funds, then don't join because chances are these groups will not be honest with their members.
3. Does the Business Group Provide Feedback and Follow-up?
When you inquire about membership or other services or products of a business group, are they timely when getting back to you or do they even bother to return your texts, emails or phone calls? Sometimes the President of a business group might be great, but the people around him or her might not have the right attitude to bring in new members or help grow the group.
But again, it's up to the leader of any business group to set the tone, therefore, he or she should be aware of what type of people they have surrounded themselves with. Not providing feedback and follow-up, will be one of the main reasons that will force business owners to leave business groups and join others.
4. Do the Business Group have a Website With all Their Services and Products Listed?
Having a website will make it easier for anyone to view what services and products a business group has to offer. It will bring legitimacy to whatever mission the group is trying to achieve. It will also help you see how the group presents itself to the public and other potential members and partners.
Is the website professional? Are there spelling, punctuation or grammar errors? Does the website have a signup mailing list or do you have to join first? Is the website updated often? Does the website list any potential partners? All relevant information should be posted on the website, especially a list of any other groups they are partnering with.
5. Who are the Business Group Partnering With?
In order to be a successful business owner, a solo business owner can only get so far unless they form business alliances, strategic partnerships and co-ops with other businesses. But before joining any business groups, try to make sure you check out other potential partners of that group.
What type of reputation do these potential partners have? If the business groups you are looking at joining are partnering with groups that have hurt the black community, then of course you do not want to be a part of their group. So investigate by speaking to the President and other members and attend several meetings and networking events before you decide to join.
6. Are the Business Group' Leaders Forming Alliances with Black Pro-Business Legislators and Other Community Leaders?
Pro-business, visionary black legislators can play a major role in the success of black businesses. These legislators are in a position to disperse funds and business information to both black youths and adults and, therefore, we must hold them accountable, especially when it comes to black youths.
Business leaders and groups must have respect for all segments of the community including grassroots, youth, elderly, other business proprietors, professionals, laborers, clergy, etc. This will not only allow the network to grow, but it facilitates bonding and promotes self-esteem.
7. Are there Monthly Business Meetings, Yearly Events and Other Networking Activities?
Business networking is a marketing method by which business opportunities are created through networks of like-minded business people. There are several prominent business networking organizations that create models of networking activities that, when followed, allows the business person to build new business relationships and generate business opportunities at the same time.
Many groups are inactive when it comes to networking events. Some simply want others to join and pay their membership fees without giving them anything in return. Never, ever join a group that is INACTIVE unless you think your participation can help the group expand their services and products.
If the group does not have monthly meetings, yearly events or other networking activities, where members can highlight their services and products and build relationships, then you need to find another group.
You can usually tell if a group is inactive when they don't update their website. All weekly, monthly or yearly activities should be listed on their websites.
8. Is the Business Group a Non-Profit?
Many of these groups, especially Chambers of Commerce might be non-profits. Working with a Chamber of Commerce that is a non-profit will not hurt your business, but be careful starting your own non-profit.
Most black business owners who have non-profits end up sitting around begging the government for money. A Chamber of Commerce is a form of business network that works with everyone from every walk of life such as small business owners, college students, educators, bankers, retirees, health professionals, etc., and others committed to ensuring the strength of our economy.
Business owners in towns and cities form these local societies to advocate on behalf of the business community. Local businesses are members, and they elect a board of directors or executive council to set policy for the chamber. The board or council then hires a President, CEO or Executive Director to run the organization.
Generally, Chambers of Commerce serves the following purposes: 1) Creating a strong local economy, 2) Promoting the community, 3) Providing networking opportunities, and 4) Speaking with government on behalf of businesses.
Chambers may also serve other purposes, such as