For those people who have an idea for a new product or service, and an inkling of the entrepreneurial spirit, leadership consultant Andre Taylor says they owe it to themselves to give their dream a shot.
Not next week or next month or next year, but right now.
“I see a lot of entrepreneurs waste a lot of time looking for the perfect opportunity,” Taylor says. “Times change, economies are up and down, technology shifts, but being an entrepreneur is always a great opportunity and the impact you can have on your community is enormous.”
Taylor was a keynote speaker at the recent Lexington Bluegrass Area Minority Business Expo. While he was in town, he talked about entrepreneurship on KET’s Connections with Renee Shaw.
The Seeds of His Future Success
Taylor’s own start in the business world had a bit of a rocky start. As a child he succumbed to the lure of riches promised in an advertisement in the back of a comic book. The product was garden seeds that he would sell door to door in his Brooklyn, N.Y., neighborhood. After a discouraging series of no’s, Taylor found himself greeted at one home by an angry German shepherd.
Unfortunately the dog had no interest in flowers or vegetables.
But to make amends for the bite Taylor suffered, the shepherd’s owner bought all of his seeds.
His business prospects improved as Taylor got older. He started in banking on Wall Street, then moved to financial publishing firm Dow Jones. By his mid-20s, Taylor was a vice president of marketing at Reuters. Seeing the wave of Internet technology that was about to hit in the early 1990s, Taylor and a friend started a media company that connected professional sports teams with emerging online and cable TV opportunities.
The success of that business spun Taylor off into other ventures from direct marketing to retail to financial services. He’s now an author of books on business and entrepreneurship, and a consultant and speaker on leadership.
Keys to Success for Start-Ups
Even with all the seminars and books about starting a business, Taylor says he’s surprised by how many people still don’t know the first steps they need to take to actually launch an enterprise. As they complete the necessary legal paperwork and amass start-up capital and staff, Taylor says many business owners often forget the most crucial task.
“It’s still interesting to me how many entrepreneurs don’t understand that the real business is marketing,” Taylor says. “It’s really the thing you should be thinking about most: I’m trying to start a business, I’m trying to move to market, [so] how do I show people that this something that will change their life.”
An often-overlooked aspect of marketing is customer service. Taylor says when you serve one client well, they are likely to tell their friends and associates about you.
“Old-time service where you are really treated well is almost gone,” Taylor laments. “So when you get great service, you notice it.”
Finally, instilling those standards of service takes good training. Taylor says providing thorough and ongoing training to employees is critical because that helps ensure those people are reflecting the values and attributes that you want your business to have.
Winning Regardless of the Business You’re In
Whether you’re operating a for-profit company, a minority-owned business, or non-profit social enterprise, Taylor says the core challenge is the same: You have to be focused on creating a sound financial footing. Taylor says that’s especially true for non-profit organizations that work to address some public need.
“I think the big pitfall is not thinking of it as a business,” Taylor explains. “I see a lot of folks open up something because they want to serve a particular community, and then they realize, ‘Oh my goodness, we can’t afford to keep lights on.’”
For minority entrepreneurs, Taylor says he recommends they explore business opportunities beyond traditional things like construction and janitorial services or hair salons. He says he would love to see more minorities start high-tech and online ventures because of the growth opportunities available in those sectors.
Taylor says he also encourages minority-owned businesses not to focus too much on securing government contracts. He says the time it takes to fill out applications and deal with compliance issues could be more effectively spent marketing their business to other clients that may be able to offer much more lucrative contracts.
In the end though, Taylor says being successful is about doing the best you can with what you have.
“To me winning is really about winning within, it’s the idea of maximizing your potential,” says Taylor. “And really feeling confident every day that what you’re delivering is a reflection of your abilities [and] your strength.”