At the recent Cabinets and Closets Expo in Chicago, an Inventor’s Roundtable featured participants who were all small business owners and had recently introduced new or cutting-edge products to the marketplace. The purpose was simple: share stories, challenges, and experiences in the hopes they could help each other.
From the very beginning of the session, there was instant bonding as every person could relate to the trials and tribulations the others were experiencing. Four main themes came out during the discussion:
- Yes, you have to do it all. Entrepreneurs and small business owners face the challenge of being a jack-of-all-trades. From cash flow management to sales and marketing, you have to do it all. But what came out of the discussion was an important message they all shared: while you won’t be an expert at some aspects of running a small business, you can do it! Use your common sense and good judgement to guide you.
- You are not too small. It seemed like every company had a story where it developed a product, took it to market, and suddenly found a great deal of demand. It didn’t matter to their customers that they were a one- or two-person business, they wanted their product. The lesson is to look for alliances that allow your small business to leverage the expertise of other businesses to help get your products to market.
- Avoid the sales rep ditch. Several companies at the Roundtable had varying experiences with hired sales representatives who promised to take their products to market. The conclusion: avoid the reps who sound too good to be true (because they are) and want money up front to get started. Use reps that can show you their track record and are willing to work on a commission arrangement based on sales.
- Go for it! These inventors all had stories where they took a leap of faith with their product. One example was a company that had developed a new storage device and system. It had no sales and had only produced prototypes. It decided to exhibit at a show and got a great amount of interest and best of all, lots of orders. It has been off and running ever since.
The session ended with an exchange of business cards and a real desire to get the group together again via conference call or in person at another show. The bonding was real as these inventors found that while their products may vary greatly, their challenges were shared by all.
How have you built alliances with other small businesses to help each other?
by Roger Rutan, Director, Marketing and Public Affairs, Timber Products Company
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