One day over a cup of coffee my new friend asked, “So do you think this town is a good place to own a business?”
I took a long pause as I thought back over the past few years. I had opened and had been operating a small digital marketing firm in “the biggest small town” in South Central Texas. It was fairly successful, but it had come with costs.
“On paper, I think this town has all the resources needed for a new business to be very successful. But in reality, it’s not exactly a fair playing field.” I replied.
“What do you mean?” my friend pursued.
At the time, I was still very much in the game and trying to play by all the rules. However, now having been out of the game a couple years; I am finally ready to share a few glimpses behind the scenes of my former life.
Glimpse #1 is a warning. Beware of business networking groups. They are not all created equally. A good business networking group is supposed to be a very symbiotic relationship. I was told, “if you’re going to be taken seriously you need to join the main networking group in town.” For years I paid my membership like I was supposed to, but it was not always easy to write that check. I know I wasn’t the only one who had a hard time giving away my hard earned money to this group. When I inquired as to what our benefits were, I was told pretty much just one mixer a month. I quickly found out that many of the other benefits that I thought were included in my membership actually cost more money on top of my yearly fees.
As if that wasn’t a hard enough pill to swallow, I had made the grave mistake of trying to have a business in the same category as one of the group vice president’s close friends. I still to this day have never met the group vice president face to face, but she definitely had it out for me. One time a client of mine was partnering with the group in question on an event. The group had pledged some funds to my client. When my client showed up for the funding meeting, he was told that if he accepted the money he could no longer work with me for his marketing needs. She also went on to strongly suggest her friend for marketing services instead. So not only was she trying to break a positive business connection between two members of her group, she was also playing favorites and directly trying to hurt my livelihood. I think we can all agree that was inappropriate behavior, especially for the vice president of a major community organization.
Glimpse #2 is of small town loyalty. My client, who was potentially facing a huge loss of funding, actually went to bat for me. This client in particular really had a hand in helping me grow, as a person and as a business. He assured the group president that I meant no harm and everything eventually got smoothed out. The thing about small town loyalty is that business aside, you go to bat for your oldest friends. That is something no amount of funding should change. I will forever be appreciative of the clients who turned out to be more like family. They supported me in business and they supported me when my family needed me more than the business.
There are many more moments I could disclose, but I’ve let a lot of those feelings subside over the years. I know that without those experiences I wouldn’t have landed right where I am at. So friends, at the end of the day I want you to learn from my past…
- If you are considering a networking group for your business or you are already a member of one, remember that these groups are nothing without you – their members. If they are not serving you appropriately, then do not be afraid to leave and/or find another group that will.
- If you are the administrator of a networking group, then the above point is important for you to know as well. I was part of some groups that truly served their members well. Members look to you for support and you can have a positive impact, if your group is managed right.
- As hard as it may be, do not succumb to the messiness that is local politics. Value your true connections over anything else. Because when your business is gone, those connections will be all you have left.
For more glimpses into my former life and entrepreneur advice, check out:
Hugs to all,
XO – Olivia