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NLC hosts entrepreneur workshop

Indianpreneurs01HOLLYWOOD — Owning a business sounds like a great idea to people with an entrepreneurial spirit. But learning how to open and operate a thriving business takes more than just enthusiasm: It takes guidance, knowledge and a thorough business plan.

From March 5-6, the Native Learning Center (NLC) held a seminar, Indianpreneurship – Growing a Business in Indian Country, offering the tools necessary to run a business.

“We knew there was a need in the community,” said Jared Forman, NLC curriculum development specialist. “Tribal members were seeking guidance, so the NLC thought we could step in and fill the need to help people get started in business. We also offer follow-up and support.”

The two-day program was a partnership between the NLC, the Small Business Administration, RedWind Consulting Resources and ONABEN, the creator of the Indianpreneurship program. Some of the Tribal members at the seminar already owned businesses, while others aspired to.

They shared memories of their first work experience.

“I started working at the smoke shop at age 10,” Sunny Frank said. “I knew back then I’d have to work to get money to go to Toys R Us.”

Everyone’s experience was different, but all had a common theme.

“I remember wanting to work at age 3 or 4,” said Robert North, originally from Oklahoma. “We lived in the country so I picked flowers and sold bouquets to neighbors. I used the money to buy candy. It was my first taste of freedom. I knew if you could depend on yourself, you’d have more freedom.”

Every person in the room learned independence and freedom from working at a young age. Veronica Hix led the seminar and linked that early experience to critical aspects of owning a business today. The first thing any entrepreneur must do, she said, is write a business plan.

“A business plan is the story of your business,” said Hix, executive director of ONABEN. “The plan is the foundation to build your business on. If you deviate from it, you can go back to the plan and work on it. The business plan can change as the market changes and your business grows.”

The most common mistake made by entrepreneurs is not selecting the right business at the start, Hix said. She recommended that everyone test their idea and understand their target market.

“Sixty percent of new businesses fail in the first year,” Hix said. “Talk to your competition. Sam Walton spent more time in his competitor’s stores than in his office. Employees at those stores knew him better than they knew their own bosses. He was the founder of Wal-Mart.”

A strong business plan needs certain elements, Hix said: an executive summary, a mission statement and company description, description of products and services, marketing, operations and management, and financial statements. Hix and co-presenter Kyle Smith, of RedWind Consulting Resources, gave the students plenty of business tips:

• Know the market value of your product.

• Figure out how to make your business better than a competitor’s, and sustain that.

• Create a difference that can be maintained.

• Overcome your inexperience with advice. Find mentors online or in the community.

• Specialty businesses do better than others.

• Don’t sell yourself short.

• Understand your finances.

• Define success. Some business owners want to stay small, others want to expand. Determine how large you want to get.

Frank came to the NLC to learn how to write a business plan and how to learn about the demographics of a specific area.

“I want to start a company and get business from outside the reservation,” Frank said. “I don’t want to rely only on Tribal contracts; I want to build a larger market.”

J.D. Bowers is in the process of launching a new cigar product. He has attended trades shows, special events and studied other cigars, soil, tobacco types and growers. What he needed from the seminar was a way to expand his market reach.

“We came up with a good idea and a niche,” Bowers said. “Other people are copying us and they have more reach than we do. We need help getting into the market.”

The group talked about networking, market research, trade shows and marketing opportunities. They also discussed maintaining enthusiasm.

“You need to have passion for what you are doing and believe in it,” said North, director of the Boys & Girls Club and owner of a Native American art marketing consulting business. “You expect to run into pitfalls – having passion helps you through it. Native artists are often taken advantage of. They have a hard time seeing themselves as entrepreneurs and business owners.”

Jo North studied commercial and graphic art years ago and is now a painter.

“I want to get into more art shows,” North said. “This course is a refresher and is making me think a little more.”

Students learned the foundations of growing a business, which include having a grasp on time management, bookkeeping, overcoming the fear of failure and knowing the life cycle of a business. Businesses typically go through a pre-venture or planning stage, existence or infancy, early growth, expansion or sustained growth, maturity and decline.

“Every successful business goes through these stages,” Hix said. “Think about choices and options in your business plan. Manage to grow by planning for it. When you create a business, plan an exit strategy. It isn’t always bad to close or sell a business.”

In order to explore finances in depth, the class broke into groups and formed businesses. Each one had to determine fixed and variable costs, production and marketing expenses and, ultimately, a price for their goods and/or services.

“Sometimes people have an aversion to numbers, but they help you keep score,” Smith said. “The numbers show you the financial health of the business.”

The class learned the three most important business management tools, from a financial standpoint, are the break-even analysis, the cash flow statement, and income statements and balance sheets.

By the end of the course, students had a head full of knowledge and a textbook to use as a reference tool going forward.

Ida Osceola isn’t a business owner yet, but knows she wants to be one.

“I was just going to start any business, but now I have more focus and understanding,” she said. “I want to show my kids they can be more than what they see around them. I want to be a role model to show them they can achieve more if they try.”

 

 

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Beverly Bidney
Beverly Bidney has been a reporter and photographer for The Seminole Tribune since 2012. During her career, she has worked at various newspapers around the country including the Muskogee Phoenix in Oklahoma, Miami Herald, Associated Press, USA Today and other publications nationwide. A NAJA award winning journalist, she has covered just about everything over the years and is an advocate for a strong press. Contact her at beverlybidney@semtribe.com.
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