To succeed in business, get involved in the community

Taking Care of Business

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Malcolm Crawford

More often than not, sharing is not a word that we relate to when we are talking about business, or when we are thinking about going into business. I have found that sharing is essential, maybe even paramount, when you are talking about business. Sharing your ideas with those who can give you sound advice can be the difference between success and failure.

Mr. Sam Walton, of Wal-Mart fame, may have said it best, and I am paraphrasing, when he said that what makes him great is that he surrounds himself with great people who give him great advice. His willingness to listen helped him to become one of the richest men in the world, running one of the world's most profitable companies.

It is so unfortunate when I talk to business owners who say their business idea was given to them and them only, and that it is their way or the highway. This is a sure recipe for disaster.

If your business is going to have a chance to succeed, I would suggest that you be willing to share your ideas with others, and don't be afraid to ask questions.

You should also become more involved in your community. One way to be more involved is to seek out other groups that share the same goals and aspirations as you. Austin has a number of groups, namely The Westside Business Improvement Association (WBIA), The North Ave. Business Alliance, and The Austin African American Business Networking Association (AAABNA).

The Austin community also has a very dedicated group of professionals who make up the Austin Chamber of Commerce under the direction of Ms. Camille Lilly. The Austin Chamber of Commerce began in 1996 as a voluntary council of businesses and professionals under the Mayor's Task Force, and was incorporated as the Austin Chamber of Commerce in February of 1999. The founding members are some of the movers and shakers in Austin. James Cole, Michelle Collins, Vincent Williams, Velda Brunner, and Lilly.

The chamber holds its meetings every fourth Wednesday of the month.

I had the opportunity to talk with Director Lilly and asked what people should know about the chamber. First and foremost, she said, it is important that people know that the Austin Chamber of Commerce is working hard to fulfill its mission to "serve as a catalyst for the business community and the residents to promote a supportive climate in which to do business."

She also said that the Austin chamber has many resources for business growth, development, marketing, accounting, and even advice on where to locate your business in Austin. Lilly believes that one of the biggest misconceptions that people have is that they can get something for nothing. They seem to think that there is free money out there just waiting for them. She was quick to point out how important it is that business owners be totally committed to making their business ventures successful. She stresses that it is only through hard work that you become successful.

Statistics show that three out of every 10 new businesses will fail in the first year, and with African-American businesses, the number is as high as six out of 10. This statistic should not be a surprise to those who drive around Austin and see where African American businesses used to be. What happened to the African-American-owned dollar store on North Avenue? What about the gospel book store on Chicago Avenue? The bath and body shop on Chicago or the rib joint on Division Street? Could it possibly be that they made the choice not to be involved in the community? Did you ever see any of them around at any community functions?

It is so important that you as a business owner become involved in the community. If you are expecting to be economically successful just by having the sign out that says "Open for Business," then you are in for an unpleasant surprise. Being active in your community gives you the opportunity to meet people who could be potential customers. It also gives you a say in the direction of the community. For example, if you own a gospel book store and there are plans to put a liquor store on the corner, you need to recognize how this could affect your business. Or if you operate a day care center and there are plans to put a halfway house for sex offenders on your block, you need to be able to voice your opinion about it before it happens.

Some information you only gain by being active and attending meetings and neighborhood events.

If you are interested in becoming a member of the Austin Chamber of Commerce, or if you need more information, you can call Camille Lilly at 773/854-5642.

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