Against the backdrop of people losing jobs and companies folding due to the coronavirus, members of the Columbia business community came together Thursday for a virtual event focused on the practical aspects of starting a business.
The event began with Amos Angelovici, entrepreneur in residence at the University of Missouri, introducing attendees to Columbia’s entrepreneurial ecosystem and organizations that are available as resources.
“The ecosystem in Columbia is surprisingly versatile considering the population,” Angelovici said. “But the organizations know each other and are extremely collaborative.”
Watch more: See all the presentations from the Mid-Missouri Business Jumpstart event
The first-time event, called Mid-Missouri Business Jumpstart, was a collaboration between about a dozen local institutions and organizations. Missouri Business Alert was one of the organizers.
Presenters spoke about different components of starting a business, including procuring funding, navigating financial statements, advertising on social media, generating networks and building a brand.
Building an e-commerce business
After the COVID-19 pandemic began, businesses were forced to pivot to e-commerce and shift more operations online as officials imposed shutdowns and customers avoided venturing out.
Steve Powell, president of Delta Systems Group, a web development and consulting firm in Columbia, addressed the basics of e-commerce at Thursday’s event. He spoke about how to remove pain points while setting up an e-commerce business.
Powell said that, regardless of the type of industry or business, an entrepreneur should start simple. He recommended using platforms like Ebay, Etsy, Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist, Shopify and BigCommerce while getting started.
“Technology is always going to ‘rot’ like a living, breathing thing,” Powell said. “You’re going to need to update components of your website or see what’s the new thing in the market.”
Businesses can optimize their websites by diversifying the payment options for customers during checkout and streamlining inventory management process. Powell said entrepreneurs should not spend too many resources on the design of their website but rather on keywords and content relevant to the product.
“Your front door is not going to be your website,” he said. “Your front door is going to be Google, so your website has to rank well in Google.”
Firms can reduce supplier costs by buying products in bulk and negotiating with delivery services, Powell said.
Considering funding options
Quinten Messbarger, vice president of Missouri Innovation Center, an entrepreneurial resource center in Columbia, gave tips for entrepreneurs looking for ways to fund their business in the initial stages.
Messbarger said bootstrapping, or an entrepreneur building a company using their own money, could be the easiest and most ideal option for companies that have time to grow.
He said entrepreneurs who need to invest in capital machinery could reduce costs by leasing equipment.
“There are suppliers and vendors in your ecosystem that will benefit with your success,” he said. “They will give you a lot of product early on and be your vendor later when you are successful.”
Bootstrapping may not be a viable option for everyone. That’s when debt and equity play a role, Messbarger said.
Taking out loans can be a low-risk way of funding a business, he said.
Equity, on the other hand, does not require immediate repayment, and equity investors can be helpful in ways other than the capital they provide. On the downside, however, equity funding can cost an entrepreneur part of their company.
Leveraging social media
Teah Hopper, a Columbia-based social media strategist and consultant, discussed ways in which entrepreneurs can advertise and connect with their customers through social media.
Social media advertising can either be organic or paid, she said. Organic social media advertising requires entrepreneurs to set up an account, post regularly and consistently, develop an audience and build relationships. It bears fruit in about six to nine months, she said, as opposed to paid advertising that can help get a quick lead.
To be successful on social media, entrepreneurs need to have a brand, know their target audience, and set realistic goals to measure success, Hopper said.
“Start with a social media channel based on your target audience,” she said. “Which platform do you enjoy?”
Hopper recommended using a posting schedule and a content calendar to help business owners maintain consistency.
“If you stop once, the algorithm will not favor you,” Hopper said. “Consistency helps to stay on top of people’s mind.”