Columbia preparing more resources for minority-owned businesses

Tammy Nobles had struggled to market her small Columbia coaching and consulting business, Noble Necessities, but when she started using social media to market her brand, things changed. At an open forum with other minority- and women-owned businesses in Columbia, Noble shared the story of how she transformed her dormant business.

The event showcasing resources available to those businesses took place June 12 at the Missouri Innovation Center, hosted by the City of Columbia’s Supplier Diversity Program, the Missouri Small Business & Technology Development Centers and Columbia’s Regional Economic Development, Inc. It was third such event hosted by the groups, dating back to last summer. They invited insurance agents, a loan officer, and a representative of the Missouri Women’s Business Center as resources for the community.

Noble gave a presentation about how business owners can use live broadcasting as a way to engage customers, build brands and market to clients. Every day, she uses Periscope, the video streaming app, and Facebook to find and engage new customers.

“If you are looking to go global, then one of the complimentary, cheapest ways is to go live,” Noble said. “By the time you leave here, you should have basic knowledge on how to get ready, get set and be ready to go live.”

At the birth of her Periscope broadcasts, Noble had around 20 followers; today, she has more than 400. Noble has invested in lighting equipment, tripods and different streaming devices to enhance her broadcasts. She emphasized how important good timing, staging, sound and lighting are to producing a quality live stream. Noble said her investments have paid off, as she has engaged more customers now than she ever could have without social media.

“Going live is the next frontier; 71 percent of large businesses are using some sort of social media to market to their businesses, and they are doing video broadcasting, blogging, live streaming,” Noble said. “So what does that say to the small business owner? If that’s what they’re doing to reach their clients, that’s where we need to be.”

Marketing is not the only thing business owners at the event expressed concerns about. Many with remote or startup businesses do not have an office space or a facility to meet with clients. Columbia’s Small Business & Technology Development Center, or SBTDC, is working to provide a resource center for minority-owned businesses, where the business owners can freely use the coworking space to develop their companies. Virginia Wilson, the retired director of the Columbia SBTDC and a current consultant for the organization, said that the project is in its initial phase, but a representative from Columbia’s Youth Empowerment Zone has already offered space as a possible location for the resource center.

The SBTDC is also preparing a mentorship program that will pair members of the minority business community with experienced business owners throughout Columbia to help provide them connections to grow their companies. Wilson passed out assessment forms at the event on Wednesday to get an idea of what the needs are of these businesses and match them with a possible volunteer mentor from the business community as soon as possible.

“We have a lot of minority businesses that we found out could use some extra resources to help grow their businesses,” Wilson said. “On our end, we’re in a hurry to get some resources to these folks and start seeing some results. I would think they would want it as soon as possible to get their needs filled and start growing their companies.”

Columbia’s Supplier Diversity Program is working to fuel growth of minority businesses with its new Sharp End Entrepreneurial Development Fund. The fund is named after Sharp End, a historical district of black-owned businesses that was located in downtown Columbia, and is geared toward underutilized businesses in the area. In partnership with Justine Petersen Housing & Reinvestment Corporation, an intermediary lender that works with the SBA to provide micro-loans, the fund will provide grants geared in part toward providing businesses technical assistance, like accounting or marketing help.

“The purpose is to help you understand your business better,” said James Whitt, director of the city’s Supplier Diversity Program. “If you understand your business better, you will be more successful in the future. So, we are trying to position everybody to be successful, and that’s the purpose of this Sharp End Entrepreneurial Development Fund. We will call it SEED, because we are planting seeds.”

Whitt said he is meeting with the fund’s committee this week to determine application requirements and make them available for the public next week.

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