This article is part of our Meeting the Needs Series that is designed to help chamber professionals meet the individual needs of certain market segments. See the footer of this article for a list of posts in this series.
George Floyd’s death has ignited the need for conversation and solutions on an issue that has gone unaddressed for too long.
Many chambers are trying to figure out how the voice of business can be heard to help shape a better future for everyone.
This article explores how chamber professionals can reshape offerings and programs in order to better meet the needs of minority-owned businesses.
What is a Minority-owned Business?
Before we begin talking about how chambers can better meet the needs of minority-owned businesses, it’s important to define the demographic we’re referring to.
A minority-owned business is a US-based, for-profit business where the predominant owner(s) (owns 51% or more) and operator(s) is:
- A US citizen
- A member of a minority
According to the US Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship “Over the last 10 years, minority business enterprises accounted for more than 50 percent of the two million new businesses started in the United States and created 4.7 million jobs. There are now more than four million minority-owned companies in the United States, with annual sales totaling close to $700 billion.”
That’s a substantial number and one that likely contributes in a big way to your chamber demographics. Creating programs and offerings that assist minority members in following their entrepreneurial dreams may be a good fit for your community and an ideal way to ensure the chamber is part of the solution and diversity conversations that are currently occurring.
Over the past few weeks, the world has been watching the protests and many have called for conversations on race and equality.
You’re probably wondering what you can do to help.
Assessing the needs of your community and re-evaluating your programs to ensure the voice of business is a rainbow-colored one where everyone is represented is a start.
But how does that translate into actionable items?
Here are a few ideas for meeting the needs of minority-owned businesses in your community and your chamber.
Recruit and Market to Minority-owned Businesses in a More Inclusive Manner
At the risk of offending someone, the truth of the matter is you can create an exceptional minority-focused business program but if minority members come to your organization and don’t see any other minorities they may question your authenticity.
It is essential if you want to meet the needs of minority businesses that you recruit accordingly.
The biggest part of recruiting minority-owned businesses is not going up to people in the community who you know are members of a particular minority.
Instead, you want to create an organization and environment that they want to be a part of. That means understanding their needs and marketing those accordingly.
Become a Resource for Funding and Opportunities
One of the many things that keeps any potential business owner from recognizing their dreams is funding.
Traditionally, minority-owned businesses have been at a disadvantage in acquiring startup capital. However, recognizing that, there are groups that have begun to try to address that gap and make funding more available.
Research local groups in your area and create a one-stop shop for everything the potential minority-owned business owner would need to know in starting a business.
Grants and loans aren’t the only resources you can provide for minority-owned businesses. You should also brush up on opportunities for federal work for minority contractors. The best resource for understanding those is the Small Business administration (SBA).
The SBA allows qualifying businesses to get certified as a minority business, which may make them eligible for funding and other assistance. Some of these opportunities include:
- The Historically Underutilized Business Zone (HUBzone) Program: which allows federal contract set-asides for small businesses in economically depressed communities.
- The Women-Owned Small Business (WOSB) Federal Contract Program: for set-asides for WOSBs in industries where firms are underrepresented.
- The 8(a) Business Development (BD) Program: provides a broad scope of assistance to firms that are owned and controlled (at least 51%) by socially and economically disadvantaged individual(s).
Once you uncover funding resources, you may make this information available through your website in any of the following formats:
- an online brochure or e-book detailing the process
- a special tab on your website
- a how-to video
- an in-depth blog post
- an ongoing column
- a lunch and learn session
Keep an Eye on the Legislative Agenda
There may be legislation on the local, state, or federal level that impacts minority-owned businesses. If you want to meet their needs, don’t forget to keep an eye on legislation.
Many business owners simply don’t have the time to watch the legislative front. Keep an eye on it for them and advise them of anything they need to know or act upon for the benefit of their business.
Help Be the Voice for Future Minority-business Owners
Funding is not the only thing that has challenged minority-business ownership.
Another issue is the lack of enough mentors and guidance in certain communities. The chamber is in a great position to work with educators to ensure that business ownership is seen as a potential option for those who are interested in it.
Examples of this include:
- mentor programs
- school presentations with minority leaders
- content created for younger people on how to start their own business
- scholarship program for entrepreneurs/junior leadership program that would focus on business ownership
Support Workforce Diversity
Another component of meeting the needs of minority-owned businesses is helping to create a more diverse workforce particularly in certain areas that have not traditionally been diverse.
For example, the chamber executive director is in a direct position in which to create more diversity in the chamber staff itself.
Within the community, creating a more diverse workforce happens in several ways:
- create an environment where people from diverse backgrounds want to be part of your community
- create educational opportunities for non-traditional students as well as people from economically disadvantaged backgrounds
- market the opportunities in traditionally non-diverse occupations
- work with the educational system within your community to reach out to students from groups that have been traditionally overlooked in these areas (consider the recent programs helping female students become more interested in STEM subjects)
- ensure career fairs and business expos have attendees and exhibitors from a variety of backgrounds
Seek More Diverse Suppliers and Influencers
If you want to help meet the needs of minority business owners, you’ll also want to look to diversify the businesses you showcase, do business with/use as suppliers, and the people you turn to for thought leadership as well as committee and volunteer leadership.
Encourage groups that have not traditionally participated with the chamber to volunteer, submit RFPs, or sponsor events.
If you’re finding that some of these things are not economically feasible for the businesses in your community, suggest ways to make them more economically attractive such as creating partnerships for event hosting between multiple businesses or help create a supplier application process that reaches a larger, more diverse audience.
Don’t Recreate the Wheel
As most things are with chambers, the solution is very localized.
While it’s a good idea to make sure that all voices are heard and included when it comes to business in your community, it may be that there’s already a strong organization advocating for a particular minority group in your community.
If that’s the case, the competition between that organization and yours isn’t necessary.
Instead, reach out to that group and see how you might form a coalition or discover ways you might work together for the betterment of the community.
Joint ventures and offerings may be a better course of action for your community than creating programming within your chamber that is already working at another minority-based chamber nearby.
Also, familiarize yourself with the different programs that are out there in support of minority purchasing such as the #buyblackmovement. Discuss how you may incorporate these into your current buying programs, keeping in mind that you can support minority-owned businesses without fully embracing a hashtag campaign.
Whether you decide to or not, it’s important to be aware that they’re out there and you may want to spend some time on social media listening for these posts.
It is important to note that just because there’s a minority-focused chamber in your area, that does not mean you can’t offer minority programs within yours. This is something you’ll need to decide. But it’s worth reaching out to the other organization and finding out how you may both help each other grow and thrive while also helping the community.
Minority-owned businesses are a fast-growing component of the economic landscape in this country.
If you want to better meet the needs of your community you should absolutely think of how you can encourage and serve them. Doing so can help ensure that the voice of business is one that is robust and inclusive in your community.
Wondering about how to meet the needs of other specific demographics? Read the previous articles in our Meeting the Needs Series.