Monday, October 19, 2009

The Small Business Development people, neither small nor... well, never mind

Y'ever notice how I tend to wait to write about the hard stuff until I have something more positive to report?

Last Wednesday morning I had my appointment with the folks at the Small Business Development Center. Having not put on business clothes in six weeks, I felt a little weird getting ready. Kind of reminded me of the first crisp day after starting school in September: you get to wear your favorite sweater. When I'm not playing "Business Sue" on a daily basis, it's definitely more fun picking out which professional clothes to wear.

I had two appointments: first one with the startup expert and the second one with the marketing guru. First, I have to say I wasn't extremely impressed with the startup person. We chatted about my business concept for about ten minutes, and he spent the remainder of the hour showing me that I could do all the necessary state registration work online. There might have been a little bit of a generation gap there, as he seemed pretty impressed with the whole process and I just wanted to move onto more interesting things. I got some of my questions answered, but for the most part, I didn't feel that I'd gotten a lot more information than I could have read on a website.

The marketing guru was a real trip. She was really pleased that I'd sketched out a basic marketing plan with target audiences and prospective communications media (web, publications, word of mouth, etc.). I think her exact exclamation was, "Finally! Someone comes in with a plan!" She proceeded to pull it apart, telling me to revamp it into a calendar by month and expenditures, which makes sense. Launching into a 45-minute-long monologue, she drove the networking angle, though she didn't use the word "network" once. She was really pushing for me to join a women business owners' organization she's an officer of, noting the opportunity to cross promote other members' ventures on my tours by, for example, giving out cookies from another woman's business.

Maybe it's just me, but you start mentioning cookies and I start thinking about people who treat business like it's a PTA fundraiser. Now, I know that the treachery and politics in some PTAs would make New Jersey politics look like nursery school, but in general, meh. I don't want to limit myself to the girls' side of the gym. That's not me, and I really don't want to be in an organization where people think small and are each others' main source of income in the hopes of drumming up a little extra business (i.e. "I'll get people for your Mary Kay business if you tell them about my Tupperware."). I've been on first-name basis with Fortune 500 CEOs. I've written shareholders' meeting speeches. I've worked with and for entrepreneurs who've built sizeable businesses. Maybe I'm a snob, but using the cookie example sent me to a bad, bad place in my mind that was a bit of a struggle to leave.

That said, I've resolved to take in all inputs, regardless of where they come from and how much I'd have thrown up on them in the past. Cross promotion makes sense. It's inexpensive and it builds relationships. Maybe I was just annoyed that she had barreled into a monologue on everything I should do without taking two minutes to ask about me and my background. Maybe she's accustomed to dealing with people who've never worked in a corporate environment and doesn't want to waste limited consulting time hearing about their day jobs at the Gap. Regardless, it's kind of ironic that she's supposed to be a marketing whiz and she didn't even bother to assess her audience.

I have to be honest, too: the thought of joining business organizations kind of scares me. Not kind of. Does. I absolutely hate going to meetings where you stand around and try to engage people in conversation when they'd rather catch up with people they already know. It reminds me of sorority rush -- the ones when I was already in the sorority. And I am wondering about my elevator pitch -- the two minute description of my business concept. Based on some of the feedback I've gotten from people I've pitched it to, and how it differs from what's in my mind, I'm wondering whether I need to change the pitch... or change the concept. (The feedback concept is probably more profitable, but it's also more pedestrian than what I want to do.) I'm really not into busing boring and cranky senior citizens to the Ellis Island ferry and telling a story or two on the way, but that sounds like what some folks (including the marketing lady) are hearing or perceiving is my goal. Eh, who knows if they're even really listening to what I'm saying, or whether they hear "tour" and their minds go straight to the seniors tours and don't make a U-turn back to me. They're not even in the demographic I'd like to reach -- they haven't even heard of Weird NJ.

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