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Nell Merlino

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You Don't Have to Grow It Alone! Why Community Matters in Business

Posted: 10/04/11 03:53 PM ET

True or False: You know you have a good business, but you've reached a point where you don't know what to do next. You know you want to expand, you just don't know HOW to do it.

Does this sound like you? If so, you're not alone. I meet hundreds of women in this same predicament each year, and I know there are thousands more feeling the same way. And you know what I say to all of them? You don't have to grow it alone!

There's absolutely no reason to try to build a business on your own. Sure, it's possible to do it, but why on earth would you, especially when you've got thriving communities waiting to help you out?

If you don't believe me, just ask Philadelphia entrepreneur Valerie Irwin, who opened Geechee Girl Rice Café, a restaurant specializing in the Low Country cuisine of South Carolina and Georgia, in 2003. Four years later, she moved locations and doubled her seating capacity. Though the business was doing well, "It was very difficult to amass wealth by operating a small neighborhood restaurant," says Irwin. "I wanted to come up with an expansion plan that I felt would respect the authenticity of our cooking and not compromise the family feeling of our flagship business."

So she decided to launch a fleet of food trucks that served the most iconic of Low Country fare, like gumbo, country shrimp and grits and hoppin' John (blackeye peas and rice). It was a brilliant idea, but there was a catch: she didn't know how to go from idea to execution. She had no community behind her and she felt totally alone. So she signed up for our Make Mine a Million $ Business event -- M3 1000 -- in Philadelphia on September 26, one of 79 women entrepreneurs who competed in the daylong event. And, Dear Reader, she won!

Irwin described the experience as thrilling: "I had never before been in a room with so much expertise!" she says, "I had never been in a room with so much encouragement. I hadn't pitched my expansion idea before I went to M3. The fact that so many successful business women -- and a few men -- thought it was a good idea was extremely heartening."

Our community also shows women just how much confidence they have. Colleen Mook, for example, is the CEO of babybehip.com, an online retailer offering personalized baby gifts. The business, which was founded in 2002 and is based in Horsham, Pennsylvania, caters to the friends and family of new parents, as well as corporate gift programs. When Mook initially signed up for our first pitch party in Philadelphia, she said she was "extremely nervous, but I knew that I needed to do this to get out of my comfort zone," she told me. For years she had been coming up with excuses not to grow her company, but when she heard about M3 she decided to go for it.

It was one of the smartest business decisions she ever made.

And the lessons she learned apply to everyday life. One of my favorite mottos is "failing to prepare means preparing to fail," and it's written in the M3 business materials. Mook took this to heart, preparing her pitch over and over, planning exactly what she was going to say. By the time pitch night rolled around not only did her children know the pitch by heart, "but I felt comfortable, had fun and nailed it!" she says. Did I mention she won?

She also learned that she had to be her own best advocate. This is a problem many women face: they don't want to toot their own horns because they're afraid of appearing boastful. But if you don't sell yourself, who will?

Irwin and Mook are just two examples of women who finally realized that they can benefit from a supportive community. Women who know they have a great business, who know they are ready to spread their wings and are smart enough to recognize that a little help from their friends goes a long way will do well. Who knows what would have happened if Irwin and Mook didn't come to this realization? They might have been stuck in same place forever.

This Thursday and Friday, our Blast! Business Leadership Institute is taking place in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Thirty women entrepreneurs in will be selected for CMI's Business Accelerator Program, a twelve-month long program designed to help businesses reach $250,000 in annual gross revenues.

I invite you to discover firsthand what thousands of women entrepreneurs have already learned: That there's a community right here, waiting to help you turn your dreams into a reality.

And who knows? Maybe next time I'll be writing about you!

 
 
 

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