Do you want to survive in this economy or do you want to thrive?
This was the question posed by Meredith Elliot Powell to members of the local business community who attended last week’s second annual Macon County Enterprise Banquet held in the cafeteria of the new Mountain View Intermediate School. The banquet was hosted by the county’s Economic Development Commission (EDC), and Powell was the night’s featured speaker.
Powell, the founder of Motion First, a business consultancy group based in Asheville, is the author of two books on best business practices and business development, including “Forty-Two Rules to Turn Your Prospects into Customers” and “Mastering the Art of Success.”
“I am passionate about business,” said Powell at the beginning of her presentation entitled “The Economy is moving. Are you moving with it?” She said that while much economic development focuses on attracting corporations from outside of the community, her focus was on developing existing businesses.
“Successful people know that our economy is not down, it’s different,” Powell told the room. Since the economy has shifted, most people have struggled or they have survived, noted Powell, but there is a small segment of the business community that she says is doing well.
Four strategies: Embrace reality, focus, connect & add value
Powell outlined four main actions and strategies that she has seen successful people consistently take to make their businesses thrive. The first, she said, is to “embrace the reality” that in this “different” economy, “success is now a moving target.”
Successful businesses have realized that “we are moving out of a push economy and into a pull economy,” meaning that businesses are no longer in control of the economy; consumers are. “It’s not what we sell that gives us our competitive edge, but how we sell it,” Powell said. The return on investment that people are looking for in today’s market is trust and value, she added.
“What we focus on in life expands, and successful people know that,” Powell said, leading into her second strategy: focusing and prioritizing goals. “When you talk to successful people in this economy and you say, ‘What is it that you want?’ it jumps off their tongue.”
Powell explained that a “razor-like focus” on specific goals helps successful business people identify and prioritize certain actions or strategies that can help them achieve their goals. “Successful people are just like the rest of us,” she said, “but the difference is that somewhere in that week, somewhere in that day, they take 30 minutes or an hour to prioritize an action that is going to move them to that goal.”
The most emphasized trait of successful people, said Powell, is their ability to make connections. Statistics have proven that education, skill and talent all being equal, the person that is better connected will be more successful, she said.
It isn’t what you know, she said. “Successful people really understand that how many people you know, how many people you help, and how many people you know that specifically understand how to help you, is directly related to how successful you are.” After asking her audience to look around the room, she remarked, “Someone in here right now has the power to help you get whatever it is that you want or ... need.”
The key is to build trust and long-term sustainable relationships, Powell said, adding that successful people build their connections with what she calls “a servant’s heart.” “They approach connections with the attitude that I am going to give long before I get.” Successful people invest in other people, but they also know to ask for help, Powell said. She cited the example of John Chambers, CEO of Costco, who when asked about the secret of his success replied that, since he was seven years old, he has gone through life asking other people to help him.
Finally, Powell stressed the importance of adding value. “What differentiates you? Why should I buy a product or service from you as opposed to somebody else? And can you convey that to me?” she asked.
Before trying to add value, Powell explained, one must understand the true value of the product or service one offers. Successful people consistently work to understand and convey the value of what they bring to the table. After they understand that, the key to adding value is to listen and then “take action on what they hear” that their customers want and need.
County awarded with CEC Designation
As reported last week, Macon County has been designated as a Certified Entrepreneurial Community (CEC) through an AdvantageWest program, which encourages and supports entrepreneurship in communities while also improving the business climate for existing companies. Achieving the certification has been a main goal of the EDC for more than a year.
Before Powell’s presentation at the Feb. 24 Enterprise Banquet, representatives of AdvantageWest, an economic development group in western North Carolina, presented an award to representatives from the county who have been actively involved in pursuing the designation for the county, including EDC advisory board chairman, Ed Shatley, EDC director, Trevor Dalton and Franklin town alderman Bob Scott.
Tom Jenkins, the AdvantageWest board chairman, gave a brief background of the CEC program, saying that it grew out of another AdvantageWest initiative in the 1990s called Certified Industrial Sites. In this program, communities were assisted in developing sites to be “shovel ready” for attracting industrial prospects.
In the early 2000s, however, it became apparent that small business was going to be the driving force for jobs in western North Carolina, Jenkins said. The CEC program was developed to announce to entrepreneurs and small businesses that a community is committed to supporting and encouraging entrepreneurship.
Pam Lewis, Senior Vice President of Entrepreneurial Development at AdvantageWest, explained the process that the county went through to achieve the CEC designation, a program which she said will soon be launched nationwide. Among other things, the county had to demonstrate a commitment to focus on entrepreneurship and small business development.
“For a lot of rural communities that have traditionally just focused on recruitment, that is a big first step,” Lewis said. She also noted that a new business resource guide developed by the EDC was another element of the approval process. The guide compiles information needed by start-ups and businesses which want to establish or expand their operations in the county.
Another aspect of the CEC designation is increasing access to capital in the community. Lewis noted that two chapters of SCORE, a nonprofit association dedicated to educating entrepreneurs and helping small businesses start, have been established in the county.
Lewis said that acceptance into the CEC program gives the county certain benefits, such as access to the Advantage Opportunity Loan Fund that provides revolving loan funds for entrepreneurs that is available to entrepreneurs in the AdvantageWest region and to CEC communities. As part of a national marketing campaign for CECs, a newly launched website will include information and testimonials about communities that have been certified in the program.
Shatley noted that a huge effort had been placed on becoming a Certified Entrepreneurial Community, which he said will offer the county a foundation for future work in business development.