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This series is committed to helping you identify the pathway to your success that lands you the biggest contracts in the world for the purpose of building your legacy business. (If you are just beginning, you're going to want to go back to part one of this nine-part series to see how we are building on these topics.)

In this segment I discuss the corporate opportunity.  Do corporations take small businesses seriously? Do large companies take small businesses seriously? I don't really have a story for you on this one. I'm just going to share with you my observation from teaching this topic for well over 12 years now. I have discovered in the workshops I facilitate that I primarily get three different types of individuals in the classes, and I'm going to be really, really specific.

These three types of clients are comprised of businesses owned by women; small businesses owned by minorities; and small businesses owned by a number of members of what's considered diverse communities or diverse suppliers.  Individuals that come into my workshops typically fall into one of three groups. The first group I'll describe as the folks that look at a wall and go, “that's a tall wall. Whoever built that wall didn't really want anybody to climb it. Don't they know that's, that's just too hard. It's like the only reason they built that wall was to keep people out”. And that particular group, for a whole host of reasons -- many of them which are justified in a reality that the individual may have had -- believes that big companies aren't serious about doing business with small companies; that it's a male dominated environment that is not serious, and they're only paying lip service to women-owned businesses; that it is a supply chain that is primarily run by a majority -- whether that be white men or whatever.

So, there are people that look at corporate procurement and say it's not worth it. They may have actually gone through the effort, knocked on some doors, had some doors closed on them and just concluded that it wasn't worth it. And some, quite frankly, have been told that they didn't get business because they were a woman, they were too small, or they were a minority. That has happened. I would argue that 30 years ago, probably globally --and clearly in the United States -- 70% of the reason why some diverse businesses didn't get opportunities is because they were minority-owned, because they were women, because they were gay/lesbian owned, because they were Hispanic owned, Asian-American owned, Indian owned, disabled veteran owned. That was the reason why they didn't get an opportunity. I would tell you that now, in today's time, that that's still probably 30% of the reason why they're not getting opportunities.

I do believe that, as long as you're doing business with humans, all of the “ism’s” - racism, sexism; and all the “ist’s ” - racist, sexist, misogynist; homophobia and everything else under the sun are going to be obstacles. I don't know how long we go before that's no longer an issue, but I would tell you that in my experience, that's probably 30% of the reason why you’re not getting opportunities. It's real. It's still happening. I don't want anyone to believe that somehow you're perceiving the world not really as it is, and that we've gotten past all of the nonsense from long ago. Some of that nonsense is real. It's still very present, and if you live long enough, you're going to be confronted with it. But what we're talking about, with regard to the mindset, is how do you get past it?

That gets me to my second group. Now my second group looks at that exact same wall and they go, “there's got to be a way. I know the wall is high, but there's got to be a way -- other people have gotten over, so I have to figure it out. I don't know if I need to grab some ladders. I don't know if I need to stand on somebody's shoulder. I don't know. But there has to be a way and I'm going to figure it out”. They understand that if only 30% of the reason as to why they are not getting an opportunity with the big boys is because they are women-or-minority owned businesses, then 70% of the reason must be attributed to some other factor, in which case, it's probably something that they can overcome, and they decide they're going to do it. (By the way, there is empirical evidence. You can look at the Small Business Association’s website in the US.)

Then we have the third group which goes, “you know what, let me redefine this whole thing. And maybe the wall’s not so tall anyway, maybe the wall really and truly is just a hurdle. It's just a matter of how I'm viewing it. The question then becomes, what do I know about what goes on with walls so I can find the easiest way to get over them?” That's the profile of the three different groups -- and I can tell you right now, the folks that end up in that third category are creating opportunities like there's no tomorrow and never looking back.

It takes the ones in the second group obviously a little bit longer, but eventually they figure it out. The ones in the first group take forever because the first thing that we end up doing is having to change their mindset about the wall, since it turns out that corporations do not have an active campaign to keep you out of their business. They don't. They have an active campaign to find a way to get you in, however you have to meet them more than halfway. I don't know if you recall two episodes ago when I discussed the fact that corporations have highly evolved processes and systems, and those processes and systems need to be challenged for innovation. But those processes and systems have been part and parcel to making them successful, so they aren't going to bring a new supplier in and blow up everything if they aren't convinced that:  a) what the new supplier’s offering will work; and b) they can implement it with little to no operational risk to the business

Most corporations have a supplier diversity department -- whether it's a part of supply chain, HR or legal. In some cases, it actually is in community affairs - rare, but I've seen it there as well. These departments are dedicated to increasing the opportunities for small business owners of diverse backgrounds and finding ways for them to participate in the corporate supply chain.

However, in order to capitalize on the opportunities that become available, you must have the proper mindset. I have discussed the mindset for success; the various opportunities I've walked through; and why corporate procurement may be a good option for you -- either in conjunction with government procurement or as a stand-alone venture. I've discussed the need for innovation and how large an opportunity it is, but that aside, we still have another issue: the mindset based on their individual realities that people bring to this market.

I remember listening to the Commerce Secretary two years ago saying that the U S Small Business Administration had seen in their most recent data that one-point -three trillion was spent with minority businesses in the U S alone. Now remember, I mentioned to you that the top 500 companies spend 30 trillion alone. One-point-three trillion is a pretty paltry number in comparison. That number should actually be about 15 trillion or more, and of course if you include women business owners, it should probably be about 70% which is 21 trillion. If you look at the Billion Dollar Round Table, you can see who the members are. These are companies that spend $1 billion a year or over $1 billion a year with diverse suppliers. I can't recall how many are in there right now. I think the last time I checked there might have been 21 or 50 or some odd number, but the number grows daily. 

Let's just be honest. A number of people -- number of companies -- got in before you even opened your business and they have ruined it for you. I was a Minority Woman Business Coordinator in 1992. As a buyer, I can tell you I took a chance on some companies and it backfired. They oversold themselves and they failed. And it was a black eye for me with my internal clients where anytime I said I wanted to bring in a new supplier – a small business - for an opportunity, I started getting all kinds of pushback. And eventually by the time we got to a manager that had the authority to override my choice, I would lose out because I didn't have a compelling business case as to why we should take the risk on an unproven company.

Now, if you think about it, for your company you would say the exact same thing. If you have a company that's doing something reliably, doing it to expectation, then why would you bring in an unknown? Just to see what happens? You are probably not going to do it. So, the people who came in before you who didn't exceed the mark, didn't even hit the mark and did not perform worth a darn have made it difficult for you and a whole host of other companies. That's just the reality. I need you to understand that fact, which is why when I say, “create what you haven't yet imagined by discovering what you don't know”, the focus is on what you don't know.

Let me repeat. What we focus on is what you don't know. As I like to say, yes, there's a secret handshake and the people that know it aren't telling you, but they're not doing it to keep you out. They're doing it because they're building legacy businesses of their own and that's their competitive secret. That's their competitive advantage. However, corporations are actually looking for you to come in, but they need you to be ready to do business. They need you to demonstrate that you know what you're doing and you can clearly succeed. They need for you to come in and be the supplier for today and tomorrow.

That's why the folks in my third group that redefine the hurdle come in with the attitude of, “well, what do I really need to know to succeed with this customer? How do I come in and hit a home run? How do I make it clear that I've got the solution they're looking for that will create the value they need and that, given the opportunity, I can handle the business”?

That's the mindset you want to have. Focus on the fact that corporations take you seriously and they want you to succeed because your success is their success. Your failure is their failure. The last thing any buyer really wants to do is to tell a company, “Hey, uh, it's not going to work out. We're not renewing your contract. We need to cancel your contract. I have a complaint from somebody in the business unit. I have somebody in the head office talking about it”. That's the last thing they want to do. Nobody wants to have that conversation. Nobody looks forward to that. Even the people who've gotten good at having those conversations don't want to have them.

So yes, corporations are serious about doing business with you. They take small business seriously. This is not one of those things to which they pay lip service. If it turns out that you're offering something in a way that they cannot use it, then their response can be perceived as lip service -- and perception is reality. I get that. But if you offer it to them at the value they need; you offer it to them the way they need it; and you can demonstrate that you can handle the business, then you're never going to look back.

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