Just being a minority business owner isn’t enough to win deals. Even at companies thoroughly committed to diversity, suppliers must show they add value to the bottom line.
“You can’t lead with diversity,” says Gregg Ontiveros, owner of Group O Inc., one of the largest Hispanic-owned businesses in the country. “Diversity will get you in the door, but the products and services you provide are what matters.” Here are some more tips from the experts.
Get big: In the global economy, corporations are streamlining their supply chains, replacing local businesses with national and international providers. For minority-owned enterprises, the message is clear: Get bigger, whether it’s by rapidly expanding operations, partnering with firms outside the U.S. or merging with other companies.
“You need a national footprint to be able to play in the game of supplier diversity,” says Ralph Moore, president of Ralph G. Moore Associates, a Chicago-based diversity consulting firm. He recognizes that consolidation runs counter to most minority business owners’ entrepreneurial nature, which is why he advises them to “put your ego aside.”
Yoshio Dan Gotoh, a former co-chair of the Chicago Minority Business Development Council, advises looking beyond U.S. borders. “Chinese companies are maturing and want to export products with their own brand, but they need a U.S. partner,” he says.
Join as many chambers of commerce as you can afford: “We can provide business owners with help getting certified, services like loan packaging, and technical assistance that will ensure they have the capacity to compete,” says Roberto Cornelio of the Illinois Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
“We always try to get businesses involved in local chambers of commerce that are not their own ethnic group,” says Rose Olea, president of the Chicago chapter of the National Association of Asian Professionals. “They’re not expensive to join, and doing so expands the scope of who you can approach and offer your services to.”
Network, network, network: The business adage of “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know” still holds true.
“A lot of business deals have to do not only with the quality of the firm and services rendered, but also with relationships at the highest level,” says James Lowry, a senior advisor at management consultancy Boston Consulting Group. “That’s why I tell minorities you have to establish these relationships.”
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