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VOL. 130 | NO. 177 | Friday, September 11, 2015

Small-Business Tips: Research, Network and Have Cash

By Don Wade

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Small business ideas – dreams, if you will – take time. To create, to develop, to implement and to sustain.

Until recently, Jennifer McCullough’s entrepreneurial dream was just starting to heat up. She had not yet become the successful seafood brand now known as Chef Jenn that spans 18 products in about 1,200 mostly Kroger and Wal-Mart stores.

Or as McCullough said: “Chef Jenn did not come out of the oven fully baked.”

McCullough made this point during her keynote address on Thursday, Sept. 10, at the Small Business Seminar at the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art. The seminar series is presented by The Daily News Publishing Co., and included a panel discussion led by publisher Eric Barnes.

Also participating in the panel: James R. Mulroy II, managing shareholder at Jackson Lewis PC in Memphis; Will Chase, president, CEO and founding board member of Triumph Bank; and Bob Moore, CEO and key executive peer group chair with Vistage.

McCullough, a Memphis native, also made the point that all entrepreneurs don’t have to follow the same path or even a traditional path. She, for instance, did not get a business degree. Her master’s, from the University of Colorado Denver, was in education. But she also graduated the Cooking School of the Rockies and, yes, she tried working in restaurants because it seemed like the thing to do.

It just wasn’t for her. Fast forward to her return to Memphis and she’s a mom raising a son after a divorce. She went from cooking and catering for other busy moms to starting her own business, originally called Silver Spoon Supper Club and then branded as Uptown Grocer.

She was not an overnight success, recalling that at one point she was trying to place her food around town “anyplace that had a refrigerator and women.” That included hair salons and at least one antique shop.

But starting really small is an instructive lesson. Especially in Memphis.

“Memphis has a rich history of small-business success,” Moore said.

For example, on the first day FedEx Corp. was in business it delivered a mere 189 packages.

Good things take time. Right now, Chef Jenn is still a one-woman operation. But that could change sooner rather than later. Mulroy says any new small businesses needs solid research and planning behind it and a good team around it. And yes, complicated questions about labor law and regulations may require an attorney who is an expert in employment law.

“Don’t depend on the Internet for advice,” he said. “Or your brother.”

What every new small business has in common, of course, is the need for seed money and enough cash flow to sustain through inevitable highs and lows.

“I sold my house” to get started, McCullough said.

“The most difficult thing from day one,” said Chase, the banker, “is you cannot run out of cash.”

At Vistage, Moore says they routinely put people from different industries together to learn from one another with the understanding that the conversations are confidential. Believe it or not, people from a medical practice can learn from those who run a cement company and vice versa.

Barnes pointed out that statistically the small-business failure rate is daunting, which led Moore to remark, tongue in cheek, that the American Medical Association had judged “entrepreneurship a form of mental disease.”

That got a laugh, but Mulroy said: “Bankruptcy law (was created) because they wanted to encourage people to take risks.”

As she entered the game of small business risk, McCullough discovered that networking was the “quickest way from Point A to Point B. Even if it doesn’t feel like it at the time.”

She also stressed the importance of self-imposed deadlines to avoid camping on one micro idea or any one aspect of the business.

And no doubt, today, next week, next month, more people will decide to take the plunge and go into business for themselves.

“We make loans all the time,” Chase said.

The Daily News/The Memphis News’ Seminar Series continues Thursday, Oct. 1, at the Brooks with “Health Care: State of the Industry.”

PROPERTY SALES 90 156 6,702
MORTGAGES 61 139 4,268
BANKRUPTCIES 40 85 3,481