Susan Zimmerman operates a retail store on Cape Cod and a small tech-consulting business in Wellesley, Mass. Lori Richardson does sales consulting from her Boston office and started a successful Seattle networking event. Melody Biringer organizes networking events, celebrates women’s success in city guidebooks, and runs Biringer Farm Products, a specialty food company in the Pacific Northwest. All three serial entrepreneurs spend much of their spare time helping other small businesses grow.
The Intuit Small Business Blog recently talked with Zimmerman, Richardson, and Biringer about why they love supporting their peers, what professional questions they most commonly answer, and how they find time in their busy schedules to help others.
Zimmerman, who’s started 17 businesses, has a lot of advice to share with small businesses and entrepreneurs. Her main businesses at the moment are SueB.do, a seasonal retail shop that sells beach bags, clothing, and accessories, and Computer Companion, where she teaches small groups of people how to use tech devices efficiently.
Why do you help small-business owners? I have always been a successful entrepreneur and have a lot of advice and experience to share. I like inspiring others to pursue their true passions and make a living doing what they love.
How do you do it? I give free advice through Facebook Chat. It is a platform that I am always on, so it is very easy for me to answer questions and be available.
When do you find the time? All day long. I always have a handheld with me, which makes it easy to communicate.
Do you limit the number of people you help at any one time? I only help those who have a reasonable request. If someone starts taking advantage of my time or knowledge, I politely tell them my hourly rate and suggest we set up a meeting.
What’s the biggest issue that new businesses need help with? Managing how much time they spend on social media and understanding which platforms are best for them or their business.
Lori Richardson splits her time between Boston and Seattle, helping mid-market technology companies and professional services firms grow through her company, Score More Sales. She created the Seattle networking event Total Networking, now in its fourth year, and is a prolific blogger, award-winning sales trainer, sales coach, and charity auctioneer. She also wrote the small business book 50 Days to Build Your Sales.
Why do you help small-business owners? Entrepreneurs have common struggles with clarity around what it is they are selling and how to go about turning ideas, products, and services into dollars. I like to help because I have been through it. I struggled my first three years in business and am able to offer ideas that work. So, why not?
How do you do it? Previously, I created special programs and projects. For example, in 2010 I spoke to 50 groups of entrepreneurs all around the U.S. Now I speak at specific events and am a guest on webinars. I believe people should not feel pressured to help anyone at any time but instead offer planned formal or informal support.
When do you find the time? I make time. Some people rescue animals or act in their community play. I enjoy talking about how to grow sales and all the components involved in that, so shifting the conversation to entrepreneurs is something I thoroughly enjoy.
Do you limit the number of people you help at any one time? Yes. At any given time, I work with someone pro bono — often an entrepreneur or individual sales rep.
What’s the biggest issue new businesses need help with? Small-business owners struggle with creating compelling business conversations that cause a prospective customer to understand their offer and how it will benefit them. They also struggle with how to grow sales in a planned way with sales tools and a process.
Melody Biringer runs The CRAVE Company, which connects savvy business owners through online networks and in-person events and celebrates women’s success through city guidebooks. The founder of 23 companies — including a furniture store, an events company, and a fitness studio — Biringer’s oldest operation is Biringer Farm Products, a 25-year-old specialty food business located north of Seattle. She’s currently finishing a book about her professional experiences.
Why do you do it? I get juiced up talking business. I am a startup junkie, so it fascinates me to talk with others about a new idea or a new startup.
How do you do it? My favorite time to talk with new business owners is on a walk. I walk four miles three times a week anyway, and it is more fun to get into a deep conversation about business issues while walking versus sitting at a coffee bar.
Do you limit the number of people you help at any one time? I am not sure it works that way. If I have time and people can come to me, we make it happen.
What’s the biggest issue new businesses need help with? Many try to do everything themselves when starting out, because they don’t think they can afford to outsource or they are control freaks and don’t trust others. I like to encourage them to bring on outside help early on and get used to it. I like to think I inspire others to just do it — fail fast, prototype, and just get started.
Do you help startups or other small businesses? In the comments below, tell us how you carve out time and what you do.