As the country continues to experience economic uncertainty, it’s more important than ever for small businesses to be proactive and prepared for the challenging, and often unexpected, hurdles that characterize today’s business environment. This panel brought together business leaders and experts to discuss how small businesses can help safeguard their business against the unexpected and optimize their business for success.
- Managing marketing strategies and budgets in a downturn
- Words of wisdom and optimism from a barber with a 30-year old dream
- Prioritizing mental health to boost your business: advice from business owners
- ‘If I can reach one person, then I’ve done something right:’ A small business owner shares her mental health story
Emily: And now, we are ready to hop into preparing your business for economic uncertainty. As I mentioned before we got started, I have the pleasure of leading this conversation and I’m really excited for you to hear these different voices today on a topic that I’m sure all of us think about, especially given everything that’s going on in the world right now. Before we dig into the meat, I am going to go around the horn and have everyone introduce themselves and give us that one to two minute overview of who you are and what your business does. Mignon, why don’t I start with you?
Mignon: Sure. You want to only give me one to two minutes. I can be long-winded about what I am so passionate about and that is The Cupcake Collection. I started this business with no money, no credit, no knowledge of the business on the last $5 that I had for dinner one week and turned it into over 5 million cupcakes sold. And what I want people to know is that going into a business where you didn’t have any experience is not a reason not to do it. That voice is waking you up every morning like me at 3:17 that’s telling you to get after it, is the one that’s telling you the truth. The one that’s telling you you do not have what it takes, you do not know what you’re doing is the one that’s lying to you.
All you have is all you need to get you from where you are to where it is you want to be. And now here we are 15 years later, it took me two years of working every day like it was a business before my store ever actually opened, before we had the doors open. And I want people to know that every stupid thing you’ve ever had to do is taking you from where you are to where you want to be.
Emily: I love that. And Mignon, I’ve had the fortunate pleasure of getting to know you all throughout the pandemic. So, I’m so excited for everyone on the line today to be inspired by your story. You really do have that true start from nothing and grew yourself into a huge brand. So we will dig into more of that later. I want to hand the mic over now to Saleema. Saleema, give us a little background on who you are and where you’re coming from today.
Saleema: Absolutely. Thank you so much, Emily. I mean, follow that voice. Yes, I think that’s an inspiration to all of us. I have a background as well, so I want to connect with you. I want to know you, so that’s amazing. I’m so honored to be on this panel. My name is Saleema Syed and I am the Chief Operating Officer for Webex Marketing at Webex. As you all know, Webex by Cisco is a video conferencing and online meeting platform. I have been part of this Webex journey for a few years now, and I’m so honored to be able to take this Webex as a video to businesses like Mignon, to small and enterprise businesses as we expand and grow into the market. My background is I have over 25 years of experience in the technology industry and I’ve been part of small businesses, huge enterprise organizations, mainly focusing on helping them grow from very small spreadsheets and small 50 to a 100 people organization to 900, 1,000 organizations and prepare them for either IPO or acquisitions.
I have a passion for leveraging technology to build not just technology to do the things that we do, but also to streamline processes and focusing on execution of a strategy. Because strategy without execution is just words on a piece of paper. When we follow that voice at midnight and put together a business plan, if you do not have a plan to execute, to be able to take it to the next level, then it just remains a business plan. And that is what I do. I do have operational expertise and as much as I went to school to learn, be an engineer and then follow to do strategy, I combine them together very seamlessly to provide and help organizations grow. And I am excited to share some of the things that I’ve learned along the way with this group of individuals.
Emily: Thank you so much, Saleema. I think having a business as big as Cisco and Webex as a part of this conversation is super important and I’m really excited for you to dig in on some of the technology elements that can help businesses protect themselves and also streamline processes. All right, Joanne, over to you. You get to introduce yourself third. Tell us a little bit about your background and where you’re coming from. Oh, we might have to unmute you here. Oh, hold on, Joanne, we’re going to have you unmute yourself. You’re muted right now. Let’s see, are you getting a popup to turn your microphone on? There you are.
Joanne: Okay. I kept doing it and I kept muting me again, so there must have been an override. Anyway, thank you so much Emily and Saleema and Mignon for having me with you on this show, I’m honored. I’ve been in the business a little bit longer than the ladies here. I have been doing high-tech for 35 years and I like Saleema have come large enterprise, but I didn’t start my career in sales and marketing. I actually started as a software engineer, that’s for my training. And then I stretched myself into all these other roles and I really agree with what Mignon says. You’re exactly where you want to be. Think about that for a second. You are exactly where you want to be and if you want to change, it’s up to you to make those changes. And that’s what I did in my whole career.
I was never afraid to take new sort of challenges. I grew my career up to the chief marketing officer for a Fortune 200 company, a company that served Cisco, Jabil. I worked at HP, Chief Marketing Officer at Dell. I did a number of things in my career and I’m super proud of the growth because I was fearless, I stretched myself. Some of the roles that I did, I really wasn’t sure that I would be suited for. The one that really stretched me was when I moved from high-tech to manufacturing and I started working at a company called Jabil, a $32 billion manufacturing company with 220,000 people. That was a big stretch for me and it taught me manufacturing and it taught me all about hardware design and development, which is entirely different than software design and development. So, learned a whole new industry in this lifetime that I’ve had this incredible career that I’ve been blessed with.
So that’s kind of where I am. Today, I’m helping a startup completely transform the $13 trillion manufacturing industry because we’re doing everything through a cloud. So we actually take demand that a mechanical engineer or a sourcing specialist has. We streamline the workflows as Selema talked about. We take all the friction out and we help people source complex mechanical parts from 250 manufacturing partners across the globe through a cloud. So now they don’t have to run around and find vendors and suppliers. They can come to us and order what they need online and it makes everything about a 100 times faster than old manufacturing methods. So manufacturing delivered right up to you. Sourcing sort of simplified for mechanical engineers that are building really tough projects that go into space, that go into cars, that go into medical devices that go in our bodies. So we’re helping define and design all kinds of really amazing things that open up innovation and get those products and parts into our customer’s hands quickly. So that’s the background on me and Fictiv, it’s been an amazing journey my whole career.
Emily: That is incredible. And can I just say, you do not look like you’ve had 35 years in any industry. So whatever you’re doing for your skincare routine and taking care of yourself, it’s working. 35 years, there’s no way. Look, Mignon said it too.
Joanne: There’s a secret weapon and I’ll share it with everyone on here. I share it with everybody. I’ve been using Sisley Ecological Compound for 25 years and I will never move off of it. It is the best skin cream in the world. I want to bathe in it.
Mignon: I already do.
Emily: Incredible. That was such a great intro. Thank you so much ladies for kicking us off and giving a little context. I’m going to hand the mic back to Mignon. And Mignon, I want you to take us back to 2008 when Cupcake Collection was first getting started. We were going through a recession then, and I know there are things that still stick with you from that time and you operate with that knowledge now. Can you just walk us through that period and what some of those learnings were?
Mignon: Yeah. At that time, I was living in a house that often didn’t have electricity. It often didn’t have water that came out of the faucet just because we willed it to. And so, here I am, starting a business that I don’t know anything about just because the man on the radio was saying you could get out of debt by having a bake sale. And so, when I started, it was an economic recession, kind of like what we’ve been going through during this pandemic right now. And what I want people to understand is that yes, it does take money in order to start a business, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be a lot of money. I used the last $5 that I had for dinner one week when my neighbor knocked on the door and asked me to make cupcakes and I had to really have a come to Jesus moment.
It’s like, “God, why would you bring me this opportunity when I don’t have any money?” And I heard God say, “I feed birds, so why won’t I feed you? That looks just like me.” I had to walk to the grocery store that’s in my neighborhood a few blocks up the road just to buy the ingredients that I could buy with that $5. And so, I bought everything that I could purchase with that $5 and turned it into 60. And I used that money to go back and buy more ingredients. And that’s where I began to make profit. I started flipping that same money and it was that, that I used in order to become the foundation for my business. From the profit of that particular sale, I bought my first KitchenAid mixer, which allowed me to move a little bit faster. And I would say that all you have is all you need.
A lot of times we’re looking for really big equipment and we want to have a big marketing engine behind us. You even might feel like you need a great amazing business plan. You may need all of those things, but you don’t need them today when you start. You start from where you are to get to where you’re going and where you’re trying to be. And I want people to know that that KitchenAid mixer was all I needed for today. It’s not what I need to operate my business all the way years down the line, but it was what I needed today. In order to make money today, that’s what I had to do. And so, I want people to realize is that yes, you have this big grand idea. You’re not afraid of failing at it, you’re afraid of succeeding at it. Because if you were afraid of failing at it, you wouldn’t even be in it right now trying to do it.
And that’s the excuse that I feel like everybody uses. “I’m afraid to fail.” You’re not afraid to fail, you think it’s a really great idea. What I want people to know is that you are actually afraid that it’s going to work. And if it works, you know what that means? You’ve got to get up and show up every day. You’ve got to go when you don’t feel like it. You’ve got to produce when you don’t feel like it, when you’re tired and your body is aching and you’ve got to keep going, you’ve still got to keep on going. And those are the kinds of lessons that I was learning in the beginning, and I feel like those are the lessons that I’ve taken with me and that have carried us through even this current climate that we’ve been in.
We didn’t buy more than we could afford. We bought what $5 would get, and we turned that 5 into profit and we used the profit from that $5 and bought more things. And I think a lot of times we are concerned that we need SBA loans and we need injections from investors. I’ve never had those things to propel my business. It was my sweat equity. And that’s why I love coming to summits like this and being the one in the room who had to do it differently, who had to bootstrap, who literally had to sometimes go at it with my child on my hip or sitting in the back of a classroom while I was trying to learn.
And I mean, you have so many incredible stories like that. Even just the foundation of your first brick and mortar being the place you had been living when you started this business. I mean, that’s an evolution in and of itself. And now, it’s a destination. When people go to Nashville. I mean, they go out to this house you were living in and that’s where they think of the sweet treat center of Nashville.
Emily: So, it’s been growth.
Mignon: It’s so funny because they were knocking on my front door sometimes looking for me, and then also knocking on the bakery door looking for cupcakes, and we were living and working there at the same time. And as the bakery grew, it pushed us out.
Emily: Incredible. And we’re getting so many reactions from the audience. So people are loving it. They’re loving your authenticity and just your story is so inspiring, Mignon. So thank you for joining us.
Mignon: Thank you.
Emily: Saleema, I’m going to bring it to you now because when we were in our prep call, you shared something that’s just been sitting with me ever since, which is entrepreneurs and small business owners, they’re always dealing with economic uncertainty and it’s not necessarily what’s going on in the stock market as much as it’s just what’s going on for them. Talk to us a little bit about that perspective and maybe how entrepreneurs can shift the way they look at the economic uncertainty of the world or the country and then their own economic uncertainty.
Saleema: Yes, absolutely. Like Mignon shared, when we think about economic uncertainty, we think about 2008 when the market crashed for big businesses or now when things are happening around us, every day is a different shift. What are the share prices? What is happening? We think of that as economic uncertainty, especially people in the corporate world. Economic uncertainty means completely something different. But when you think of small businesses and having been in smaller organizations as for the last 20 years, economic uncertainty is when Mignon had to carry her baby on her hip and walk to the grocery store. Economic uncertainty means when she had to knock at her neighbor’s house to be able to figure out what she’s going to do next, that is economic uncertainty. So it is regardless, and it happens on a daily basis in my humble opinion.
I have a family member who started a baking business during the pandemic as well, just started. And for her, economic uncertainty was every single night when she goes to bed and figures out how to balance her finances. So I think having said that, small businesses are often more vulnerable to the market fluctuations. So they have their own uncertainty that is going on, but an economic or a pandemic in once in a lifetime hopefully hits and it completely puts everything into… They might have supply chain disruptions, regulatory changes, or even unexpected competition that suddenly arises. Everybody’s at home, they are looking to say, this is an opportunity to launch something new for a particular industry. Boom, everything else is now a new competition for you. So I totally believe that you have to be able to prepare not just for today, but what we have is what we need is completely absolutely what I think you should be doing when you are starting up.
But as you are starting, you have to take a pen to the paper and put together how are you going? What is your vision? Like you said, you are afraid of winning, making it work. But in that case, how do you make sure that you are not adding more operational issues to your business? When you are growing slowly, you’re not expecting it to grow, so you’re very comfortable in the box that you’ve put in. But how can you actually put small windows in your boxes? Don’t need to put a door, don’t break down the wall, don’t need to do any of that. But how can you start putting these small windows around you in your box that you have put in so that you can focus on building resilience and agility into your operations? This means not just having a solid financial plan in place, but also investing in small, tiny technologies and tools that will help you streamline operations and also improve decision making.
Imagine you are in so much of stress and you are trying to figure out are the three things that you’re supposed to do next to invest your money, you have to make a decision on where. And that so many things factor in when your emotions come in, your people, the team you have supporting them. But if you are able to put these small decision making processes, tools in place, you are feeding at this information, helping that make that decision for you so that in times of need, you’re able to lean in somewhere. So there’s so many small cloud-based platforms and SaaS tools, the industry is filled with it. I’m sure as businesses grow, they’ll figure out whether it is their CRM, whether it is how do they diversify their revenue streams? Is there a way to reduce their dependency on one market or a customer base?
There are small windows that you can put in your box to be able to expand. And when you’re ready, these windows can become doors that you open up and start embracing a bigger box, a bigger technology, a bigger process of optimization and automation. So I think the overall key to not just look at the economic uncertainty in the world, but your own self is to be proactive, to have a strategy in preparing for tomorrow. What you have is what you need, but be prepared for what is going to come to you. And I think that is where some of these technologies have really come a long way from how we were before. To do a website, it would take a couple of $1,000 and probably 10 people to get it done. But now, I have an 18-year-old and she spins up a website within a few hours for literally $0. And so, we have come up way ahead in technology. So let’s kind of try to use those in smaller steps to be able to build those doors and knock down those walls in our boxes.
Emily: I think that’s great. And something you really focused on when we were preparing was the barrier to technology sometimes being a fear that it’s going to be so expensive. And I liked what you mentioned about SaaS products. So for those of you on the call, products that you can use yourself, you can get started on your own. So maybe that’s social media advertising and you’re just trying with a little budget to start. Or maybe like you mentioned, Saleema, it’s a website. I mean, I remember back in the day, you would need a web designer to make a website. And to your point, now you can go on these different sites and really kind of create with templates and things are there that are accessible and not as expensive as you might think.
Saleema: Absolutely. Lots of…
Emily: Joanne, I’m… Oh, go ahead.
Saleema: No, I said right now, everything is a subscription model. I would love to buy cupcakes in a subscription model, like deliver 10 cupcakes every week to me. No, do not do that, but…
Joanne: Do it.
Saleema: So I mean, everything is a subscription model and that’s what makes it so easy for the small businesses. You turn it on, buy it, use it, test it for a trial basis. And then if it doesn’t work out, try other tools. So yes, absolutely.
Emily:I think that’s great advice. Joanne, I’m going to bring it over to you. Fictiv had success growing in the recession and you attribute a lot of that to talking to customers, listening to what they have to say and selling the meaning rather than selling a product or a feature. Can you share more about this perspective and what this growth looked like?
Joanne: Yeah, I’ve held this belief that we really have to sell the value, but value means different things to different people in an organization. And if you’re in a B2B selling motion, you really have to understand who’s on the other end that you’re trying to influence and compel to buy. So especially if you’re in a technology field, we tend to love to talk about features and functions. The is and the does. Oh, look how cool this camera is on this phone. Look how great this particular app is on this phone. So we talk about the is and the does more than the means, and we have to flip that. We actually have to talk about what that solution, what that product or service means to our customers. And so, when you talk about means, you’re really getting at the heart of what do they value? Do they value something going faster and accelerating something?
Do they value getting to market faster? Do they value saving a certain amount of money like Saleema talked about? How can we drive an efficiency into a particular process? What is it that they value? Do they value B2C? Do they value being around their kids more and having more time versus all the fangled things on a phone? Hey, that phone actually gives me back time with my family because I can do my work on the train and when I get home, I’m ready to spend time with them. That’s the means. It’s not the is. Oh, it’s beautiful glass and mechanical parts and semiconductor and chips and all these things. It’s what that phone means to my life and what I can get done through it. I can run a whole business off a phone. So that’s what it means. And when you’re speaking to customers, you have to understand what something means.
Now what’s interesting is, like I said, there’s different levels. So when you’re talking to an individual, perhaps an individual contributor or project person that’s working on a project, they typically care about, can I get this project done on time and am I going to meet my windows and can I get it done on budget? That’s what a general project person, individual contributor thinks about all day. The functional leader of that group is thinking about things like time to market or thinking about employee churn. I’ve got to reduce the employee churn number or I’ve got to get more leads in my funnel if they’re a marketer. Or I have to sell more per square foot in my retail outlet if they’re a store sort of functional leader. That’s what it means to them, find out what KPI, what metric they’re measured on. An executive is thinking about ratios, is thinking about EBITDA, is thinking about cash flow, is thinking about return on invested capital.
So find out what’s important to that executive because when you’re selling, especially in a B2B environment, and Saleema knows this from Cisco, you need to understand the customer end-to-end because everybody can influence an opportunity. So if you’re a small or medium size business and you’re trying to sell to large enterprise or any size enterprise, you need to understand who are the decision makers and what do they value? And when you understand what someone values at an enterprise level, then you can position differently based on who you’re speaking to. If it’s a B2C, understand what human beings value. Do they value more comfort? Do they value more time with their family? What is it that they value? I’ll never forget, we did this 3D printing project with a company called Superfeet, and the entrepreneur that built this company started from nothing.
He’s an orthopedic guy, understood feet. And he said, “My goal in life is to make people’s feet more comfortable. That’s my goal in life.” We walk around with sore feet all the time. So what did he do? He took technology, a 3D scanner, he scans the foot, he then goes to a 3D printer, prints that design, that CAD diagram, prints it, and voila, he’s built Anole that fits a person’s foot exactly, and makes it more comfortable. This is what the power of technology is, but this is the power of understanding human beings and what it means to give them value and having a mission. I find the entrepreneurs, especially the ones that come through Fictiv, the ones that have a valuable mission, not just to make money. But somebody who cares about what they’re doing, that wants to make the world a better place, that wants to make it safer, that wants to make it more clean energy, that wants to make life more comfortable, that wants to have a better patient experience in the hospital.
Those people that come in, the entrepreneurs that come in with huge meaning and purpose to what they’re trying to drive are the most successful people. They are the most successful entrepreneurs that go on to be unicorns and go on to make… Then money comes. First, they put people in front and then all the good things financially happen to them. And those are the people that I think are successful that worry about the meaning, what is the meaning and the value to someone else, and how am I helping them?
Emily: I love that. And I think something that you can really focus on as a business owner is your different customer demographics too, and what different meaning your product or service might have to different people. So that’s a really good reminder when you’re thinking about your imaginary customers. Maybe what you are selling has different meaning to different ideal customer bases for your business. So keep that in mind. I am going to stick with you, Joanne, for another quick question to segue us into talking a little bit about leveling yourself up in business. And something this group of women talked about in prep is just really the importance of women being able to speak the language of business and really using business knowledge to level themselves up and level the playing field for themselves as an entrepreneur. Can you talk a little bit about a tip or two for how maybe some of our female entrepreneurs today can level themselves up or maybe some quick tips on advice for having those business conversations?
Joanne: Yeah, this is something I figured out really early on in my career. I used to watch a company called IBM in action. I watched IBM because at the time, they were the best. They were the biggest technology company in the world. They have the best salespeople. And I used to look at those salespeople and say, “How do they do this? What do they do?” Besides selling the values I talked about earlier, the other thing that they do is they speak in the language of business. They understand their customer’s income statement and balance sheet, and they listen to their customer’s annual reports and earnings calls. And when you do that and you understand how you affect those metrics, whether you affect top line, whether you affect efficiencies in bottom line, whether you affect cash capital and liquidity and add to cash flow, those things are what’s important to a big sort of business. So when you speak the language of business, either to your customers or internally in your own company, everyone looks at you differently.
The gender boundaries, there is no gender. It doesn’t matter. You’re speaking in the language of business, you’re helping people understand how you’re going to help them improve EBITDA, you’re helping them improve cash. Driving something faster at a more efficient pace, especially technology, because it’s all about automation. If you think about what technology does, it automates things. It automates decision making, it automates the actions based on those decisions that you take. And so, technology in and of itself is a way to drive those big KPIs, those big top line. How do we drive more revenue because we can serve more people, or how do we do more things with less? Or use our resources more efficiently. So-
Joanne: … there’s a free book called Financial Intelligence. I recommend it to every single woman that I mentor and I do three women religiously. Every month, I talk to three young ladies, and that’s a book that I always guide them towards because that helps them speak that language. And when you speak that language, you could be purple from Mars, it doesn’t matter. People listen. It’s riveting at that point when you start talking about the impact that you either make inside a company or for your customers and speak that language.
Emily: I love a good book recommendation, that was awesome. Mignon I want to bring it over to you. You also do a lot of mentorship for entrepreneurs, and one of the things you always preach and teach is collaboration is the new competition. That’s the way we say it. Talk to this audience about how you leveled yourself up and how collaboration has been a big role in how you’ve grown.
Mignon: I want to add something to what she was just talking about also, and I wrote the name of that book down. I’ve been feverishly taking notes the whole time they’ve been talking. I have so many takeaways already. But not only do people listen to you, when you know the language of business, you feel better about yourself. And I think that’s a key to be able to sit in a room and understand when people are throwing words around that you’ve never heard. I want you to be encouraged to raise your hand and say, “Pause, can you tell me what that means? Can you tell me what that acronym, KPI? I have never heard it before. Can you tell me what it means, B2B, B2C, EBITDA?” Like all of these things are things, or they’re acronyms that will help you to feel better about walking into a room and understanding what everyone else is talking about.
And not only does speaking the language of business make people listen to you and make you feel better in a room, it also makes people feel like they’ve helped you or given you a hand when you ask for help. And I think that a lot of times in business, we think that we can’t ask people for help. And I think it’s a thing that propelled me, it made me sore, is when I was able to say, “Hey, I don’t know what that means.” Or pulling that speaker on the side or asking someone for a lunch. Buy somebody coffee to understand, because all of us can’t go to business school, but you can’t get your degree like I did from the School of Hard Knocks. And that means knocking on some doors and saying, “Hey, can I talk to you about what it is you know?”
You can become an expert by rubbing elbows with other experts just like we’re doing right here in the room. And I think that is what I mean when I say collaboration is the new competition. When you are in an economic depression and everyone is trying to eat, no one really cares about the fact that you’re selling and I’m selling the same thing. They just want to know, can I still continue to eat also? And what I learned through this pandemic was that people needed dessert to be added to their menu, and that allowed them to keep more of the dollar in their business. So if you need dessert, why not come to me? And one of the things that we did, because we were hit by more than just the pandemic, we were hit by two storms at the same time that the world was shutting down.
We had been in the eye of a tornado that just pummeled our entire neighborhood. And so, were without electricity, we were unable for people to even reach us. Our big gigantic magnolia tree fell into the street and impeded traffic. So it knocked out the windows of my neighbor’s house across the street. That’s how huge it was and how difficult it was to come out of the street. You know what we learned in that situation? And this is something else, I want you to write it down as a point that every situation is teaching you something, look for the lesson. And what we learned as people, there was a little boy coming down the street and the rest of the world wasn’t hit by the same tornado. We were in a crisis. They were not in a crisis. And so, they were coming to The Cupcake Collection only to find out that you couldn’t get to The Cupcake Collection.
And this little boy, I believe he was turning 9 or 10, he did not understand that a tornado had hit us when they had driven over to our property to get a cake. We couldn’t make his birthday cake. It is still somebody’s birthday no matter what is happening in the world. And I believe that’s a place where you can find opportunity. And what we saw was there is a reason to celebrate because it’s somebody’s birthday somewhere. And so, we begin to collaborate with bigger brands. So we partnered with a brand called Taziki’s. They are a Greek, Mediterranean sort of fast casual restaurant. And we helped to not only keep ourselves afloat during that time because people couldn’t reach The Cupcake Collection. They could find us in nine stores around Nashville. But not only did that help us to stay afloat, we helped them. We grew their dessert business by hundreds of percentages above what they were able to do on their own.
And so, what we intended to only be five pop-up shops lasted for I believe two or three years afterwards. We just stopped recently doing it because as the employment shortage and things came into play, it was hard to get the cupcakes to all of the different locations. And we certainly plan to go back and do that again, but it was other people like Facebook. Facebook came and bought out The Cupcake Collection in order to launch a new app that they were doing called the Birthday App. And instead of just saying, “Oh, we want to highlight the Cupcake Collection just because I don’t know, it’s Black History Month, and they are a Black company, so let’s just go and put something on their name” or “Hey, I’ve got to buy something because it’s Black History Month.” They did it because it made sense. They scoured the country to see who was the best, and they picked the best in every state.
And they happened to choose us for the state of Tennessee. And when they came in, they bought out what we would have normally sold on a regular day. And then once we exceeded that, they continued to allow us to sell product. And so, they did what made sense. And I would say Visa has done the same thing. Visa came in and said, “We want to highlight what you’re doing,” and bought a commercial for us during the Christmas game.
Joanne: Oh my God.
Mignon: And so, we had a commercial, something we would’ve never been able to afford right now, and then went and put us inside of their Museum of Black-owned businesses and women in business as a part of Visa forever. So I think collaborating with someone else because they’re good. Listen, I can make cookies. I make some amazing cookies, but I just want to be the best in my one lane. And being the best in my one lane allows someone else to say, “Hey, I want to work with you. I want to activate, or I want to enlarge something that you’re doing.” Because at the time when everyone is trying to eat, coming to a small business means that I’m going to make sure the principal at my school has something that she needs. I’m going to make sure that there’s gas in the car of my neighbor. I’m going to make sure that the people who live on my block are eating.
And that’s what partnering with a small business allows for you to do. And during an economic recession, you’ve got to make sure that not only your eating on the inside of your household, you got to make sure that the people around you are eating too. Because what we learned isy a supply chain demand or a shortage in supply chain affects all of us. It took us months more than months even into years to begin to get some of the things that we were used to having available back in play because they were stuck in ships across seas. And we began to realize that just not having access to this one item or this one tree caused a domino effect where we were driving up to fast food restaurants and saying, “Hey, can I get that favorite thing I love?” “Oh, I’m sorry. We don’t have access.” And I think what collaboration does is it increases your access and allows everybody and opportunity to get a chance to eat. And I think-
Mignon: … what we have to do in collaboration is make it make sense. We have sometimes big companies, big corporations coming and saying, “Oh, well I want to do that. Let me slap your name on this.” And then you find out that they went to the grocery store to buy cupcakes, and it’s just like, I’ve been voted as the best in the state of Tennessee. You needed a small business to activate, so you highlighted my name. But when you, as the large business had an opportunity to spend money, you didn’t spend money with me. And I think that’s where we’re failing. And I think companies like Visa and Facebook and Taziki’s showed us how to do it.
Emily: I love that. As I knew this time flew by way faster than I expected. I looked up and were basically done. I did get this one question that if anyone feels like they can answer it with a quick response, I would love to hear what you think. They want to know, they have a basic understanding of their finances, but they don’t feel like they understand it well enough. What would be one thing you think they can do to get a better grasp? Any quick fire advice before we sign off?
Joanne: So I would basically get some help from anyone that they trust, their banker, if they want to go into the bank, sit down and go over sort of some basics. I made the recommendation of the book that will help, even a small business that’ll help. So I used to leverage a chief financial officer who would come in and do a class for my team so they understood and had some financial acumen. So if you know anyone that’s got the CFO title in any size company that manages the books, have them come and do just a little overview with you and your team on how these sorts of line items work in the income statement and how that’s all driven. That’s kind of what I do. I wanted to say one thing about Mignon’s, compelling statement around collaboration. There is no such thing as competition anymore.
It’s collaboration and partnerships and ecosystems. Our whole Fictiv network is comprised of 250 manufacturing partners that during the pandemic, we provided work to them. They didn’t have to go out and do sales and marketing and find their jobs per se. They engineers came to our portal, said, “I need something.” And we connected, we match make. And so, I love this point about access. We’re giving access to people on projects that they would’ve never otherwise had. A mechanical engineer with a shop in Tennessee could be building for us a part that goes on to a NASA spaceship, and it happens every day. So I love this concept of collaboration and ecosystems and bringing people together because that’s what technology allows us to do.
Saleema: And just to wrap up, I think one of the things I would like to… One of advice is, of course, you bring a CFO and a banker, but also look at your lead to cash process, right? Where are you? So who are you selling to and how are you making cash? Follow the money through that process, look at how much you are spending on generating leads, on your technology, on building customers and how much you’re making. So when you follow that end-to-end process, you would be able to figure out the gaps and understand where you’re leaking. One last quote I want to leave everyone was, which is something that I love from a small business’s perspective, is that the only way to survive in a recession is to focus on what you do best and do it better than everyone else.
Small businesses that can innovate and deliver value to their customers will thrive, not just exist, will thrive. This is from a book called Duct Tape Marketing by John Jantsch, and it is an amazing book, but do what you do best. Have a voice at the table, do not just have a seat at the table. And use the power of technology and follow the lead to cash process. I think that’s like the simple tidbits I would like to leave everyone with.
Mignon: And if I was going to add, perfect, if I was going to add one, I would say places like where I’m recording from today is the Nashville Entrepreneur Center. There are centers like these in major cities that offer programs that you can join. This is where I got my degree from the School of Hard Knocks. I was able to join a program that once I got finished, I came into the program at 250,000. And when I was graduating from the program, I was doing over a million. I would say every city has an entrepreneur center or some sort of organization that is set up for your success.