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Small Business

Manage Your Business

Finding the right relationships to help your small business thrive

For entrepreneurs, the biggest challenge can be asking for help

When Maria Rios started her business in 1997, she wore a hard hat to work every day and learned how to drive a garbage truck. But when it came to getting the insight she needed to help grow her company, she was reluctant to ask for help.

"Many small business owners are afraid to surround themselves with the right people," says Rios, president and chief executive officer of Houston-based Nation Waste, the first Latina-owned waste removal and recycling company in the U.S.

Many entrepreneurs take pride in their self-reliance. But building a business often means learning how to build a team beyond hired employees. It means also finding trusted experts--such as accountants, lawyers, and bankers--who can help. For Latino business owners, in particular, this can be difficult.

"Often, they are not used to going to banks, so they borrow money from family members," Rios says. Establishing a solid financial foundation is critical. But many Latino business owners are reluctant to share financial information with strangers, she adds.

Rios, who emigrated from El Salvador as a child, worked at a waste hauling company while earning a bachelor's degree from the University of Houston. When she graduated, she wanted to start her own company. The trash business, though, is capital intensive. She needed half a million dollars for two trucks, and although she had savings, it wasn't enough.

She set aside her fears, went to a bank and secured enough credit to buy the equipment. Today, nearly 20 years later, Nation Waste has 34 trucks, nearly 50 employees, and is one of Houston's largest minority-owned businesses.

Many Latinos don't fully understand or aren't comfortable with credit, especially if they're new to the country, says Nely Galán, media entrepreneur and former Telemundo president. Galán is an advocate for small businesses and entrepreneurship and is the author of The New York Times best-seller "Self Made" that delivers advice and shares stories of success from small business owners.

"It's important to understand the way business is done here," she says, which includes developing a strong relationship with a banker who understand the needs of your business.

Latino-owned businesses are growing at more than 15 times the rate of other U.S. companies, and pumped more than $600 billion into the national economy last year, according to the market research firm Geoscape.

However, while small-business loan applications for Latino entrepreneurs rose by 18 percent in 2015, many still struggle to get financing because they lack the credit scores, annual revenue, or enough years in business, according to a survey by Biz2Credit, which connects small businesses with lenders and other sources of funding.

That's why it's particularly important for Latino business owners to build relationships that can help their companies grow financially. Minority business owners may find support in organizations such as the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, but Rios says it is important to network beyond your comfort zone.

"You have to find the right places where the right people gather," says Rios, a panelist at a recent Chase for Business: Connecting Minds program that took place in Houston. Nearly 200 Latino small-business owners attended the event, one in a series that Chase is hosting for minority-owned businesses and entrepreneurs.

That means networking with other industry groups, with small-business support organizations, and public forums that focus on small-business issues. Rios advises business owners to look at the boards of these organizations and approach board members who may be in a position to help or give advice.

"Build relationships outside your normal circle of friends," says Ivette Mayo, who launched her consulting company, Yo Soy I Am, in 2006. "Friends want you to be happy. They may not give you the advice you need."

Entrepreneurs should recognize they can't be an expert about all aspects of their business.

"It's important to assess your strengths so that you can bring in the people to help you," Mayo says. "One of my first strategic partners was my attorney." Then she brought in an accountant who helped her create a business plan and evaluate her company's strengths, costs, and growth potential.

Thanks to the expertise Mayo tapped, Yo Soy I Am today provides consulting and cultural competency training to companies such as H&R Block. A related company she founded, Yo Soy Expressions, makes bilingual stationery.

Along the way, Mayo learned what she calls "the power of the ask." Entrepreneurs pride themselves on self-sufficiency, but by asking for assistance, you will find new ideas that will help your business grow.

Galán says when she started her own production company in 1994, she asked for advice on topics beyond her experience and hired tutors to teach her about everything from social media to finance.

"The journey of being self-made is humbling," Galán says. "The secret to entrepreneurship is not that we were brave once, but that we are brave over and over again."

Galán knows all about bravery. She started selling Avon products as a young child to help pay for her schooling after she heard her father worrying about the tuition. Eventually, she became the first Latina president of a U.S. television network in 1998 and produced more than 600 award-winning shows in English and Spanish. She went on to create and produce the reality show "The Swan" for Fox in 2004 and appeared on NBC's "Celebrity Apprentice with Donald Trump" in 2008.

Galán speaks throughout the U.S. and Latin America about entrepreneurship and women's empowerment. She encourages small-business owners to take any opportunity to build relationships. Mayo, for example, made a contact at a conference who got her a meeting with Wal-Mart. That, in turn, led to a meeting with Hallmark, which helped launch her bilingual greeting cards.

"We forget sometimes that we live in a country where success repeats itself," Galán says. "If you stay home, nothing happens. You have to go out and start building contacts."

Not all the relationship-building works out, Mayo cautions. Soon after founding her company, her lawyer recommended she set up a website. She was afraid she couldn't afford it, so she asked a website designer for an estimate. He immediately registered her domain name, forcing her to buy it back from him later.

The experience made her much more cautious. Now, she gets non-disclosure agreements from potential partners.

And she shares her experience with other business owners, reminding them of the value of learning from others. No business succeeds in a vacuum, but rather depends on the outside relationships you build. Mayo's key advice for all small-business owners, especially Latino entrepreneurs, is simple: "You are not alone."

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