I used to think that doing business was reserved only for a certain sector of people. This is not to say that my own extended family was deep in the business of business. However, it always seemed an untenable goal—and more importantly one to which I did not aspire. But pretty soon, I acquired the business bug out of college. My first employer was a woman who ran a boutique marketing firm, then I knew it could at least be done by a woman.
Even when I knew I wanted to do business on my own, I was apprehensive. Most of the books I read on the subject gave this long narrative about bank loans, savings, product development and a number of really gargantuan ideas that—in and of themselves are not inherently bad at all. What I didn’t realize during that period of research in my life, is that I was looking in the wrong places for direction.
If you’re thinking about going into business, try to get advice from someone who’s background is similar to your own. Also consider the actual experiences of the individual dispensing the advice and the environment in which they began their endeavor. For instance, if you are hoping to start a business in China, as an immigrant from America; the person who will provide the most helpful advice will be another American who has successfully started and run a business in China. This is not to say that a Chinese man’s advice will not be useful, rather he enters the market with some advantages in culture, environmental familiarity and language facility. His advice on how to negotiate a price may be vastly different from the American businessman because he cannot experience that environment as a foreigner.
It was only after reading the book Sister CEO, written by an African American woman that started and ran her own business that I got traction. She was able to provide direct advice on what to do as a woman of color starting a business. It isn’t that the VC or the Start-up CEO in silicon valley can’t offer something useful, it’s just that what mostly what he offers may not be applicable. When going into business or embarking on a new endeavor, your best course of action is finding someone whose background is closer to your own who has been successful in that area. Remember, not all advice applies.