Think Tank Defined
A think tank is a body of experts who provide advice and ideas on specific problems. Joan De Souza started a Business 4 Business think tank in her local area and she is successfully helping small business not only survive but grow and reach the next level of success in their business. How is she doing this and why did she start it?
The idea for a Business 4 Business think tank started when Joan saw so many small businesses join her local Chamber of Commerce with a great deal of excitement. But after a year or so, she didn’t see them anymore. She quickly found out many of those new businesses were struggling, and in some cases, even shutting down. Joan knew she had the ability to help them with some very basic principles!
How She Could Help
With twenty years managerial experience, leading a team of more than 200, Joan felt she had the ability to help these businesses. (see: How Valuable are Your Skills?) She also felt she had the skills and ability to start her own non-profit very successfully as she had worked for non-profits and grew up in a home where her father also worked for non-profits. Whenever there was a problem or issue, he would sit down with his friends and they would work it out. So Joan dug in and planned her first meeting, first interviewing a business owner to identify a problem, then putting them on the hot seat. The main requirement for a business to be involved is the willingness to listen, learn and apply.
The plan would be to host a morning meeting from 7 A.M. to 8:45 A.M., putting the business owner on the hot seat with those from the local community in attendance providing insight for their business. The meeting is very structured with the small business first sharing their situation for 15 minutes, then with raised hands, audience members have a chance to submit short questions or ideas for the business. The structure of a live meeting gives people the chance to come in a room and actually talk to each other and exchange ideas.
The beauty about the way Joan has organized this is in the follow-up. Walking away with ideas is wonderful, but if there is no plan for application and follow through, that small business has less chance for real change and success. Not all ideas need to be implemented, of course, but there are usually a couple key areas that have the power to transform a business. Joan has wisely structured a post-interview of one to two hours with every participant. That business also is able to come back the following month and briefly report on their progress or they can ask for five more minutes of suggestions from the attendees.
This sort of guidance has saved some companies, but also deterred some others. As an example, one business owner who made Madeline Cookies was looking to grow a business. She had basically been baking for friends and certain clients. She was asked how many cookies she could make in a day. The answer was six to seven dozen. A caterer then spoke up and said he’d need 200 dozen for one of his events. This make the owner realize her cookie business wasn’t really a business yet, but a hobby. She will continue to bake cookies, but not expand until she is able to make her quality cookies in bulk.
One Nothing but Bundt Cakes franchise has now opened a second location after being a part of Business 4 Business. Another struggling non-profit now has a working board and is successfully fulfilling their mission. The business on the hot seat is not the only business that benefits. There have been many of those in attendance taking notes for their own use. The real-life input from those in the community has proved to be extremely valuable to many in the room.
Business 4 Business has also proved to be somewhat of a networking event. One woman new to California, working with clients who had ADHD, was thinking about meeting with college counselors to give them brochures. But two students in attendance offered to have her come speak to three student groups they belonged to. They wisely pointed out that she may be able to give brochures to a school counselor, but that information may never get to the students. This was a way to go direct to the students, who needed the information.
Plans to Expand
The plan is to expand to other areas locally, then start Business 4 Business think tank in additional states. So much of our country is made up of small to medium sized businesses and if we let them fail, the economy fails. The mission of Business 4 Business is to get people talking to each other again. Joan feels once we do that, we’ll then be successful.
Many small businesses come up with a great idea, but don’t necessarily have a viable business plan or a marketing plan to be successful. What Business 4 Business think tank does is gently communicate with people, like the Madeline Cookie lady, who has a great hobby but needs to hold off on starting a business until she can realistically scale her idea. As a non-profit, Business 4 Business has a knowledgeable, working board. They help with the decisions to move ahead and continually help the community. They are fulfilling their mission.
For now, it’s still free to be a part of Business 4 Business think tank. There has never been a shortage of interest to be on the hot seat in the entire three years to date it has been running. The word of mouth and the success rate has really made a difference in the community. Eventually there will probably be a cost, as attendance has grown exponentially, thus their need for larger venues and funds to expand. There are many at the halftime of life looking to make a difference. Joan De Souza is one of them who is putting her dream into action, definitely making a difference in her community. You can find out more about Business 4 Business here.