Low-cost, local business resources you can tap today
The expert: Raquel Barela
Co-owner and co-founder, Wildcard Enterprises
Until starting my business, I spent my entire career as an electrical engineer in the semiconductor industry. I never had any formal business training, but I always loved business. I even ran my father's landscaping business one summer in high school. But having the passion—and a few summer months of experience—wasn't enough to grow Wildcard Enterprises, which introduces innovative products into the marketplace.
For the past two years, my business partner, Bradford Morse, and I have been busy launching our first product, the Dustbunny, an automated rolling cleaner that collects dust, dirt and pet hair. We quickly learned that there are lots of steps between developing a concept and transforming it into a successful product in the marketplace. Early on, we realized that we wouldn't be able to tackle the entire process ourselves. But as a startup, we had very little money, so we couldn't just hire new people. We needed outside help, especially in marketing. But with no money in the bank, we knew we had to get creative.
I started with the obvious: the Austin Inventors and Entrepreneurs Association, which hosts regular meetings and does a good job of bringing in speakers who offer valuable lessons to budding business owners and inventors. Attending the meetings gave me a chance to network with other business owners, bounce ideas off of other entrepreneurs and talk to them about what has worked for them and what hasn't. Another great decision we made was to contact an instructor at St. Edwards University's business school in Austin. We pitched the idea of letting its students use the Dustbunny as a case study. The partnership was perfect because it provided the students a real product to work with while we gained free marketing guidance. The result was a detailed marketing strategy for the Dustbunny, which we still use today.
There are many resources available to your business, but the tools you need from them won't always be provided to you on a platter. You have to work hard to extract the information that is right for your business. It takes time and effort, but ultimately it pays off. People are often afraid to step up and ask for something that may seem like a reach. But the worst you can hear is “No.” We had plenty of doors slammed in our faces. And although it was discouraging at the time, we persisted and ultimately found people, companies and other organizations that were willing to work with us. We have a few more products in the pipeline, and even though we're slowly becoming business experts, we'll definitely seek help again when it's time to launch another new product.
How outside resources can benefit your business:
- Resources that are available to the community are oftentimes free or available at a nominal fee, which means you can put your money to use in another part of growing your business.
- The more people you talk to the more viewpoints you get, which gives you more ideas on how to handle your business.
- Seeking outside help gives your business more exposure, which can translate into name recognition when you do strike it big.
How to make the most of outside resources:
- Don't just consider your own needs but also the needs of those from whom you seek guidance. The best results occur when you both benefit from the relationship.
- Check the community calendar in your local newspaper and the calendars of local business organizations for upcoming events. If something doesn't sound like an exact fit, attend at least one meeting—you never know who you'll meet.
- Maintain contact with the people you've met so you can call on their expertise later. Add them to your business mailing list or invite them to a useful seminar.
- Don't give up. A breakthrough will happen eventually.