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How Melinda Emerson Is Working to End Small Business Failure

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small business-entrepeneurs-marketing
Melinda Emerson | Photos courtesy of Melinda Emerson

Business coach and author Melinda Emerson, known to many as SmallBizLady, has helped many entrepreneurs get their businesses off the ground and grow sustainably. In fact, earlier this month, she launched SmallBizLady Academy. Here, Emerson shares her entrepreneurship journey and her keys to small business success.

What inspired you to start the Quintessence Group?

I have been interested in starting a business since my sophomore year of college. I was a journalism major with big plans for a career in network news, but then Oprah Winfrey started Harpo Studios, negotiated her own syndication deal, and earned $56 million her first year in business. This widened my perspective in terms of the power of content. I named my company when I was still in school. Quintessence means perfection. She was the first journalist I ever saw start a business, which planted a seed in me.

I was successful early in my broadcast career, but I didn’t love the work, the hours, or the environment. Working as a TV news producer was a soul-sapping job for me. So, in 1999, I left the news business and started my own business, Quintessence Group, and I never looked back.

A significant turning point for my business was when I started using social media in 2008. I couldn’t get my name on Twitter, so we created the nickname SmallBizLady. It was a happy accident. The brand took off. Then, I started writing my blog. My content caught the eye of Entrepreneur magazine. I started writing for them, and I later wrote a small business column for the New York Times. I published my first book, Become Your Own Boss in 12 Months, in 2010. I wrote this book because I thought the next generation of entrepreneurs needed better information about how to start a business from scratch. This book has sold 100,000 copies in multiple languages worldwide and is in its third edition with Simon and Schuster.

These days, the SmallBizLady brand reaches millions of small businesses online each week. This led us to launch SmallBizLady Enterprises, our education and training division that educates small business owners. In 2016, we created SmallBizLady University. This is now the fastest-growing area of our company, and we are launching a new ed tech platform, SmallBizLady Academy, later this year and expanding the SmallBizLady brand globally.

What does Quintessence do, and how has it evolved over the years?

Quintessence is a full-service marketing consulting firm that focuses on companies that target small business customers. We collaborate closely with our Fortune 500 customers, such as Verizon, VISA, FedEx, Amazon, American Express, and Google, in marketing outreach, content development, sales strategy, and instructional design skills to deploy innovative communication and management strategies to attract and retain small business customers and build brands online. We specialize in B2SMB Marketing.

When we started 25 years ago, we were originally a video production company; then, we added web development services. In 2007, we pivoted to social media marketing and content strategy. Since 2010, we’ve been a full-service marketing consulting firm specializing in customer acquisition and retention projects, social media strategy, and influencer programs. In 2013, we also established another division of the company, SmallBizLady Enterprises, which focuses on education and training for small business owners. We offer in-person, online, and hybrid instruction. We develop custom curricula and exponential learning for adults. We host The Smallbizchat Podcast and have three resource websites: my blog, our online school SmallBizLady University, and our latest project is our membership site, SmallBizLady Academy, which goes live in June 2024.

What are company goals over the next 5 years?

SmallBizLady Enterprises will be positioned as a leading resource for small business education and training for women entrepreneurs. SmallBizLady Academy will have successfully expanded our reach, serving tens of thousands globally, beyond Latin America and Canada. We have established partnerships in more than 40 countries across the world, targeting emerging markets where women entrepreneurs are thriving.

The launch of the SmallBizLady Coaches Certification Program will be a significant milestone. It will enable a more structured and comprehensive approach to educating and certifying business coaches. The platform will offer a diverse range of courses, resources, and tools tailored to the needs of aspiring entrepreneurs and women business owners. Our coaches would have gained widespread recognition and acceptance within the industry. Our coaches will be sought after for their expertise and guidance, further enhancing the credibility and influence of the SmallBizLady brand.

With millions of small businesses reached weekly through various online channels, our influence and impact on the entrepreneurial community will continue to grow globally. SmallBizLady Enterprises will be recognized as a go-to resource for practical advice, insights, and strategies for small business success.

Beyond education and training, SmallBizLady Enterprises will diversify its offerings to include global live events and pitch competitions and perhaps even a digital marketplace for small business products and services. This diversification will further solidify the company’s position as a comprehensive solution provider for small business owners.

I will continue to publish additional books, which will enhance our reputation in the small business space. I will also continue to travel for speaking engagements, interviews, and collaborations with other industry experts.

In five years, SmallBizLady Enterprises will likely be a thriving global hub for small business education, training, and empowerment. A growing network of certified coaches will make a meaningful difference in the lives of entrepreneurs worldwide.

What are you most proud of in your career?

I am very proud that I’m a Black woman entrepreneur who has been successful in business for 25 years despite all of the incredible barriers that I faced along the way, including two recessions and a pandemic.

One of my proudest achievements is the transformational impact I have had on aspiring entrepreneurs. One of my early clients not only transformed her business but also landed on the prestigious Inc. 5000 list for three consecutive years. This early success story speaks volumes about my unique ability to inspire and guide others toward achieving their entrepreneurial dreams.

My first book, Become Your Own Boss in 12 Months, remains a timeless resource, standing the test of time for 14 years and counting, with over 100,000 copies sold worldwide. Its enduring popularity highlights my knack for distilling complex concepts into practical, actionable advice. I am extremely proud that when I walked away from my broadcast journalism career in 1999, I never thought I would have the opportunity to write professionally again, yet I ended up with a regular byline in the New York Times.

I am living proof that God gives all of us a purpose, and I was just fortunate enough to recognize mine early in life. Above all, I see myself as an educator on a mission to end small business failure and empower individuals to realize their entrepreneurial potential. My work imparts knowledge and instills a sense of hope and possibility in aspiring entrepreneurs worldwide. I have an unwavering belief that everyone possesses unique gifts, and it is through entrepreneurship that these gifts can be unleashed and nurtured to create generational wealth. My journey exemplifies resilience, passion, and a steadfast commitment to uplifting others. My goal is to continue inspiring and educating future generations of entrepreneurs for years to come.

Why are branding and marketing important for small businesses?

I teach small businesses that you brand a business and market a product or service. Marketing is essential for small businesses to establish their presence and differentiate themselves from competitors. Branding builds credibility and trust, fosters customer loyalty, and drives growth. A well-defined brand identity helps businesses carve out a distinct niche and attract customers who resonate with their brand values and messaging. By investing in branding and marketing efforts, small businesses can position themselves for long-term success and sustainability in the marketplace.

What strategies do you recommend for small businesses to effectively brand and market themselves?

For small businesses looking to brand themselves, there are several strategies that can help maximize visibility, attract customers, and foster growth. Start by clearly defining your brand identity, including your mission, values, and unique selling proposition (USP) for a specific niche target audience. Develop a compelling brand story that resonates with your audience and sets you apart from competitors.

Maintain consistent branding across all brand touchpoints, including your website, social media profiles, marketing materials, and customer interactions. Use a cohesive visual identity, tone of voice, and messaging to reinforce brand recognition and build trust with your audience.

To build a strong online presence, establish a professional website first. Then, create a lead magnet to build an email list. Finally, leverage content marketing and email marketing to engage with your audience and drive brand awareness and sales. When it comes to social media, only focus on one or two platforms at a time.

What advice do you have for small business owners who are looking to access funding or investment to grow their businesses?

Before seeking funding, determine how much capital you need and what you plan to use it for. Most importantly, make sure you have a business plan that explains how you will make money to pay off your loan and grow the business. Explore various funding options, including traditional bank loans, Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFI loans), grants, crowdfunding, angel investors, venture capital, and friends and family. Research and explore the pros and cons of each option to find the best fit for your business. Don’t go for funding too early. Hold off on pursuing funding as long as you can.

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