Small business owners often go it alone, so it’s a big deal when hundreds of entrepreneurs get together to meet each other, share expertise, and support each other’s ventures. Sitting on a stage next to three fellow graduates of JumpStart’s Small Business Impact Program, Catheryn Cross took a moment to reflect as she introduced herself to the crowd of entrepreneurs at FirstEnergy Stadium’s 7UP City Club.
“This is historic,” she said, referring to the hundreds of small business owners who had gathered at the stadium to learn from and connect with other entrepreneurs in a first-of-its-kind partnership with the Cleveland Browns. Cross was speaking on a panel about digital marketing, part of a half-day training intensive of workshops, panel discussions, and networking for small business owners hosted by JumpStart and the Cleveland Browns.
JumpStart, a nonprofit that connects entrepreneurs with resources and capital, partnered with the Browns to put on four free events supporting Black and Latino entrepreneurs. The small business training camp was the second of these events, which aim to bridge resource gaps and help Black and Latino-owned businesses grow. The first event was a small business pitch competition in late August. Next up is a “1st & Tech” networking mixer on Oct. 11, followed by a second small business pitch competition on Dec. 7.
The training camp was a time for Cleveland small business owners to network, build marketing and goal-setting skills, and take in advice and insights from other entrepreneurs and mentors.
The first portion of the event featured workshops on topics such as organization, digital marketing, and buyer personas, as well as habit-building and goal-setting. Participants chose two of the four workshop offerings to attend before the full group convened again for two panel discussions.
At the “Digital Marketing Gameplan” panel, four graduates of JumpStart’s Small Business Impact Program shared their successes, challenges, and advice for other small business owners in a conversation moderated by Freddie Coffey, the director of digital marketing at JumpStart.
Digital marketing is not just about emails; it also includes social media and marketing through text messages, the panelists said.
Cross, the founder of Cathy’s Gourmet Ice Cream Sandwiches, asked the audience which social media platforms they use, listing off Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok. Then, she asked how many people post daily. “That’s the problem,” she said when only a few people raised their hands. It’s important to post consistently, “breakfast, lunch, and dinner,” Cross said.
Another panelist, Sharia Livingston, said that it’s also important to know your audience when creating social media posts. Posting every single day wasn’t the right fit for her clothing brand, Living Rich, because her customers wanted thought-provoking posts and stories about what it means to “live rich,” she said.
The panelists also stressed the importance of making a business recognizable.
Denisha Anderson, the founder of Cleveland Flower Walls, reflected on some of the creative approaches she tried to get the word about the flower wall decorations that she puts together stem by stem for events like weddings and bridal showers. She created a mini version of a flower wall, put it on her back, and walked around Public Square.
Before taking a few questions from the audience, the panelists wrapped up the discussion by sharing advice for small business owners.
“Believe in yourself. You need to leave this room knowing that you are well able and you are capable,” Cross said.
“Be afraid and do it anyway,” said panelist Ash O’Connor, who founded the online marketplace Made Cleveland.
One action step that small business owners should take right away if they haven’t already is creating a Google business profile, JumpStart’s Coffey said.
After a quick break during which people chatted and exchanged business cards, three other entrepreneurs took the stage for the event’s final session, the “Expert Entrepreneur Panel,” moderated by Marisa Saenz of WKYC.
Radio personality and restaurateur Sam Sylk was one of the panelists. He encouraged the room of entrepreneurs to ask questions rather than pretending to have all the answers.
“We can’t afford to ‘fake it till we make it,’” said Alysha Ellis, another panelist and the founder of the multimedia platform Mas LaRae. “My first two years of entrepreneurship, I lived at JumpStart. I was there like twice, three times a week asking those questions.”
It’s important for entrepreneurs to put themselves in rooms like this one, the panelists said, but getting into the room is just the first step; you also have to make sure people know your name. Entrepreneurs are problem solvers and should think about how they can be helpful while also getting the help that they need, the panelists said.
During the Q&A portion of the panel, an audience member asked what advice the panelists would give to businesses that are not employer-based, such as independent contractors and freelancers.
Small business owners have to take on many different responsibilities and often feel like they have to wear multiple hats “even if the hat doesn’t fit,” said panelist Meltrice Sharp, a CPA and managing partner at CLE Consulting Firm. She encouraged the room of entrepreneurs to surround themselves with the roles they need to be successful.
After the Q&A, it was networking time. The aroma of food from Vegan Vybez and Flame Urban Chicken Grill had already begun to fill the room during the final minutes of the panel, and guests got up from their seats to cash in their drink tickets, enjoy the food, and “work the room,” as Ellis put it, while Lo-Key Entertainment played tunes.
For Paige Ross, who runs iPLAY, a kids’ activity and entertainment center in Shaker Heights, one takeaway from the Expert Entrepreneur panel was that failure is not an option. The event inspired her to go to JumpStart more often and take advantage of the resources it offers, she said.
JumpStart is a sponsor of The Land.