How to Have a Successful Start-up before Launch

As the title of my previous posting, “Want to Localize? Participation is Required!”, suggests, if community members truly want to strengthen their local economy and become more self-reliant, the majority must be actively involved in making it happen. The posting goes on to mention five areas of social, economic, and political activity in which community members can choose to participate in support of their local businesses. Savvy, local entrepreneurs and business owners within a particular business ecosystem know that community involvement is critical, not only for the success or failure of their businesses, but for the overall localization underway. As a result, they make it easy for community members to choose how they will participate in these five areas. In effect, they demonstrate how community member participation supports local businesses, strengthens the local economy, and contributes to their collective commitment to localization.

Such an engagement strategy does not come by happenstance, but by deliberate planning. In 2010, Michelle Ajamian and Brandon Jaeger value received a one-year Value-Added Producer Grant (VAPG) to develop product, marketing, and business plans for their budding community-based enterprise, Shagbark Seed & Mill.

Michelle and Brandon convened and led the grant team for the project that included Leslie Schaller, one of the co-founders of the Appalachian Center for Economic Networks (ACEnet) and co-author of “The 25% Shift – The Benefits of Food Localization for Northeast Ohio Local & How to Realize Them”; and June Holley, a network weaver par excellent, co-author on “Building Smart Communities through Network Weaving” and author of the Network Weaver Handbook; and myself as members.

One of the outcomes of our effort was a market network plan that outlined ways to increase participation by the community in starting, scaling, and sustaining the business. While the financial details of this plan pertained exclusively to Shagbark Seed & Mill operations, I extracted the main process points to form a market network planning template below that can be applied to local agriculture-based businesses in other communities.

This template applies to any food product, product line, or suite of products a local business seeks to put into the market. The primary purpose of the template is to inform marketing strategies that gain community member participation in support of a business venture (for simplicity’s sake, we’ll call it Local Foods) because of the value it brings to the community through its operations and products.

The template begins with the basic assumption that Local Foods is a community-based business regardless of how many communities in which it may do business. In other words, Local Foods strives to localize the value chain within the market area served by any one of its operations and products. The goal is to “know the local market” and “reach the local market” rather than identify and pursue customers wherever they are located. Just like it takes a village to support its members, it takes a healthy, localizing business ecosystem to support start-ups and scale-ups like Local Foods.

The template presents two views: Knowing the Market and Reaching the Market, based, in part, on one of my earlier postings entitled “Participation in Local Food Systems”. The Knowing the Market table below identifies five prompts for market participation in the left-hand column followed by three columns listing specific ways community members can participate according to those prompts. The levels signify a continuum ranging from the more individual-based at the first level to the more community-based at the third level. The more cells covered by the strategy, the more effective it will be in terms of impact.

The Reaching the Market table below identifies ways to connect with the market in support of the Knowing the Market process. The organizational structure of this table parallels that of the first table: five interface areas in the left-hand column followed by three columns of ways to connect with the more familiar at the first level to the more contemporary at the third level. As with Knowing the Market, the more cells put into play, the more connectivity throughout the market, the more informed the marketing strategies, and the more participation by entrepreneurs and business owners in the business ecosystem as it localizes.

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In summary, this template works best in a community where its members at least express a willingness to localize their business ecosystems, strengthen their local economy, and become more self-reliant. After that, it is a matter of how and to what degree they exercise that willingness through active participation. A sound market network plan provides awareness and rationale that invites participation as well as structured incentives that acknowledge community members for their participation. The better the execution of a sound plan, the greater the chances a business, like Local Foods, can successfully start, scale, and sustain.

Look for more examples and guidelines in subsequent posts on how to increase participation, buy-in, and support for business ecosystem localization using some version of this template!

Originally posted to Sustainable Local Economic Development by Steve Bosserman on Monday, August 13, 2012

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