Where did your entrepreneurial journey begin?
I started my first business, selling alkaline water, after getting my bachelor's degree in business administration in Mexico. Because everyone had to buy water in Mexico, a lot of people sold it. But I noticed that not very many were selling alkaline (which has purported extra health benefits).
What were the biggest mistakes you made?
I had family members working with me to help out after I jumpstarted it on my own and had clients coming in. But I didn’t use contracts with family. That was a bad decision. I moved on to start another business and left that one in the hands of a cousin.
Actually, I started three businesses at the same time. So, that was the biggest mistake, because I was doing everything but not really focused on what I was doing.
But I started to notice that the expenses for the water business were increasing above what I’d had to pay out when I ran it. It turned out my cousin was taking money out of the business. I had to figure out how much debt had accrued and make a plan to pay it off. I basically had to sell that business, but the good news is I broke even. The buyer took on the debt because they could see the business already had a lot of value servicing three big government contracts.
How did those failures impact you personally?
I had other employment and eventually started business coaching. I wanted to start another business but was afraid at that moment because of those three failures. Ask me what you shouldn’t do in a business; I did it all. At that moment, I thought, maybe I'm not entrepreneur material.
How did you silence those voices? Or did you not silence them and say, I'm gonna do it anyway even though I'm scared?
To be honest, even sometimes right now, I have the voices. It's something that you have to deal with and you have to look back at what you have done. If you focus on the good, you will see good things. But if you focus on the bad things, you will just see bad things.
I lost money. I spent too much time on things that didn’t add value to my business, rather than delegating those tasks.
But I know what I learned from my mistakes. And, afterward I got two master’s degrees. I had a lot of experience doing consulting. So yeah, I made mistakes at that time, but right now I have more experience, more knowledge.
What are the challenges specific to Hispanic business owners?
The main difficulties that I have seen with Hispanic communities relate to confidence. South Carolina’s Hispanic community has a lot of immigrants, and doing business here is very different from any Latin American country.
For example, a lawsuit in Mexico or in Colombia, you can deal with a lawsuit. But here the lawsuits are millions of dollars, so you could go into bankruptcy.
There’s also a lack of confidence due to language barriers. Business owners are afraid people will take advantage of them because they’re not native English speakers, which does happen. They’re concerned they might not be fully understanding of the details of things like contracts, bookkeeping, taxes and laws.
So, many would rather do business in Spanish, or with Spanish speakers. Even some people who grew up here and speak excellent English feel this way.
Why is that a problem?
Sometimes they are limiting themselves to only Hispanic customers when, in fact, many different groups of people want their product or service.
What are some other culture-related issues beyond language?
They might also be dealing with a cultural stigma against using credit instead of cash, which is a big part of doing business here.
Others might reduce their earnings calculations to reduce the tax liability, only to realize it negatively impacts them when they do apply for a business loan.
Or it’s understanding that credit is not an extension of your income. Although, I know that’s not just an issue for the Latin American community.
Another issue is when they get family to invest, conflict arises when they want to put profits back into the business rather than pay people back immediately.
Also, people sometimes don’t believe me when I say SBDC services are free of charge, and they’re waiting for an invoice. Where a lot of my clients come from, that would come from a for-profit private entity.
What should non-Hispanic business owners think about connecting with the Hispanic community?
We’re hardworking people. I see a lot of people, and they work over 15 hours per day. And they don’t give up.
Working with Hispanic business owners can help you see new solutions. For example, if you’re trying to adapt a product to suit a need, someone from the Hispanic community will be willing to try creative ideas and execute.
Also, partnering with Hispanic businesses can expand your customer base, either by connecting you with a new audience or improving to better serve your current Hispanic clients. They can help you create a good marketing strategy. Google Translate is not good enough to ensure you’re delivering a good message.
And there are just some things that certain countries are known for. For example, U.S. companies are known for high quality products. Mexico has quality also, but the perception is that products from the U.S. have better quality. But Mexico has better customer service. It doesn't mean that U.S. businesses don’t have good service, but in Mexico, business is based on customer service.
Similar to how Germans are known for engineering, or Italians for design.
Yes. So now, if you mix the quality and the service, you have a really good business. Hispanic partners might bring small changes, but it impacts your experience in a big way.
How does one get plugged into the Hispanic business community?
There is the S.C. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, and several other local organizations. Not all of them are specifically business-focused, but they are associations that provide resources for Hispanics. I get referrals from places like that when people are looking for business services.
Go to local events during Hispanic Heritage month (September 15 to October 15). So you go dance, you meet people. We like to dance.