Helping Entrepreneurs Grow

By Rieva Lesonsky

This month marks my 41st year covering small business and entrepreneurship. And one thing I’ve learned over those years is, as Scottish poet John Donne wrote nearly 400 years ago, “No man is an island.” This is especially true for small business owners and entrepreneurs who need support and information to succeed.

To that end Visa recently launched Practical Business Skills. It’s designed to be a one-stop educational portal for small businesses, loaded with information, resources and tools.

I recently talked to Hugh Norton, senior director, Social Impact at Visa to learn more about the new program.

Rieva Lesonsky: Why did Visa decide to launch this extensive portal?

Hugh Norton: Visa’s social impact mission is to be a force for good,  enabling sustainable and inclusive growth for small businesses everywhere. As part of this mission, we are committed to helping lay the groundwork for entrepreneurial success. Practical Business Skills is a key component of our overarching small business offerings, complementing our products, services and programs with comprehensive educational resources. At Visa we aim to help entrepreneurs at every step of their journey, and with the launch of Practical Business Skills, we are deepening this commitment.

Lesonsky: How did you determine the information small business owners needed?

Norton: We developed an understanding of the needs and challenges of small business owners through a combination of research, content aggregation from across Visa initiatives, and input from entrepreneurs themselves. We then built out a wealth of information that provides tips and trends useful for both seasoned owners and first-time entrepreneurs. Feedback from small and medium business (SMB) owners on initial versions of the Practical Business Skills site was extremely important as we want to ensure the content is useful for real-life entrepreneurs.

Lesonsky: What is Visa’s goal for the site?

Norton: Financial and business literacy skills are critical for small business owners to possess in today’s complex and ever-changing business environment. Building on the success of our flagship consumer financial literacy initiative, Practical Money Skills, the goal of Practical Business Skills is to provide entrepreneurs a dedicated, one-stop shop resource with interactive tools to help strengthen their financial and business knowledge. With comprehensive insights on topics including business plan development, financial basics, planning for emergencies, marketing and record keeping, Visa also offers customizable templates, instructional videos, and informative calculators to users. With these assets, Practical Business Skills intends to make any small business owner’s life easier with 24/7 access to relevant, free and credible information.

Lesonsky: What areas do you see entrepreneurs and small business owners needing the most help with to move to the next level?

Norton: Through Visa-commissioned nationwide research looking at the state of female entrepreneurship, we’ve seen that a common challenge is the lack of funding that still exists for today’s female business owners. Nearly three-quarters of women starting businesses report difficulty in obtaining financing and more than 60% say they are self-funded. That’s why we have developed programs like She’s Next, Empowered by Visa, which provides resources, networking opportunities, free workshops and more to help female entrepreneurs along their business journey.

We also hear that small business owners struggle with knowing how best to market their businesses, attract and retain the right customers, and how to manage their finances or access capital to expand their businesses. Addressing these needs was a driving force behind the creation of Practical Business Skills. Our hope is that with greater financial and business knowledge, micro and small entrepreneurs can better manage their money and make confident, informed decisions about their businesses.

Lesonsky: The site is also available in Spanish. Do you see a lot of growth among Latinx entrepreneurs? Across the country or localized?

Norton: Nationally, Latinx entrepreneurship is growing at an impressive rate. A 2017 study by the Stanford Latino Entrepreneurship Initiative found that despite numerous barriers, such as inadequate access to capital, Latinx are starting a million net new businesses every five years.

Practical Business Skills is an example of Visa’s commitment to support this growth in meaningful ways. The new program is focused on helping growth-minded business owners thrive via a variety of resources in both English and Spanish, with plans for translation into more languages and customization for other countries in the future.

Lesonsky: Do you have to be a Visa cardholder to use the site

Norton: No. Practical Business Skills is a free, online resource (accessible via computer or mobile device) for all small business owners.

Lesonsky: Do you think the needs of business owners will change as more millennials start businesses?

Norton: If you look around any small, medium or large business today it is apparent that millennials are already making an impact. For example, ‘digital ready’ is a millennial expectation. With Practical Business Skills, we have a section dedicated to business digitization that details the opportunities to streamline processes with digital tools to help cut costs and save time and another with advice on digital marketing, which also opens doors for small businesses to reach new audiences and market across new and emerging channels.