5Qs With Mark Lee, Founder of The Lee Group

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Mark Lee knows firsthand what it takes to start a small business, having founded Plymouth-based The Lee Group in 2008. On May 3, The Lee Group will host the Small Business Workshop as part of Small Business Month from 7:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at TechTown in Detroit. The event will feature panel discussions, keynote speakers, and breakout sessions for those looking to start or sustain their own enterprises. DBusiness Daily News interviewed Lee about what it takes to run a successful small business and the role new companies play in Detroit’s economy.

1. DDN: What’s the biggest challenge facing small businesses today?

I believe it’s survivability, meaning people are excited when they open a business, but the biggest challenge from my perspective is to survive long term.

  1. DDN: Do you think small businesses have advantages over larger companies?

Absolutely. Some of the advantages are the fact that a lot of small businesses are nimble, they’re quick, and they’re very responsive. Generally, as it relates to clients’ needs or other business’s needs, and I think it’s a huge advantage over larger companies. Also, they’re willing to prove themselves because they want to get the business, there’s no question about that, and as a result they’ll in most cases go the extra mile to ensure a client is going to be taken care of. There are significant advantages to working with a smaller company over a larger one.

3.DDN: What’s your advice for someone thinking about starting their own business?

First of all, make sure this is what you want to do, and that you have a passion for starting a business. Once you decide that you want to start a business, make sure you have a plan, both a strategic plan and a strategic marketing plan for your business, because the plan will help you identify what your financial needs are for the organization. It will also help identify a road map for your company for the next three to five years. One of the biggest challenges small businesses have is they’re so focused on today and tomorrow that they’re not thinking long-term, that’s why they’re in a position of not having survivability or sustainability for the long-term. My advice is first make sure you have a passion and that this is what you want to do, and second, and just as important, make sure you have a plan.

4. DDN: What has been your experience starting a small business?

I started my business in Jan. 2008 during the height of the (global economic) recession, so it’s been a very interesting, but exciting journey for myself personally. Interesting because when I started, I had no clients, I only had an idea, and I think the rollercoaster ride for me has been to watch my business over a nine-year period grow from scratch to one that has sustained itself. The journey has been up and down, but it’s been very rewarding for myself personally. I’ve had the opportunity to engage with other small businesses, but also large businesses across the metro Detroit area, so it’s enabled me to become a mentor and provide consultation services to businesses across the region. At the time (the business was launched), I was working in Corporate America and the company that I was working for was being acquired, so I started my business as a backup. (As part of the acquisition), I had the opportunity to relocate to another city outside of Michigan, and the more I thought about that personally, I decided not to do that. When I turn downed the offer to relocate, I started my business, and it turned into a full-time opportunity for me.

5. DDN: Do you think small businesses play an important role in Detroit’s economy?

Absolutely, small businesses are an essential part of Detroit’s economy. Detroit has over 62,000 small businesses according to 2012 census data, and as a result, Detroit is the fourth largest city in the country in terms of small businesses, which is important because it’s an economic generator. It’s the opportunity to create jobs for other people, and it provides an opportunity for people to play a major role in Detroit’s revitalization efforts. As for the future, we’re finding that many millennials are interested in starting a business, and a good number that I talk to are interested in starting a business in Detroit. My point is that it fuels economic growth and jobs in the city, so it is a crucial part for Detroit’s economy. If you have over 62,000 businesses in the city, and for the sake of discussion, each one can employ anywhere from one to three people, we’re talking about 60,000 to 180,000 jobs, and then each person is getting paid, and paying taxes, so that certainly helps Detroit’s economy.

The Small Business Conference will be hosted at TechTown, located at 440 Burroughs in Detroit. Registration is $75. For more information, click here.

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