10 Tips From an Immigrant Small Business Owner

Even though language is a barrier, you have to believe in what you're good at and what you're capable of. Your clients will believe in you.
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"What is your dream?"

Most of us have been asked this question. I believe it's important to have a dream; this makes our lives special and unique, akin to a personal story book. What happens when you've working hard on your dream and you can't make it happen because of the outside influences?

I've known my business partner since I was a child in Macau. We were both judo black belt holders. He was known for his technique and had won a number of championships. Judo is one of the mandatory training areas in the Police Academy in Macau. He had a bright future ahead of him. He was ready to join law enforcement and fulfill his dream.

After his high school graduation, his family decided to move to the U.S. He struggled. All his friends were in Macau, his dream couldn't be achieved due to the language barrier. He reluctantly moved to this foreign, chilly city. Now, he calls it home -- Chicago.

With limited English, he had difficulty continuing his studies. He no longer contemplated fulfilling his dream of joining the police force. He spent years studying English and working part-time as a delivery driver. However, his English still disqualified him from joining the Police Academy. After years of frustration, he realized one of strengths was computers. He continued his undergraduate study in computer science. It was a long difficult journey which he finally completed.

He took advantage of an opportunity that came his way to work for a computer store which also had video surveillance services. One day he found out that one of his installations provided police with evidence of a crime. He was delighted that police/detectives were grateful for the video footage that helped solve the crime. Without a second thought, he knew he had found his calling in the U.S. -- this was a turning point in his career. He started his own business focusing on video surveillance for security. That was 10 years ago.

He did everything on his own -- sales, marketing, installation and service. This was a hard core one-man business. The satisfaction that came from this trade outgrew the burden of the workload. He enjoyed it and customers liked him. His business grew quickly after the first year and he hired two employees to help him. I was one of them. I was inspired by the hard work and dedication he put into the business; his passion and business potential was vast. We grew the business together and I became a partner. Years later, we have 5 more employees and a solid client base of over a thousand. In addition to our core business, video surveillance, we also provide security alarms, video verification alarms and access control to our clients.

He knew that his dream had finally come true. Not only was he providing peace of mind solutions to clients, but he was working with the police. We continue to work closely with law enforcement and our community. For example, the Marquette Park Area Surveillance project helped police secure numerous arrests.

Our 10 year anniversary is right at the corner. Looking back, we amassed 10 facts to becoming a successful immigrant entrepreneur:

1. Work Hard. At the beginning of the business, we had to do all the talking. It was not easy, as English is our second language. In order to show our clients that we are as good as and even better than our competitors, we worked twice as hard and provided better service than others. Our clients noticed the difference and the referrals came in. That's how we grew our business without hiring a sales person.

2. Listen and Understand. There are cultural differences. America is a beautiful melting-pot. No matter if you're an immigrant or not, we still need to comprehend, listen and observe. We work with a diverse group of clients. Understanding and listening to them is key to our service. There shouldn't be any cookie cutter solutions, especially in this type of our business.

3. Respect. Respect should be mutual. Even though others have shown disrespect towards our differences, we need to stay professional, positive, smile and walk away.

4. Openness. The business was started in Chinatown and most of the clients at the beginning were Chinese. We decided if we wanted to grow, we needed to open our doors to everyone. Consequently, we moved out of Chinatown in year 3 and our pipeline expanded immediately.

5. Diversity. We happily work with different ethnicities. This gives us a greater understanding of our clients. It also expands our outreach to other groups where English is their second language.

6. Confidence. Even though language is a barrier, you have to believe in what you're good at and what you're capable of. Your clients will believe in you.

7. Circle of Influence. Immigrants tend to stay with their own group. They may not be as ambitious as you are. That's fine. You can find a like minded group to expand your network and knowledge.

8. Network. Networking is critical to success. Immigrants can be limited due to cultural differences. Remember the point above, stay open-minded. Join different professional networking groups, local chambers of commerce, etc. Others appreciate the fact that we are immigrants with a strong work ethic, working to grow the economy side by side.

9. Practice and Practice. If public speaking is your weakness, practice it. Take classes and join groups like Toastmasters that can help improve your speaking skills.

10. Never Give up. Immigrants need to adapt to a new life, language and culture. It's not a simple journey. Immigrant business owners have more challenges than others. Embrace these differences, turn them around and utilize them to grow your business.

Immigrant entrepreneurship is widely recognized as an important aspect of the economic role immigrants' play. By 2011, immigrants were creating 28 percent of all new businesses and these new businesses are generating a lot of jobs.

A lot of America's most profitable companies were founded by people born elsewhere, such as Google, AT&T, E-Bay, Comcast, Kraft Foods and Sara Lee.

One of the promises of America is that anyone can make it big with dedication and hard work. America truly is the land of opportunity.

This blogger graduated from Goldman Sachs' 10,000 Small Businesses program. Goldman Sachs is a partner of the What Is Working: Small Businesses section.

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