Carol Settles is just your average, successful black entrepreneur: holder of an MBA, an alumna of IBM's Japan office and an Internet user promoting her business.
"I offer a quality product, and I stand behind it," said Settles, mouthing the mantra of any proud, competent business proprietor. The owner of an art gallery and a museum in Killeen, Texas, Settles fits the profile of more and more small-business owners but with a distinction.According to a survey by Dun & Bradstreet Corp., as a minority small-business owner, Settles is 41 percent more likely to use the Internet than non-minority small-business owners and is 20 percent more likely to see an increase in profits than non-minority owners. Also, compared with her predecessors, she is better educated and has corporate experience.
"Minority businesses are emerging from the shadows, skilled in the use of technology and the Internet and the marketing and credit information tools traditionally reserved for big business," according to William F. Doescher, a senior vice president at Dun & Bradstreet.
"This mirrors their position as the second-fastest-growing business segment, based on the volume of business starts, after women-owned businesses."
D&B extrapolated data about 108 Asian, black and Latino small business owners from a larger telephone survey of 550 small business owners during December 1997 and January 1998. These businesses, earning less than $12 million a year, were culled randomly from D&B's manufacturing, services and wholesale sectors database of 11 million businesses. The results had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.2 percentage points.
While results of the larger survey were released earlier this year, the data about minority businesses weren't released until Monday. According to the survey, minority proprietors:
-Are 90 percent more likely to invest in advertising and marketing this year than non-minority small business owners.
-Are 26 percent more likely to expect a cutback in uncollected customer debt in 1998 than their non-minority counterparts.
-Are 62 percent more likely to invest in computer equipment.
-Work even longer hours than the typical hardworking, non-minority small-business owner.
Those joining the ranks of entrepreneurs "over the last few years have a surprising amount of experience and are taking their know-how and using it for themselves" after leaving corporate America, said Ron Wesson, D&B's vice president in charge of minority- and women-owned business development.
Even more than their non-minority counterparts, many were victims of downsizing who refused to stay down.
As small businesses increase overall in the United States, minority group members are taking the lead in crafting better-focused enterprises, using every tool available to increase revenue and reduce debt, according to the survey.
That's because, Wesson said, they know it's harder for them to make it than non-minority business owners. They also are part of a shift in aspirations seen nationwide, where home ownership was once the ideal.
"Now the American dream is to own your own business. College students are more interested in becoming entrepreneurs," Wesson said. "Bill Gates is kind of an idol of everybody: `He did it, why not me?' "
That's where Settles fits the profile. She has an MBA, worked for IBM in Texas and Japan for 15 years, taught at Yokohama University and once her younger son got a full academic scholarship to college, "It was time to play."
In 1991, Settles, now 49, opened Carol's African-American Art Gallery on a 400-square-foot site selling posters for up to $200. That's become a 7,000-square-foot property from which she sells art for $15,000 to $30,000 and that also houses a museum and auditorium.
"I have been self-supporting from the day I opened except for one month," Settles said. "I've had a lot of training. How to meet people, how to treat people. I'm from a family of 12" where moral values were at the core.
She's also been using two attractive Web sites for the past few months. Although they haven't paid off yet, she said, "I think it's just going to blow me through the sky."
Settles departs from D&B's survey on the question of employee benefits. D&B said that minority small businesses are 55 percent less likely to provide retirement benefits and 15 percent less likely to offer health benefits.
Although she's the sole employee of her art gallery, Settles expects to hire workers for her museum.
"We'll have to offer benefits," Settles said. "I can't worry about people worrying about not going to the doctor."
She also differs from her fellow survey-takers on the issue of financing. The survey indicated that minority respondents were 70 percent more likely to have problems accessing capital and 46 percent less likely to use commercial bank loans while being five times more likely to borrow from friends and family.
Settles started with $10,000 in savings and never looked back.
"I never asked for capital. I don't like owing people. I just took what I had," Settles said.