I am a Small Business Development Center Advisor for Silicon Valley. The SBDC is a government-funded program to help small businesses get advice from starting a business, funding a business, to marketing a business.
It has been a constant source of frustration for me when approaching small Vietnamese business owners. I am writing this series to help Vietnamese-Americans know there is help, but they must be willing to accept the help.
First, let me start by exploring how the Vietnamese immigrant mindset works. Vietnam is a cash-based society without any clear tax guidelines. If you want to open a business, you have to save your money or borrow from relatives and friends. If you want to upgrade the building or buy new equipment, you have to do the same. If your business is in trouble and you cannot borrow any money to save it, it will close. So the thought of some government agency stepping in to lend a helping hand without asking for anything in return strikes us as something so foreign and there must be a “catch” somewhere. The SBDC pays me, the advice I give is confidential and is free to the business. There is no catch!
As Americans and legal residents, we are required to pay taxes. Some of this tax money funds the SBDC. If you’d like to learn more about the history of the SBDC go to their website.
Let’s start with a typical small restaurant. The husband and wife poured all the money they have to open a restaurant. They work at least 12-hour days, 7 days a week, with help from their children and relatives if they are lucky. Their menu has over 50 items on it to show that they know how to cook all these dishes. They do not understand inventory management, cash flow, credit lines, legal requirements, taxes, leasing contracts, zoning laws, health department codes, marketing or branding.
They named their restaurants after their wives or daughters, or a Vietnamese word that means good, aromatic, a lucky numbers, or some other food term that expresses something light and heavenly such as Huong, Thien, Thanh, Ngon.
They do not realize the name of their restaurant is hard to remember because it sounds the same as hundreds of other restaurants out there.
I empathize, I want to help, but the owners are afraid of the agency I represent... or maybe they are afraid of me?
I am happy to see the younger generation is deviating from their parents’ paths and becoming more creative with the name, branding and marketing of their restaurants.
We finally have memorable names such as Pho Tick Tock, Pho-King, PhoBulous, and PhoShow just to name a Ph-ew. I want to help Vietnamese-American business owners with their branding and marketing, but scheduling that meeting is as difficult as remembering the name of their businesses.
Stay tuned for Part II - When is Cash NOT King?
If you like stories like this, subscribe to Chopsticks Alley.