PROFILE: How One Immigrant Tapped Her Community To Start Her Business

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Finding the Money When It’s Time to Start a Business

What if we told you there was an easy way to get the help you need to start or grow your own business and that help won’t cost you much money? Would you like to start a business without a lot of money? And what if I further told you this method is very powerful and historically quite successful? Well, one way to start a business without a lot of money is if you have a built-in customer base and a lot of support, and do not need to therefore spend much money on marketing and advertising. That cuts your costs way down.

Think for a moment about all of the immigrants who have come to this country, be it Irish Catholics, Eastern European Jews, Asians, whomever. When you hear their success stories, usually it’s because they were industrious, hard-working, entrepreneurial, thrifty, and so on.

The secret to success: Help the community and they will help you.

They also tapped the power of their community. That is what you should consider as well.

Historically, when an immigrant starts a new business in this country, whether they are a freelancer or are self-employed or some other sort of entrepreneur, they tap the power of their community to get started. They get loans from friends, family, and community members and then, after that, their first taste of success comes when members of the community begin to frequent the business. Word gets around, other members of the group start to show up, and the fledgling business takes root. Loans are paid back. If the business is really good, then the word of mouth continues to grow, and the business expands organically, seemingly effortlessly.

How Your Business Can Tap the Power of Community

Sophy Khut and her family escaped Cambodia after the war and moved to Portland, Oregon in 1976, when she was about 10 years old. As she became a young woman, needing to help her family, she began to work in an aunt’s restaurant, doing everything from washing dishes and mopping floors, to cleaning up and busing tables. She opened her own business – a restaurant – just a year later – when she was but 22. And with the help of the local Cambodian community, it started strong. Their continued support helped the restaurant grow.

Buoyed by her success, Sophy looked around and realized that a golden opportunity lay not far away: Long Beach, California has the largest Cambodian community anywhere in the world outside of Cambodia. As she told me, “it was a great opportunity and a ready market.” So she up and moved to California, by herself, and started another restaurant, from scratch.

Sure, it sounds intimidating, but Sophy knew the secret: Help the community and they will help you.

So she opened Sophy’s Thai and Cambodian Cuisine and immediately began tapping into the vast Cambodian community that surrounded her. She knew that a great restaurant, serving delicious, home-cooked food should be a winner.

She was right.

Sophy’s is now one of the very best Cambodian restaurants in all of Southern California. Nobody does it better than Sophy’s, and the mass of satisfied customers every night attests to that. That she just moved to a restaurant three-times the size, and it’s already full every night, is further proof.

And how about this: It’s all word of mouth. Sophy does not advertise. That’s the power of community (and having a great business.)

The Secrets to Getting Community Support for Your Business:

“Give, rather than take”: Sophy explains that giving actually has two meanings:

  • First, you have to give your customers a great product or service. Give them more than they expect.
  • Second, give in the traditional sense. For instance, the Cambodian community in L.A. has a foundation called Hearts Without Boundaries, whereby they bring needy Cambodian children who have congenital heart defects to the U.S. and give them surgery and all of the medical help they need – for free. Sophy is a big a participant in the group, and in fact the team meets in her restaurant regularly.

“Get involved”: In Sophy’s case, she helps out every year with the Cambodian New Year parade. She has food booths at fairs and expos. She opens the restaurant up to different groups. She donates to non-profits.

All of this gets the word of Sophy’s Restaurant out there. And then, when people show up, her great food and friendly restaurant makes them want to come back.

So the lesson is clear: Get involved in your community. Befriend them. Be thankful for their patronage. Help out. Just take it from Sophy: “Support your community and they will support you!”


Do you have a word of mouth success story about a business venture? Why not share your story in The Self-Employed Forums today?

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