It takes a village to raise a child, according to the old African proverb. So what does it take to shape a successful entrepreneurial venture?
Perhaps something like Zana Network, a virtual village for small and medium-size businesses, especially new companies interested in tapping the global marketplace. According to the Web site, it’s “one-stop menu of high-quality sales, marketing and business resources for buyers and sellers.”
The company was launched last June by Detroit-based serial entrepreneur Howard Keating, Donald Regan (former Secretary of the U.S. Treasury), Robert Keith Gray (former chairman at Hill and Knowlton) and Reid Rundell founder of the Saturn Corporation.
Zana provides its members with a wealth of information resources – how-to business advice, regularly updated country and market reports – as well as discussion forums, a global member-to-member marketing network and a searchable index to available U.S. government contracts.
Four years ago when Scott Thornton was launching his marketing firm, TMV Group LLC of Madison Heights, Michigan, he could have used something like Zana Network, he says. In fact, Thornton did use some similar Web resources to find advice that helped him start his business, including at the Zana-like StartUpNation and TomPeters.com, the Web site of the world-renowned management consultant.
Today, TMV is well past the teething pains of business start-up, but after doing marketing consulting for Zana, Thornton was impressed enough that he decided to become a member himself three months ago.
Quick Return on Investment
Zana’s modest fees – currently $50 for a 90-day membership – have already paid dividends. TMV is on the point of signing a significant piece of new business that it likely never would have found on its own, Thornton says.
Thornton and two partners launched TMV after being laid off from BBDO Detroit, one of the largest marketing companies in the country. They had been the top three executives on the international Daimler-Chrysler account.
They have since built TMV into a thriving local and regional practice with seven employees and about $5 million in media billings a year.
The firm offers “a single-source marketing solution, starting from strategic development and running right through to implementation of marketing tactics.” Clients include appliance maker Whirlpool Corp. financial institutions, a large mechanical contractor and a big hospital.
So it wasn’t Zana’s Business Guide with its rich information resources on starting, growing and managing a business that attracted Thornton so much. Or the surprisingly entertaining series of business videos.
But he says, “I would assume that for anyone just starting a business, that would be very valuable stuff.”
It was more the marketing network and government contracts database that lured Thornton. “The lifeblood of a marketing firm,” he says, “is new business.” And finding new business can be the toughest challenge any marketing firm faces – or any young company for that matter.
It will take a critical mass of members to make the Zana marketing network truly valuable, and that evidently has not materialized yet. The company won’t say even approximately how many members have signed up so far. But the network may reach critical mass much sooner than it would if all it was doing was adding members one at a time.
Keating, Zana’s CEO, told SmallBusinessComputing that the company is on the verge of signing multiple partnership agreements with organizations – he’s vague about what kind – that will see the Zana “marketing engine” incorporated into partners’ Web portals.
If the agreements are completed as planned, more than 800,000 small and medium-size businesses, including tens of thousands of foreign companies – all members or customers of the partner organizations – will have access to the Zana network.
TMV has gone through the motions of posting its profile at Zana. “We haven’t got anything from that yet,” Thornton concedes. “But it’s very new.”