Be Inspired | Do Good
Levi Buck is not originally from Roanoke, but he might as well call himself a lifelong resident. He did decide to go to college in Tennessee, where he fostered a love for Tennessee football, real Appalachian culture and a genuine love for mountains, woods, and little towns. Once he completed his Master’s at Radford, Levi fell into supply chain mapping. For the last three years, Levi managed ScaleUp, a Small Business Administration pilot program through Supply Chain Visions. Working directly with over 60 existing small businesses across the Valley, Levi has directly helped them build sustainable, organized growth plans.
Levi’s first significant project with Supply Chain Visions required him to undertake the manufacturing supply chain mapping of three struggling economies in the US – Southern Virginia, Northeast Tennessee, Central Oklahoma. The project asked of manufacturers three questions: 1. Where do you buy stuff? 2. Where do you sell your product(s)? 3. What challenges are you facing in getting support in your region? From this data, Levi built a map of each community for stakeholders to demonstrate the flow of money coming in and money going out. Each area offered unique challenges. Some stakeholders were disappointed that they had missed the gaps Levi’s work brought forward, and for others, there was resistance, recognizing that “this isn’t your real need and now it’s backed up by data.” For Levi, this was a valuable experience, despite not providing the outcome he wanted, “trying to share with stakeholders […] shaped a lot of my insight and the way I approached my work with [the] ScaleUp program.”
ScaleUp was a Small Business Administration (SBA) pilot program in which Supply Chain Visions participated. The SBA chose Roanoke Valley as one of their pilot program locations, in large part due to Levi’s persuasive proposal. Roanoke provided a healthy small business community, a significant amount of positive publicity and a strong desire within the community to support small business (Levi received over 20 letters of support from various organizations in Roanoke). The program poured 1 million dollars into Roanoke over the course of 3 years. Thanks to such a considerable investment, Levi directly supported 60 small businesses. The direct consultation costs of the ScaleUp program averaged $11,000-12,000 for each business and provided coaching to those businesses by employees from prestigious companies. In addition to time and money management coaching. Each business who went through the program created on average two new jobs, with a total of 130-140 jobs created overall. Each business noted significant growth too, with a 30-40% revenue growth year over year, which was great for business owners and Roanoke, “when profits came in, they can finally take home a salary, and that goes straight to the economy.” For a few different reasons, ScaleUp is no longer, but Levi is excited to move onto the next big thing.
As an expert in supply chain management and business development, Levi has some pearls of wisdom to share that he’s gained over the years. For those starting or running a business, here are his suggestions to help you overcome the challenges you might face:
- Time management: “We had 60 or so businesses come through ScaleUp […] all were struggling with how to manage their time. An exercise my boss made me do: for two weeks, during eachwork day, every 10 minutes, I had to write exactly what I did in the last 10 minutes. It was eye-opening. […] Once you take an inventory of your asset (time) to see where it goes, take care of it while you still have the time to manage it. Every single week, I plan it out like a business plan of 30-minute increments.”
- Stop opening emails (all of the time): “On the topic of emails: It’s a huge time sink. Email is not supposed to be instant – it’s not a phone call or text. It’s not meant to be responded to right away. I set a time in the morning or afternoon. […] If someone doesn’t get a response within 48 hours, then they’ll usually give me a call.”
For small business owners, Levi strongly recommends a business or growth plan. What’s the purpose of a growth plan? It’s intended to build out your goals and milestones to ensure your business is on track. You build in checkpoints to register where you are in achieving your goals. If you’re not on track, you reevaluate your plan and adjust accordingly.
When creating a growth or business plan, a few tips to consider:
- Don’t nail yourself down to a template: Don’t use a template. You want to figure out what works for you. You’re going to want to update this plan and make it something useful for you.
- Hit your financial goals: Ensure that you have a plan to manage your cash flow. “Cash is inventory, just like what’s on your shelves and your time.”
- Identify your value: “As a business owner, what are you doing that no one else can do?” Outside of your talents, build a plan to hire and delegate the roles you can shed. For example, don’t invest a significant amount of time managing your finances if you’re not a financial person. Invest in someone who is an expert in finance. Taking on roles outside of your skill set can be a huge time sink.
- Have a plan for when you’re not there: Create systems and documentation for other employees to ensure the business does not halt when you’re not there. While you’re at it, consider a succession plan for critical stakeholders or employees in your business.
- Why do you even do that?: Ponder why you do what you do. Why you choose specific systems, plans, programs, etc. “Often people say it’s because I have to…because I need to…because it’s always been done that way. Stop doing it for a week. You might be cutting out things that are unnecessary, optimizing your time.”
As for what Levi is working on right now, he’s fired up about his current project with Supply Chain Visions working on market research in Africa for a defense logistics agency. “I identify sources of supply for any humanitarian or military mission in Africa – clothes, food, medicine.” Levi’s work challenges him to continue to learn, grow and help others.
If Levi could go back and give his past self some advice, he’d say “Time management definitely – for the first few years; I felt like I was spinning my wheels. A lot of it came down to not understanding what my value was and whether I was working towards the goal, I had every single day.” He also takes with him every day the advice to “take criticism and be humble [and] always ask for feedback, even if you feel bad. You’ll feel better solving the problem and ensure that everyone is happy.” But now, he’s grateful for the life he has, his ability to travel, meeting interesting folks he can learn from including high-ranking agencies, CEOs from small businesses and executives of large companies; but most of all, “My lovely wife, Brunella. We have an amazing family and support around us. When failures happen, it makes it a lot easier to bear.”
And how can you help Levi? He’d love to connect with anyone to help with Supply Chain Visions social media marketing. “Any advice on how to generate and create content with a bunch of guys who aren’t social media anythings.” He’d also love advice on how to communicate with colleagues with generational/age gaps.
For more information, listen to Levi’s podcast.
About Roanoke Podcast for Good:
Each week, you get a look inside the lives and minds of Roanoke Valley business owners, entrepreneurs and thought leaders. Subscribe on Stitcher or iTunes to hear us weekly, or check out our archive for more great podcasts.
Written by: Emma Shulist