With more than one million small businesses in Georgia, where do would-be entrepreneurs or seasoned small business owners go to find the right tools and resources to start a business or expand an existing one?
Established in 1977, the University of Georgia Small Business Development Center (SBDC) has helped construct a statewide ecosystem to foster the spirit, support, and success of hundreds of thousands of entrepreneurs and innovators. With 17 offices strategically located across the state, the SBDC provides a wide range of consulting services and educational training for small business owners and aspiring entrepreneurs.
South Georgia Business + Culture Magazine asked Walt Moore, Alyssa Foskey, and Cindy Corgan, with the SBDC at Valdosta State University, to answer a few of the top questions on the minds of small business owners.
SGaMag: What services does the SBDC provide in starting a business?
The University of Georgia SBDC offers a wide variety of services ranging from local training opportunities to one-on-one consulting, such as business plan development, human resources, agribusiness, marketing, accounting and finance, and strategic planning.
SGaMag: Who is eligible to use services provided by the SBDC, and what are the costs?
Our services are available to both beginning entrepreneurs and experienced business owners looking to grow their business. Funded by taxpayer dollars through the SBA (Small Business Administration) as well as funds from the University of Georgia, our consulting services are no-cost.
SGaMag: What are some of the common challenges with starting a small business?
Funding and strategic planning are the two most common challenges for small businesses. Having a lack of capital creates cash flow issues, and weak pricing strategies, along with poor financial management, hinders a strong start for startup businesses. It’s vitally crucial for startup businesses to research and plan before anything else.
SGaMag: How can the SBDC help with these challenges?
Consultants with the SBDC are equipped with tools and resources to assist in cost projections and industry reports. Traditional banks are one way to gain funding, but there is a multitude of other ways to seek the funding needed to start the new business. Most industries have set standards for pricing, and the SBDC has access to that information to educate our clients on where they should begin with their pricing models. Scheduling a time to meet one-on-one with a consultant is the first step to help with these challenges.
SGaMag: What are the primary steps to starting a small business?
Researching the industry and writing a business plan is the first step to start a business. Whether funding is needed or not, it’s vital an owner knows everything there is to know about that industry and its market. Then research and comply with all local, state, and federal requirements for the business. Lastly, determine the best location for this business based on the target market.
SGaMag: Does the SBDC assist with financing options for a small business?
Our office does not lend money, but we do assist with preparing cost projections and reports for financial institutions to make their decision. We have financial institutions that we can suggest if a client requests, but we encourage our clients to have local banking relationships since the local banks know their market.
SGaMag: What are some of the obstacles small business owners encounter in the first year?
The first year is the most exciting, but it can also be the most frustrating year. Funding, processes, labor issues, and pricing effectively are all major obstacles in the first year. These can be attributed to a lack of planning and research before opening the business; therefore, we strongly encourage all startup businesses to write a business plan before ever opening a door.
SGaMag: In addition to the SBDC, what other resources are available to help small businesses continue to grow and be profitable?
As we consult, we advise clients to have a team of people to call on if they have a concern—we call this the BAIL team – banker, accountant, insurance, and legal. This team would not be on the payroll but would be called to assist in making decisions. In addition to this team, the local city and county government offices are excellent at addressing questions, and local chambers will also help with networking opportunities.
Entrepreneurs Give SBDC High Marks
Local business owners, Stephanie Smith, L.S. Smith Photography; and Debra Smith, Taste of Thomasville Tours, share how the SBDC at Valdosta State University has positively impacted their businesses.
L.S. Smith Photography
Stephanie Smith established L.S. Smith Photography in 2012, as a full-service boutique portrait studio specializing in contemporary portraiture for men, women, families, children and teens, and personal branding. With a studio located in Downtown Quitman, Smith provides portrait sessions that are custom-designed with hair, makeup, and wardrobe options.
Smith turned to the SBDC at Valdosta State University to create a cohesive brand presence across multiple media platforms, data-driven analytics, and tips on marketing strategies.
“I highly recommend that businesses avail themselves of the SBDC’s services,” says Smith. “Where else are you going to find experts in marketing, demographics, business planning, and budgeting, all under one roof, for free? The SBDC is a phenomenal, underutilized resource.”
Taste of Thomasville Food Tour
Debra Smith, owner of Taste of Thomasville Food Tour, provides a historical and culinary tour of that target foodies, lovers of history, and in general, individuals wanting to experience the charm of one of Georgia’s most beloved downtowns.
In building her business, Smith turned the SBDC at Valdosta State University for help with accounting and marketing.
“I have taken a QuickBooks class and two marketing courses,” says Smith. “One class mentioned several times to do a newsletter. I wasn’t sure about doing one, but I did and was surprised by the results. I had a 51 percent open rate. After the newsletter went out, I started receiving bookings for private tours. I had private bookings before, but not this many.”
Smith says she encourages other small business owners to seek assistance from the SBDC. “I have called on the SBDC for several things, not just marketing. The group is wonderful to work with, and as a retired teacher, owning a business was all new to me. They walked me through several issues that I’ve had as a small business owner.”