July 2016: Small Business Success

In business, school is never on break

Sarah O'Connell

Sarah O’Connell

One of the basic tenets of good small business management is to keep learning as much as you can about the business you’re in, whether it’s watching the horizon for up-and-coming trends in other parts of the country, observing what innovations or new products are being introduced in your industry or scanning trade publications and websites to check out ways to make your business more successful.

Advisors at the Small Business Development Center have a similar charge to keep our knowledge bases and resources fresh and up-to-date for clients. We’ve been in the business of small business consulting for a long time, and our Watertown center just celebrated its 30th year on the Jefferson Community College campus. Things are always changing in our world, whether it’s new laws and regulations, different funding opportunities or leaps in marketing and information technology.

To that end, we use a variety of methods to keep ourselves current. One of our greatest resources is our Research Network. Based in Albany, our researchers are constantly posting relevant articles and surveys on the small business climate — everything from employee cost as a percentage of compensation to ways to reduce credit card chargebacks to topics like “disruptive innovation” (hint: think Tesla). We get notifications on those posts in our email, and they are often shared on our Facebook page, Facebook.com/watertownsbdc.

We can also request research packets from the Research Network on behalf of clients. For example, I recently asked them for information on self-storage units related to the proposed location of a client’s project. I received an analysis of other self-storage businesses that operate within 5, 10 and 25 miles, as well as detailed demographics in those market segments, a sample business plan and articles on the state of the self-storage industry.

We also can email our statewide advisors listserve to pose a question that one of our clients may have, such as finding a re-packager for a food product or looking into the legitimacy of an online lender. We further have the opportunity to sit in on webinars at least weekly from our advisor network on topics like QuickBooks, LinkedIn and Equity Funding. The U.S. Small Business Administration, sba.gov, and the Internal Revenue Service, irs.gov, also have webinars, tutorials, blog articles and many other helpful resources that are available to the public. Many advisors subscribe to various e-newsletters and tip sheets as well.

One of the highlights of our year is our annual staff training conference that brings together business advisors from around the state to share information and best practices while taking hours of workshops on relevant topics. At our most recent conference in May, I sat in on sessions about the online email marketing company, Constant Contact, the new “social enterprise” business model, the certification process for Minority and Women Business Enterprise businesses through New York State and the website builder company WIX.com. I also participated in a two-session panel where experienced advisors answered questions and shared advice with new advisors in the SBDC system.

What are you doing to keep yourself in the learning groove? If there’s an association for your industry, that’s often a great place to start. For example, the National Restaurant Association, restaurant.org, has a great website with articles on food trends, management, marketing and more. There are many other resources out there for general business practices, employee management, information technology, and so on, including regular columns in this magazine.

Investing time in your professional development is time well spent and can lead to greater profitability for your business.

Sarah O’Connell is a certified business advisor with the New York State Small Business Development Center at Jefferson Community College. She is a former small business owner and lifelong Northern New York resident. Contact her at soconnell@sunyjefferson.edu. Her column appears bi-monthly in NNY Business.