Weather Woes

Sarah O’Connell

Al Roker, the weatherman on the Today Show for the past 40 years, was once quoted as saying, “I don’t make plans, because life is short and unpredictable – much like the weather.” While that might work for Al, it’s not a good general principle for enterprises that depend on the weather to venture plan-less. 

    I suppose we’re lucky that in the north country our weather mainly involves water – either too much of it, or not enough of it. Too much water: record snowfalls, high river and lake levels, road and field flooding, event cancellations, etc. Too little water: low river and lake levels, drought conditions for our crops, event cancellations, and so on. As we smugly say when we’re shoveling snow, sloshing through rain or mowing our dusty, dried-out lawns – at least we don’t get hurricanes, tornadoes, fires, earthquakes or landslides. 

    When weather presents a major economic or physical impact, that’s when the state and federal governments (e.g. U.S. Small Business Administration) may step in with disaster relief loan programs. But for smaller vacillations, business owners, particularly weather-dependent ones, need to develop a backup plan, whether a snow day, an indoor-related activity or off-season events that will bring in other revenue. 

    For example, a couple of years ago a major bass fishing tournaments on the St. Lawrence was impacted by higher water levels, but this ended up being popular with the pro fishermen who enjoyed the access into new areas. These events bring millions of dollars into the area as participants and their families and fans patronize motels, restaurants, gas stations, etc. 

    With snow conditions also unpredictable, businesses that depend on skiing and snowmobiling have had to come up with alternate ways to stay afloat, as it were. Snow Ridge in Turin has established a year-round schedule of events from music festivals to trivia nights to dirt bike races. 

    We Northern New Yorkers are resilient. We’re going to find a way to cope with whatever nature throws at us. A case in point is the business confidence survey released by the 1000 Islands International Tourism Council looking at 2019 where even higher water levels were reported than 2017. It asked local businesses along the lake and river how they felt about the season and their future outlook. In the survey, “73 percent…claimed to be either satisfied, pleased or very pleased with the business they received.” This was more than in the 2017 survey where 63 percent replied similarly. Why, when the water was even higher than two years ago, did business owners feel better? Because many businesses were able to adapt by raising docks or adding docks and pushing better marketing which offset concerns of potential visitors. The “normal” weather of 2018 didn’t hurt either, as tourists left very enthusiastic about their experience and eager to return in 2019 in spite of the high water. 

    As I write, the annual Snowtown USA event is kicking off in Watertown. Newscaster Walter Cronkite was the first to bestow that title on Watertown after the Blizzard of ’77 left the north country reeling under 220 inches of snow in 5 days. The festival, begun in the early ‘80’s featured ice skating, ice sculptures and other outdoor activities. Ironically, the festival melted away in the late 90’s because of poor weather. It was resurrected in 2013 by incorporating indoor activities like the Snowtown Film Festival, bowling tournaments, snow-related crafts at the library, pub crawls, etc. When the weather does cooperate, there are many outdoor events planned as well. 

    And by the way, in November 2014, Al Roker beat the unofficial world record for an uninterrupted live weather report of 33 hours held by a Norwegian weather broadcaster by setting an official Guinness World Record, reporting for 34 hours. 

    The New York Small Business Development Center at JCC offers free, individual, confidential counseling to new or existing business owners in Jefferson and Lewis counties. For more information, contact 315-782-9262, sbdc@sunyjefferson.edu. St. Lawrence County residents can contact their SBDC at SUNY Canton, 315-386-7312, sbdc@canton.edu. 

Five Tips For Starting Fresh With Your Business

Jennifer McCluskey

As we start with 2020 it’s a great time to think about how you can freshen up your business to grow and have a greater impact this year. There are a few simple things that you can do to start your business off right:

Tip 1: Take Care of Yourself
Small business owners are some of the hardest working people I know. Long hours, no sick leave, and being the one in charge of all the moving parts can wear on you after a while. Frequently your needs get pushed to the side so that your business can succeed. While this can be necessary, it also means that occasionally you do need to take care of yourself. Take time out for you, whether it’s an actual “unplugged” short vacation (scary, right?), or a weekly yoga class, or even a Saturday hiking in the mountains with your family, do what you need to refresh yourself. You’ll return to your business rested and more able to see the big picture.

Tip 2: Get Organized
Getting organized will help you cut down on wasted time. Have you found yourself looking for a file for over an hour since you didn’t put it in the right folder? (Speaking from experience on that one). Or do you frequently forget tasks? During one of the slower times in your business, it can be a good idea to declutter, get your systems back in place, or try a new time management technique. I’ve found the yearly file cabinet purge and restructuring is really helpful for when business gets too busy later. There are also a lot of apps that can help you get organized. A couple of my favorites are Quickbooks Self-Employed for keeping track of business income, costs, and mileage; Cozi, a free calendar system; and Colornote which allows you to set Post-it note reminders on your phone. Also see what tasks are “time wasters” and see if there are any that you can outsource. Getting a bookkeeper to keep track of the giant box of receipts, or a Virtual Assistant to help with scheduling and returning emails may be more cost-effective than you think if they allow you to spend more time on tasks that create sales.

Tip 3: Improve Your Customer Service
Take a moment to see if there are any things you can do for your customers to improve their experience. For example, do all of your employees greet your customers with a smile? Now might be a good time to check in about that. Ask your customers if there’s anything you can do to improve, either off-line with conversations or comment cards, or online by getting Google or Yelp reviews. If there’s something that you can improve on, they’ll tell you. More reviews also help bring more people to your website. Do you have really great customers who refer a lot of business to you? Maybe get them something special as a thank you.

Tip 4: Get To Know Your Finances
If you feel like you don’t have a good handle on your expenses or know the streams of income that are most important to your business, it might be a good time to get your bookkeeping in order. Whether you keep books by hand, Excel, or use a software program like Quickbooks, it is very important to know your profit margins and overhead expenses. Making sure you do your data entry in a timely manner can save a lot of headaches at tax time and can help you keep a better eye on changes you might need to make in your business. For example, your prices may have to change to match with different costs. Take a look at your numbers and see how you feel about where you are.

Tip 5: Meet With the SBDC!
Would you like to do some of these, but just don’t know where to get started? That’s what we’re here for! The Small Business Development Center offers FREE confidential business counseling, and we can help you with any of the above tasks, and more. Just contact the office closest to you. You can reach the SUNY Canton SBDC at (315) 386-7312, SUNY Canton SBDC at Clinton Community College at (518) 324-7232, or the Watertown SBDC at JCC (315) 782-9262. We’d love to help.

Which Business Form Is Right For Your Business?

Jennifer McCluskey

People looking to start a business ask me all the time what form of business is right for them, but it can also be useful for owners of an existing business to re-evaluate their business structure and talk to their professional support team of accountants, attorneys and others. It may be advantageous to switch business forms, especially considering new tax laws that have been put in place over the last couple of years. In the next couple of paragraphs, I’m going to go over a quick review of the different business structures; sole proprietorship, partnership, LLC, S-Corporation, and C-Corporation so that you will know what questions to ask your team. 

    The simplest and easiest business set-up is a sole proprietorship (single person or married couple) or general partnership (more than one person). A business becomes a sole proprietorship or partnership by filing a DBA (Doing Business As) form at the county clerk’s office. This registers the business’s name at the county level, but does not provide any protections beyond that. Specifically, it does not provide any legal protections. If a business is a sole proprietor and gets sued, the business is fully connected to the owner so all of the owner’s assets are at risk. A time to consider switching would be if a business grows and creates jobs, or opens a storefront, both of which may make it more likely for a lawsuit to happen. Business liability insurance can protect businesses as well, but it may be important to have an additional layer of protection that a different legal structure can provide. 

    The next step up beyond a sole proprietorship is an LLC, S-Corporation, or C-Corporation. These business structures help protect a business should a lawsuit happen by creating a separate legal entity for the business. They’re not foolproof; someone can still sue the business owner personally, but they often can help. Creating one of these business entities will register a business’s name at the state level. Most of the businesses that I work with are set up as sole proprietorships or LLC’s. 

    Filing a business as an LLC or Corporation at the state level gives the business owner some more choices in how he or she pays taxes as well. All sole proprietorships and general partnerships fill out their business taxes as part of the personal tax return of their owner or owners. If a business owner sets up an LLC, she can choose to continue filing taxes as a “disregarded entity,” meaning she would continue filing taxes on her personal return. However, LLC’s do have the option to file taxes as a corporation, which may allow the owner to take advantage of better tax rates if the business has a high profit. Owners of high profit businesses also may want to consider setting up as an S-Corp. To do this the business owner would file as a Corporation at the state level and then fill out paperwork for the IRS to get the S-Corp designation. This will let the business owner do their taxes a little more simply than a C-Corp, but will let the owner take corporate tax rates for any business income beyond the owner’s salary. An owner of an S-Corp has to be able to pay themselves a “market rate” salary, so this setup would not be as useful for businesses that are lower profit. Finally, a business owner could choose to set her business up as a full C-Corp. This will allow her to distribute dividends to investors and owners and will require tax filing as a corporation. 

    At the SBDC we can only give overviews; we are not accountants or attorneys to offer tax or legal advice. We recommend speaking to your accountant and attorney before making any business structure decisions. We can help connect you with a local support network if you do need one of these professionals to help advise you along your business journey. You can contact the SUNY Canton SBDC at (315) 386-7312, SUNY Canton SBDC at Clinton Community College at (518) 324-7232, or the Watertown SBDC at JCC (315) 782-9262 for free and confidential business counseling. 

Keep your Business Healthy With The Right Funding

Jennifer McCluskey

Having access to the correct type of funding stream at the right time can be very important for keeping your business healthy. Even if you don’t need funding right now, a great regular health habit for your business is developing and maintaining a solid relationship with your bank. When you find that your business is ready for additional capital to be able to grow, you have several options: 

Loans vs. Lines of Credit 

    There are several differences between loans and lines of credit. A loan is usually a large chunk of money that is given to you by the bank to buy something specific, for which you repay principal and interest for a set time period. Loans are usually best for larger purchases like land, buildings, larger equipment, etc. When starting a business, working capital (A.K.A money to start and keep your business going for the first few months) can be built into a business loan, too. 

    A line of credit can be more useful when a shorter repayment term is anticipated. For instance, if a lawn care business needs equipment in the spring and knows they will make enough money in the summer to pay the equipment off, a line of credit might be a good idea. Or another example is if a business is doing a project for a government entity, often the business will not be paid for the project until 30 or 60 days after completion. In that case, the business could use a line of credit to cover materials, supplies, and salaries until the bill from the government entity is paid. Usually, a loan is for something specific, while a line of credit can be for pretty much anything the business owner needs, once it is set up. Another useful thing about a line of credit is that it is a revolving account that lets the borrowers draw, repay and redraw from available funds throughout the life of the line of credit. Payment and interest will only be due on the amount spent. Lines of credit will likely have a higher interest rate, however, and may be harder to get if the business owner does not have good credit or less solid performance. There often needs to be some collateral available to secure the line of credit. 

Other Types of Business Funding 

    You can seek a loan from your bank or from other banks in the area that do business lending, or there are alternative lending sources available. Sometimes your county or your town will have a loan or grant program, so it’s always worthwhile to stop by your local economic development office or SBDC to find out what funding options are available to you in your county. Contrary to popular belief there are not many grants available, and those that are often have stringent requirements like job creation. Most grants available for business owners in our area are obtained by municipalities from the state and are administered on the local level. There are a few others, such as ACCES-VR’s small grant program for people with disabilities to start a business, and larger government SBIR and STTR programs for tech companies. In St. Lawrence and Jefferson counties, there are also some small grants for artists through the SLC Arts Council. 

    Some kinds of businesses, specifically those that are scalable and may involve a patentable product or service, may be of interest to an investor. Local investment groups will usually need a business plan as well as a pitch presentation. Obtaining this kind of funding can be a challenge, but rewarding. Similar kinds of businesses, like those that have a fun product or are in the tech arena, may be able to get some funding through crowd funding, but that requires a very strong marketing strategy and the right kind of product. Loans and lines of credit have a broader application and are (relatively) easier to get. 

    If you are looking for funding for your business and would like to learn more, contact the SUNY Canton SBDC at (315) 386-7312, SUNY Canton SBDC at Clinton Community College at (518) 324-7232, or the Watertown SBDC at JCC (315) 782-9262 for free business counseling. 

Adjusting Business Plan for Seasonal Changes

Jennifer McCluskey

Many businesses, especially here in Canton and Potsdam which have large college student populations, struggle with slower summer months.  Others in more touristy areas, such as near Higley or out in Clayton or Alex Bay, have the opposite seasonal changes.  A survey from Wells Fargo reported that 45 percent of business owners say they reliably have several times of the year that are faster and slower than others.  But no matter when your business’s slow season is there are many strategies for dealing with slower seasonal sales. 

    One strategy is to close up shop during the slow months. You’ll keep having to pay rent, but utilities, employees, and other costs will be gone or minimal.  This is the strategy that is often employed in some predominantly tourist areas.  However, if your product can serve locals as well, possibly staying open when everyone else is closed might lead to some small profits, or possibly large ones if there is an ice fishing derby or some other event. The Wells Fargo survey mentioned previously also reported that 62 percent of small business owners said they reduce their capital expenditures during slow seasons, and 43 percent said they reduce hours for their employees.

    Another strategy is to set money aside during the high sales months.  This is hard for many business owners.  Forty-one percent of business owners surveyed said seasonal differences make it more difficult to manage cash flow.  Planning can be difficult when you don’t know what’s right around the bend, or if you’re just barely making it during the better parts of the year.  If this is the case for your business, you may want to use your slow season to take a hard look at your financials and see if there are ways you can trim costs during the rest of the year so that you can be better prepared for next year’s downturns, or create a financial budget if you’re just winging it.  Make sure you are realistic with your cash flow projections for the future by having a good idea of past trends and sales in both slow and peak times. Update your forecasts regularly to make sure you are on top of any changes in trends.  Your SBDC advisor can help create and analyze projected budgets. 

    You may be able to delay some expenses until different times of year.  Talk to some of your vendors, for example your insurance company, to see if you could pay at a different time of year.  Even if they say no, I’m sure they won’t mind if you pay your bill ahead of time in the spring so that you’re all set when it’s due in the summer.  Another idea to improve cash flow during slow months is to collect a deposit from customers, for example half down and half on delivery.  This works especially well when there is a substantial gap between booking your service and service delivery. 

    Also, develop a positive relationship with your bank.  There are possibilities of obtaining a seasonal line of credit to get equipment and other items you need to get ready for your high season and then pay it off when the sales start coming in.  This could work well for something like a lawn care business which will need new equipment in the spring but won’t have money to pay for it until the summer. During slower times of the year, one in five business owners (21 percent) reported increasing their use of business lines of credit or business credit cards to bridge cash flow gaps. During busier times, two-thirds (64 percent) said they pay down debt or reduce their use of credit.   

    If you would like assistance planning for seasonal changes in your business cash flow, you can get in touch with your local Small Business Development Center office.  You can contact the SUNY Canton SBDC at (315) 386-7312, SUNY Canton SBDC at Clinton Community College at (518) 324-7232, or the Watertown SBDC at JCC (315) 782-9262 for free business counseling.  The Wells Fargo survey referenced can be viewed at https://wellsfargoworks.com/small-business-optimism-reaches-highest-point-in-a-decade.

               

Benefits of Owning Commercial Real Estate

Kiah Surgue

As a business owner, you should be aware of the many advantages to owning the commercial real estate where your business is located.  In order to pursue owning, you have to have a solid financial profile and a clear vision for growth.  Investors are more apt to lend to businesses with value and assets, combined with a low amount of debt compared to owner’s equity.  This is important to ownership and access to capital.  Ultimately this type of business investment can serve as a stable foundation for future commercial success. 

    The interest savings on purchasing versus leasing commercial real estate is huge.  When carrying a mortgage on the property, a portion of each monthly payment goes to principal and a portion goes to interest.  A business owner can use the interest portion as a tax deduction.  So, a property valued at $500,000 with 20 percent down, a 20-year term and an interest rate of 4.5 percent has total payments of $607,000 over the course of 20 years, of which $207,000 goes directly to interest.  Thus, a third of the total payments can be deducted over the term, a major tax bonus.

    Property tax write-offs are another advantage to owning commercial real estate.  When you own property, you are responsible for village, county and school taxes which are deductible expenses that can offset business income and business tax liability.  

    Additionally, depreciation on commercial real estate is a benefit come tax time.  All assets but the land will depreciate in value as soon as they are purchased, including the roof, siding, furnace, sinks, toilets, decking etc.  The IRS allows the depreciation of a residential rental unit over 27.5 years and a commercial building over 39 years.  For example, if you purchase a residential rental for $1 million, the annual depreciation that can be written off is about $36,000. 

    Many other tax deductions are available when owning a business.  Any maintenance or renovations done to the property are deductible, as well as purchases of equipment, furniture, fixtures, and inventory and working capital for common area maintenance charges, insurance, phone, electric, internet, office and supply expenses.

    Some investors purchase commercial real estate as a long term retirement investment to generate a valued asset, knowing that the capital gains tax rate on the sale of a building will generally be lower than the personal tax deduction associated with a traditional IRA.  This is another reason that owning commercial real estate can be favorable.

    Looking way ahead, if you plan to leave the property to a beneficiary such as a spouse, family member, partner etc. and they decide to sell the property, they will only pay taxes on the increased value from the time of the owner’s passing.  This is referred to as a post-sales tax savings and is another benefit to ownership. For example, a business owner purchases a commercial property for $1 million and it appreciates to $4 million over time.  Then the owner passes, the property goes to the beneficiary and the beneficiary sells the property for $5 million; the beneficiary only owes taxes on $1 million. What a tax savings!

    The benefits to owning your commercial property may outweigh leasing or renting a space.  If you have a business that is in a solid financial position, consult with your team of experts such as your business advisor, attorney, accountant and banker to see what your next move should be. 

                The New York State Small Business Development Center at JCC offers free, individual, confidential counseling to new or existing business owners in Jefferson and Lewis counties.  They also offer an entrepreneurial training course with presentations by area professionals in law, marketing, accounting, etc.  For more information, contact 315-782-9262, sbdc@sunyjefferson.edu. St. Lawrence County residents can contact their SBDC at SUNY Canton, 315-386-7312, sbdc@canton.edu. 

Change Is Gonna Come

Sarah O’Connell

Wouldn’t it be nice if things always stayed the same and we old dogs didn’t have to keep learning new tricks?  But unfortunately, things don’t happen that way.  I think more often than not, changes, while hard to push through at first, end up making our lives more efficient. We’ve seen a lot of things changing the past couple of years with small businesses.  

Social Media

                Of course, we know that social media evolves almost daily.   Remember MySpace, then Facebook?  Now Instagram and Twitter are where it’s at, and although we seem to be slow adopters up here, businesses need to know how to use these platforms to keep up.  The same thing is true when developing a website.  We have to make sure it’s mobile-friendly.  I only look up a business once or twice on my phone, and if they haven’t gotten with it, I probably won’t go back.  Posted hours?  Check.  Menu if a restaurant?  Check.  Quick response to a message?  Check.

Cybersecurity   

                If you do business with the federal government, you already know that cybersecurity rules related to the Defense Acquisition Regulations System have been heavily tightened.  As for doing business with the government, just the process of registering as a federal contractor in the System for Awards Management has gotten more complex; new and existing businesses now have to send a notarized letter by snail mail(!) to the General Services Administration confirming the authorized Entity Administrator.   

Data Protection

                The new General Data Protection Regulation concerning data protection and privacy for all individuals within the European Union (EU) and the European Economic Area (EEA) is being implemented this year. It also addresses the export of personal data outside the EU and EEA areas. The GDPR aims primarily to give control to citizens and residents over their personal data and to simplify the regulatory environment for international business by unifying the regulation within the EU.  It is going to impact any U.S. company doing business with counterparts and customers in Europe.

Taxes 

                No one is exactly sure how the new Tax Cuts and Jobs Act that took effect in 2018 is going to affect individuals and small businesses, but we’re going to be finding out pretty soon.

                The main effect on small businesses, the mom and pops and DBAs, is the same one that’s going to benefit individuals in that the individual tax rates will be lower, leaving business owners presumably with more money in their pockets.  At the same time, some traditional deductions will be disallowed. 

                At the SBDC, we try to keep up with all these changes as best we can so we can give our clients the most up-to-date information as possible.  We’re currently revamping our Entrepreneurial Training courses to expand on some of these areas, particularly social media and taxes.    We rely on our guest presenters who are professionals in these fields to bring our participants timely information.  Of course, any individual business can also contact us to try to find out how they will be impacted because they may be getting conflicting answers from the internet, from friends, family and other business owners.  We can access our research network in Albany or our statewide network of advisors to assist.

                We like to say that our Entrepreneurial Training Courses help would-be and existing entrepreneurs learn the necessary steps to building and growing a stronger business. Both the seven weekly sessions of the class held on the Jefferson Community College campus or the online version are coming up in early October.  If you are interested in learning more about the courses for yourself or a family member, please give us a call or check out our website at http://watertown.nyssbdc.org.

                The New York Small Business Development Center at JCC offers free, individual, confidential counseling to new or existing business owners in Jefferson and Lewis counties.  For more information, contact 315-782-9262, sbdc@sunyjefferson.edu.   St. Lawrence County residents can contact their SBDC at SUNY Canton, 315-386-7312, sbdc@canton.edu.

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

Small Business Success: Agriculture 2.0

Sarah O’Connell

In rural Northern New York, agriculture has been one of the major economic drivers of the region since it was first settled by European immigrants.  According to a 2015 article cited in Wikipedia, New York is “one of the top five states for agricultural products, including dairy, cattle, apples, cabbages, potatoes, beets, viniculture, onions, maple syrup and many others.”  But for a variety of reasons including declining milk prices, global competition, and so on, the iconic small family farms are disappearing.  Or are they?

                What we’ve been seeing in the past few years is a variety of new ways to keep young people on the farm.  They are discovering new opportunities, improved technology, and niche markets as ways to stay (or move here) and earn a living.  As I mentioned in my May column, there are several distinctive ag-related enterprises that make our own north country marketable, whether it’s locally sourced foods (meats, cheese, maple, honey) and beverages (wine, beer, cider, liquors) or ag-tourism (the American Maple Museum, farm tours, bed and breakfasts on operating farms, edible or flower garden tours, etc.).

                At the most recent Business Leaders’ Breakfast sponsored by Lewis County Economic Development, some local food producers were spotlighted.  Cedar Hedge Farm, owned by Jan Virkler and Jeff Van Arsdale, has been producing artisanal goat cheeses: feta, sharp feta and unsalted chèvre as well as a variety of jams, jellies and breads using their cheese products.  Two things that really stood out for me in their presentation.  One is that, although it’s a third-generation farm in the Virkler family, Jan decided to move back  here in 2012 with Jeff from professional jobs in New Jersey to embrace the ag life. The other thing I loved was its motto:  “If we don’t grow it, we don’t make it.”

                If you’ve been at any local events or craft fairs or farmers markets in the past couple of years, you’ve probably seen (and hopefully tasted) the caffeinated creations from Tug Hill Artisan Roasters.  Their various roast blends are also carried by and served in several area restaurants and shops. The company is the brainchild of brothers Ian and Scott Gilbert and friend Gregory Widrick and opened in April 2017.  It meets a couple of the marks of current trends – artisanal coffee represents a unique niche as well as a locally produced product, although of course, we haven’t yet figured out how to grow coffee beans in  Northern New York.  But who knows – no one thought we could grow grapes hardy enough for local wines a few years ago! Two transplants from the New York City area, Julian Mangano and Alice Waite, recently founded Of the Earth for the Soul company, which operates Della Terra as a small, bio-intensive farm in Castorland. In their “About” section on their Facebook page, the farmers note, “We are dedicated to providing food with integrity, engaging in organic, non-chemical, non-GMO practices.”  While not certified organic, they do not use herbicides or pesticides and grow an amazing quantity and quality of vegetables in a very small space called square foot gardening.

                It’s impossible to talk about Lewis County agriculture without mentioning maple syrup.  One of the newer local maple syrup businesses is Silver Sap Maple, owned by Cassandra Buell, who also happens to be the Lewis County planner, and her husband, Brian.  While still very new to the maple business, they are adding their taps by leaps and bounds each year and successfully selling their sweet wares.

                We’re now officially in the summer season.   Just as we encourage people to shop small and local in the winter holidays, we hope everyone will pledge to support our local food (and beverage) producers this summer and EAT local!

                The New York Small Business Development Center at JCC offers free, individual, confidential counseling to new or existing business owners in Jefferson and Lewis counties.  For more information, contact 315-782-9262, sbdc@sunyjefferson.edu.   St. Lawrence County residents can contact their SBDC at SUNY Canton, 315-386-7312, sbdc@canton.edu.

Branding for Success

Sarah O’Connell

In April, Jefferson Community College presented its annual Jefferson Business Symposium for high school and college students and members of the community.  This year’s theme was “Build Brand U” and featured a variety of presentations during the day about developing yourself a brand as a student, a job seeker, a leader or a businessperson.   Keynote speakers for the event were Jody and Doreen Garrett, founders of several successful local businesses.

    During the day, I gave a presentation called “Building a Winning Brand for Your North Country Business.”  I talked about what it means to be an entrepreneur as well as how to choose what kind of business you might want to start here in Northern New York.   Besides the usual “how to start a business” information, I also highlighted determining what local business opportunities exist in our area and then making sure it suits your passion, your personality and your pocketbook. 

    For example, are you the type of person who would be happy with someone else giving you a blueprint for your business model? In other words, would you be a better fit as a franchisee, or as an independent business that creates your own path?  

    Maybe you’re a fan of the emerging disruptor or collaborative/sharing economy.   Uber, Lyft and AirBnB are examples of this, and they are turning many traditional industries upside down (mass transportation and accommodations) and requiring municipal entities to figure out how to capture licensing and taxation revenues from these new models.

    Again, in a broader sense, there are opportunities in the technology fields as the need for new products and services changes rapidly – software, ecommerce, cybersecurity, digital marketing, games, apps and so on.    The retiring Baby Boomers need services in property maintenance, senior care, etc.  The mobile Fort Drum community and young professionals are markets looking for upcoming trends they would like to see here, such as niche clothing shops and different dining experiences. The resurgence of Watertown’s downtown also offers a refreshing assortment of shopping – fashion eyewear, yoga studios, juice bars, an art gallery, craft brewpubs, wine lounges, spas, thrift and vinyl record shops.  Some of these have been around for quite a while but are seeing an uptick because of increased foot traffic from the new businesses and events designed to bring people to downtown.

    Last but not least, take a look at the distinctive enterprises that make our own north country marketable, whether it’s locally sourced foods (meats, cheese, honey) and beverages (wine, beer, cider, liquors), crafts made by artisans (wood items, candles), tourism and agri-tourism venues and winter/summer sports.

    Still not sure what business to start?  Each year Jefferson Community College’s Center for Community Studies undertakes a Survey of the Community for Jefferson and Lewis counties (available on the JCC website).   Viewing the responses to the survey questions on what people feel is missing may just give you an idea of a need waiting to be filled.

    What’s the next step?   Do a target market analysis, come up with a business plan and then develop a sense of the startup costs.  This is where your purse or wallet comes into play, because it needs to be a concept that you can afford to invest in with or without the assistance of a commercial bank and/or a public lender. (Check out what funds might be available through jcida.com under “Financing Assistance Applications.”)  The SBDC can assist you in developing the business plan and creating financial forecasts for your loan package.  Building a strong business brand will point you on the way to success.

    Note: Planning is underway for our 14th annual Business of Women networking conference in June.  Watch facebook.com/BusinessofWomen/ for more information.

    The New York Small Business Development Center at JCC offers free, individual, confidential counseling to new or existing business owners in Jefferson and Lewis counties.  For more information, contact 315-782-9262, sbdc@sunyjefferson.edu.   St. Lawrence County residents can contact their SBDC at SUNY Canton, 315-386-7312, sbdc@canton.edu.

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.

How to Find the Best Location For Your Business

Jennifer McCluskey

At the Small Business Development Center, we work with a lot of business owners who are looking to move into a downtown space and trying to decide the best town or location for their business. What some business owners don’t know is that through our Research Network we have access to many different statistical databases. We can use these databases to get our clients much of the statistical information they would need to make an informed decision about where to start their new brick-and-mortar business, or which location would be right to move or expand their business. Some of the statistics that can be vital for making this decision are as follows:

    Traffic Counts:  The state Department of Transportation keeps a website which can map down to very precise detail how many cars travel down a specific street or through an intersection so that you, as the business owner, can know how many vehicles drive past your potential location. The DOT traffic website is free for anyone to use, so this is information you can get on your own, or the SBDC can compile it for you.

    Pedestrian Counts:  Sometimes just knowing how many cars drive past a location is not enough, you may need to know how much foot traffic there is. Some of the larger cities may have this information, but in the north country business owners may need to develop their own pedestrian count study. The SBDC can help you with strategies to design an accurate pedestrian count that won’t require you to sit out there all day, and will help get a more complete representation of where people go over time.

    Demographic Data:  The SBDC Research Network has paid for access to several databases that provide a wealth of knowledge about the people that live in a particular area. Knowing the ages, income ranges, ethnicity and buying patterns of a community is vital information for local business owners. We can create a customized geography around your business or potential location, looking at a radius of less than a mile to up to 150 miles away, or we can explore the population of a town, county or state. These databases take information from the U.S. Census Bureau and private sources to examine how many households there are in the area, what income ranges are, the daytime population of workers in an area versus the night time population of residents, and also demographic information like age, ethnic background and more. These numbers can help you see if your target population is active in the downtown area you are examining. We can also show this data in map form, so you can get an idea, say, of which areas of a city contain residents who earn higher incomes.

    These tools can also provide information about consumer spending and behavior patterns in an area. If, for example, you sell a healthy snack product, the database can tell you how many people in a local area are trying to eat healthy and lose weight, and how much the average household spends on snacks. There are a wide range of expenditures and behaviors covered, including restaurant, food and beverage, household items and services, recreation and medical services.

    As your SBDC business advisor, we can also get general industry trends, to give you an idea of what to look for in your industry and how technology, marketing, and other changes may lead to a shift in how you do business as you expand.

                When you don’t know what you don’t know about expanding your business, consulting us at the SBDC can be a great option for free business counseling and access to market research.  To set up an appointment for confidential business counseling and support, you can contact the SUNY Canton SBDC at (315) 386-7312 or the Watertown SBDC at JCC (315) 782-9262.

Jennifer McCluskey is a certified business advisor with the New York State Small Business Development Center at SUNY Canton. Contact her McCluskeyj@canton.edu.