I wonder if you share an experience I have had—when I meet someone and the connection with them is so strong that I find myself wondering why it took me so long to come across them. Surely someone with whom I see so eye to eye should have been in my circle for decades. Of course, it occurs to me that “decades ago,” I may have not been fully baked and wouldn’t have been the person I would have to be to hit it off so well with the person in question…and the same probably goes for them as well.
After several phone and e-mail conversations, this is the feeling I had upon meeting Dede Gossage and Ron Simmons from the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) Area office in Gainesville. We had tried to meet previously, but circumstances were such that our appointment had to be canceled. When we did finally meet, that meeting was a steady stream of conversation. Another person could not have gotten a word in edgewise—as soon as one of us related an experience, one of the others had such a similar or complementary experience that it had to be shared—and rightfully so—and enthusiastically, because even though Ron has been at it for seventeen years, he is still excited to share what he does with others.
Long story short, Ron helps businesses come into being or become stronger. He is a business consultant with expertise in crucial decisions that make or break a company, and smaller decisions that may just make the company a better community citizen. Ron combines his fourteen years in the corporate world, plus the seventeen years “in the trenches,” dealing with virtually every type of problem in every type of business, to provide realistic, usable advice for his clients. Although Ron is an Area Director for the SBDC, he is also one of its busiest consultants. He finds it to be a new, exciting challenge every day.
Dede Gossage came to the SBDC almost a year ago at the recommendation of a friend, to help her get some fresh ideas for her marketing company. After meeting the SBDC consultants, she realized that these folks were offering an exceptional opportunity to the community and many in the community were not aware of them. Ron knew that they needed someone on staff who had Dede’s talents and creatively found a role for her within their organization. Dede is on a mission to let small business owners know about the low-to-no-cost classes, such as Inventory Control, Personnel Management, and How to Write a Business Plan, for starters.
In 2005, SBDC consultants helped 5,088 Georgia small business clients with a variety of challenges. In fact, Ron says what he does is, “Raise the questions and find the answers. We help businesses grow and prosper.” The consultants found at the SBDC have Master’s degrees, which is good—even better that they’re backed by decades of experience. The resources in the Gainesville Area Office have significant experience in retail management, manufacturing, marketing, advertising, human resources, and theft prevention, among others. Consultants spend time with business owners and review the nuts and bolts of how those businesses operate, and then make recommendations for improvements. The recommendations that SBDC consultants make are the results of seeing literally thousands of examples of the best and worst ways to run a business. Consultants can help:
- Develop and update business plans
- Identify sources of capital
- Set up record-keeping systems and analyze financial records
- Identify foreign markets for products or services
- Conduct specialized research geared to specific needs of the business owner
- Create marketing strategies and advertising campaigns
- Explore suitable ways to conform to government regulations
- Increase opportunities to sell to federal, state, and local governments
- Analyze statistical and demographic data from reports and maps developed utilizing The Georgia 2000 geographic information system
In discussing their work with Ron, it became obvious to me that being an SBDC consultant is a calling. “Our consultants are here either for a year or a lifetime. There are very few who fall outside of those two categories. The ones who come to us for a year decide that they would just as soon use the practices we teach to develop their own companies. The longer-term consultants on the other hand, see each business that has been assisted as if it were a child they’ve raised—they take personal pride in the success of the clients they help.”
The SBDC also addresses economic development needs for information by providing applied research to small businesses and communities. This service includes the application of economic analysis, market research, geographic information system technology, as well as a wide range of resources for secondary research and an extensive primary research effort. As a public service unit, the research staff of the Applied Research Department is dedicated to enhancing the well-being of all Georgians. The practical result of this is that the research services provided by the department are available to small businesses and communities at a minimal cost.A third way that the SBDC helps the community is through continuing education classes. Each area office provides courses of interest to business owners, from new entrepreneurs to savvy business owners. Many of the business start-up classes are sponsored by local businesses who are themselves committed to promoting small business prosperity. The state SBDC also offers on-line versions of some of the most popular courses through SmallBizU. To see available classes and sign-up procedures for online courses, go to www.georgiasbdc.org.
Well, it’s great that the SBDC offers these services and has some great people on staff, but what’s that got to do with your business, right? The SBDC is actually a result of efforts originally spearheaded by the Small Business Administration (SBA) and taken up by the University of Georgia. UGA funds the SBDC—30% from federal SBA funding distributed specifically for the development of small businesses; 60% from community growth funding designated by the University system; and each area office finds the remaining 10% through local business sponsorship. The funding for the SBDC actually keeps high quality resources available to continue growing the biggest business in Georgia—small business. Small businesses (those employing fewer than 500 employees) constitute 97.5% of Georgia businesses and employ 43.5% of the state’s non-farm, private sector workers. Nationally, small businesses account for 99.7% of all businesses and employ 50.1% of the nation’s workforce. So you can think of UGA’s SBDC as long-term insurance for jobs for UGA graduates! Plus, many of their services are free to qualifying businesses.To qualify for services through the SBDC, your business must be considered a small business and it must be for profit. Non-profit businesses are ineligible. An easy way to see if your business qualifies for SBDC services is to review the qualifications for the SBA business loan process (see www.sba.gov). Although you may not be looking for a loan, if your business meets these qualifications, you will generally qualify for SBDC services.
So, they’re smart and they offer services at a great price, but what about results? Statistically, in 2004-2005, businesses who used SBDC consulting services had a sales growth rate of 29.66% as compared to the state average of 4.76%. Likewise, employment growth for SBDC-assisted businesses was 22.93%, as compared to 3.35% employment growth for other businesses in the state.Locally, there are literally hundreds of North Georgia business owners who can provide personal testimony to the services offered by Ron and his team. Some have been trying to sell their business and found a better way to stay in business; others have found a way to manage a business that has grown beyond their ability to control. One business owner told the SBDC that he simply wanted to be able to take vacation. Several months later, this same business owner stopped by the SBDC office rested and refreshed from his vacation to thank the team for their help.
Unfortunately, many businesses wait too long to admit that they have a problem—even longer to ask for help. If your business is not growing the way that you hoped it would, or if moving at your past growth rate is not meeting your goals, you may be a good candidate for SBDC services. If, as a business owner, you’re facing decisions and challenges you feel ill-equipped to handle, give Ron and his team a call—they are here to help your business.To learn more about the UGA Small Business Development Center, see www.georgiasbdc.org or call their offices at 770-831-5681. Their offices are located at 604 Washington Street NW, Suite B-2, Gainesville, Georgia, 30501. From Ron’s experience, the only business they can’t help is the one that won’t ask.