The Right Tools: SmartSTART helps business owners succeed
February 25, 2017
MARTINSVILLE–A great idea doesn't automatically equal great cash flow. To make a business successful, a person also needs a solid marketing plan.
“The whole point is to make a profit,” said Carolyn Shough, a retired banker and coach for the SmartSTART program.
While the idea might cover a need in the community, SmartSTART classes cause students to question the demand.
“Do they want it often enough?” Shough asks the business owners to consider.
The classes, which range from the legalities associated with owning a business to marketing tactics to taxation requirements, aid students in areas they might not have previously considered.
“They don’t know what they don’t know,” Shough said. “If they don’t know, they don’t know they need to ask.”
That’s the mission of SmartSTART: to help entrepreneurs learn the business aspects of owning a profitable operation.
“A lot of them say, ‘I’m just going to open up a business.’ No, that’s not the way it works,” Shough said. “They’ve got to look at what kind of business they want. It’s harder than you think. It’s a 27/4 thing.”
Sometimes, when the business seems to be doing well, life throws in a curveball.
“Things just happen,” Shough said.
That’s what the coaches are there for. They provide advice for business owners when unforeseen issues arise.
Even when things are going well, the coaches check in on the business owners who completed the class.
“Most of the time, if you have a location within walking distance, you’re going to see us,” Shough said.
While SmartSTART helps area businesses get on their feet, or revamp their brand to compete in the modern marketplace, Valerie Harper, with the MHC EDC Small Business Division and SmartSTART coach, acknowledged the hard work owners put into their dreams.
“We don’t want to take credit for your businesses and what they’re doing,” Harper said. “The EDU and the coaches did play a tiny part in your journey.”
By the numbers
In its 10 years, SmartSTART produced 140 graduates. For the first time this year, prior graduates may attend the classes – for free.
Of the 140 graduates, seven established company representatives and one start-up attended a celebration this week for the group at New College Institute.
“Some of our graduates are really good success stories,” Shough said. “They’re proof that we can start successful businesses here and they can thrive for several years.”
Rick Dawson of Dawson Photography, Inc. spoke about his recent decision to become an incorporated business. While he felt he made the right choice, the owner of two local studios warned other business owners to be diligent when signing the papers.
“Check all the paperwork before you sign the dotted line,” Dawson said.
Thankfully, Dawson followed his instinct and read through the contracts instead of carelessly signing away.
Specializing in all types of photography – from portraiture to outdoor settings – Dawson looks forward to soon offering pet packages.
Some businesses, like Darla Main-Schneider’s Rising Sun Breads, saw immediate success, As one of the first SmartSTART graduates, Main-Schneider’s business is still going strong – both in Martinsville and in North Carolina.
“The bakery is still here. We are a very relevant part of the community,” Main-Schneider said. “We opened up a satellite in Roxboro.”
While the idea of growing a business seems like a dream to many entrepreneurs, Main-Schneider said it’s not as simple as one might think.
“It’s the overall cost of adding more. It’s over the top for taxes and workman’s comp,” Main-Schneider gave a realistic viewpoint of owning a second business, especially in another state. “Uncle Sam wants to have his hands in your front pocket.”
While the costs and benefits might seem to collide at times, Main-Schneider assured the room, “The entrepreneurial spirit is very much alive.”
Another success story came from Dorthea Kirby, owner of Jamarr’s Hands.
When Kirby first started her business, she had one client. Now, she has 30.
“It’s a lot of surprises handling Medicaid with the elderly and disabled,” Kirby said. “You’ve got to cross every ‘T’ and dot every ‘I.’”
However tedious the work may be, Kirby’s happy to assist her community.
Tommy Nance, owner of Piedmont Specialty Company, took over his father’s business many years ago.
When he first took on the role, many area factories had recently closed their doors.
“They were just gone,” Nance said.
Due to the uncertainty of the market, Nance was nervous about the success of the business. However, he pushed forward – and his perseverance paid off.
In an attempt to grow his brand, Nance and a friend put the business on the internet, which helped the business boom.
“If that phone’s cut off, you won’t be getting any more business,” Nance said, “My advice is just keep going. Keep working at it.”
Carole Hussey, owner of Casting Logos, has also experienced major success. However, when she receives an order for several thousand products from a single organization, it can be difficult to manage funding for the order.
“Expenses we never even thought about existing do exist,” Hussey said.
Coaches suggested offering payment plans when organizations place an order, an idea Hussey seemed to like.
“Industry reports say what we’re doing is sought after all over the world,” Hussey said. “Our goal is to continue to provide the services we need in this area. We intend to be a global company.”
Mother-daughter duo Cindy and Stacey Davis also attended the reception. Stacey spoke of her store, Infinity Dancewear.
“It’s been going pretty good,” Stacey said. “There are a lot of slow months, but some good months, too.”
Aleen Wilson, owner of Gallery 22, specializes in creating masterpieces out of glass.
“I’m a glass artist, but I survive off of workshops and students,” Wilson said.
Suzanne Britt, another SmartSTART graduate, originally wanted to open a bookstore in Martinsville. Unfortunately, the timing wasn’t right. At the forefront of the recession, there wasn’t a bank in the area willing to give the hopeful business owner a loan.
“I never got it off the ground,” Britt said of her idea.
Sometimes, Shough said, going through the course and not opening a business is the best decision.
“We’ve saved some people thousands of dollars because they decided there wasn’t a market,” Shough said.
No matter the idea, SmartSTART coaches Shough, Harper and Beth Deatherage are happy to assist new business owners.
“Some of them are really risky businesses, but the students need to go through the steps to figure it out,” Shough said. “We give them the tools to help make the right decision.”
The next SmartSTART class will run on Tuesdays from March 14 to May 2 at the New College Institute. It will run from 5 to 8:30 p.m. each night, at a cost of $75. For more information or to register, call (276)-403-5940