Business breakfast offers guidance to small businesses

The Powhatan Chamber of Commerce and Powhatan Economic Developmentheld a business breakfast with a panel focused on economic growth. The panel featured Courtney Cash Mustin, from left, Ray Killinger, Liz Creamer and Pete Daniel.

POWHATAN –The Powhatan Chamber of Commerce and Powhatan Economic Development department recently teamed up again to help local small businesses realize the resources available to them to reach their goals.

During the groups’ Business Appreciation Breakfast on May 3 at County Seat Restaurant, a panel of four guests offered insight into different aspects of approaching and succeeding with business growth.

The panel included Liz Creamer, vice president of Community College Workforce Alliance; Courtney Cash Mustin with the Virginia Department of Small Business and Supplier Diversity; Pete Daniel, owner of Ultimate Cycle Discount PowerSports in Powhatan, and Ray Killinger with the Virginia Small Business Financing Authority.

Angie Cabell, director of the chamber, said the panel was focused on growth and letting local small businesses know about additional resources in keeping with the adage, “the more you know, the more you can grow.” She encouraged local businesses interested in growth to be their own advocates to make sure they are utilizing available resources in the best way possible. She also pointed out local resources that are more readily accessible to Powhatan businesses, such as the Chamber, county staff or elected officials, than in other localities.

The topic of growth seemed beneficial to businesses of all sizes and types in Powhatan, said Roxanne Salerno, economic development program manager. The panel was chosen based on the areas that are crucial to business growth and could provide the best advice for businesses currently in a growth mode or looking toward growth.

“We are also working on small-group industry roundtables for specific industries such as manufacturing, tourism, agriculture and automotive. These discussions will give businesses in the same industry an ability to meet each other, discuss opportunities and concerns regarding their industries,” she said.

Planning for growth

A small business should always have a strategy for economic growth and a business plan that can be adapted as expenses go up each year and workforce needs change, Daniel said.

“So many of my fellow business people don’t know how to do that growth; they just throw a number at it. It takes some time and some planning to look at your expenses, which are going to grow. Certainly you need to plan on your growth to cover those expenses, plus anything you would like to achieve above that,” he said.

Daniel talked about his own move from Chesterfield to his current location in Powhatan. The company tracks where its customers are coming from and how much they spend so he knew where his most loyal markets were located. Powhatan was the No. 2 zip code for the company, so he felt comfortable moving his business here, he said.

“Powhatan is growing. It is a great place; we all love being here. It made good business sense for us to come here, so my growth chart was to go to the No. 2 zip code and then grow again from there,” he said.

Annually updating a business plan is important, especially when seeking outside funding sources such as a loan, Killinger said. Small businesses also need to think five and 10 years ahead with plans that consider issues such as their current or future competition, possibilities for diversification, and how changes in technology might affect how they operate.

A big part of a company’s growth relates to business collaborations, he said. Many businesses have been using the same suppliers or vendors for years and want to maintain those relationships. But they also have to understand the potential risks or consequences if those vendors cannot meet their needs in the future.

“Instead of ‘are they going to continue to grow with me’ and ‘am I going to continue to need them,’ what if it stops tomorrow? Where do you go? What do you do? Do your supply lines stop right there? Do you have a Plan B?” Killinger said.

A better option is to have a number of good relationships with suppliers and keep good credit so you are not caught dead in the water, Daniel said.

Marketing

We live in a world where the internet, apps, and social media outlets can have a huge impact on business, Daniel said. At the minimum, small businesses need a company website, but Youtube and social media outlets such as Facebook and Instagram are key not only to make sales but to engage customers.

“It’s very important that you stay engaged with continual posts – not 10 on one day and then two weeks later you post something. Every other day, throw a story out there. Throw a picture of your customer out there, whether they are coming in the bank or buying a tractor or buying your plumbing service,” Daniel said.

State and local agencies

A huge potential growth area many small businesses do not understand is available to them is contracting with state and local agencies. To do that, business first need to be certified with the Small, Women-owned, and Minority-owned Business (SWaM) certification program, which is a state program, Mustin said. The purpose is to enhance procurement opportunities for SWaM businesses participating in state-funded projects.

The Virginia Department of Small Business and Supplier Diversity certifies in five designations: Micro, Small, Women-owned, Minority-owned, and Service Disabled Veterans.

“Every governor has wanted to increase utilization of small businesses in the economy, so they asked that each state agency use about 42 percent of their budget spending money with certified small businesses,” she said.

There is no cost involved in becoming certified, but it does take some time as people have to apply and submit supporting documentation, she added. Visit https://www.sbsd.virginia.gov/certification-division/swam/.

The second step small businesses should take is to register in eVA, Virginia’s eProcurement Portal, Mustin said. No state agency can conduct business with a company not registered in eVA. It is free to register, but if a business does win a contract, it owes 1 percent of the bottom line of the contract to eVA. For a certified small business, the fee is capped at $500 and is due after payment has been verified.

“It gives you tremendous exposure, not only to about 250 state agency buyers but also about 1,000 local governments – meaning cities, towns and counties,” she said.

She added that the most important part of signing up with eVA is to use the system’s codes to their best advantage. For more information, visit https://eva.virginia.gov.

Growing a workforce

As businesses grow, they often have to add to their workforce. Where companies go to increase their workforce depends on the industry, Creamer said. For instance, manufacturers have certain preferred methods of attracting workers that are different from a higher education institution or an engineering firm.

The Virginia Employment Commission, community colleges and agencies that deal with those with a barrier to employment are putting a big focus on technicians and trades people.

“That is where our industries are having a very difficult time securing the workforce they need. That is manufacturing, it’s trades. We hear about the need for trade workers all the time – all the way up to the governor’s office, trades, trades, trades,” she said.

For the first time there is state funding to provide grants for certification training at a local community college – fast-tracking that can be done in weeks instead of months or years and can get someone credentials in fields such as manufacturing, logistics, warehousing and distribution, and IT, Creamer said.

“This is big news for workforce development. It’s also helpful for small businesses because if your objective is to recruit a workforce, we now have specialized programs for transitioning service members, high school graduates, Virginians who are trying to transition from under employment to living wages, or homemakers trying to return to the workforce,” she said. “We also can help a business owner to upskill an existing workforce and we can use these grants to pay for that.”

Along with taking on more employees, companies might be looking at adding positions at the management level. When deciding on whether to hire from within or outside of the company, Creamer said she strives for a balance of business-specific knowledge and fresh ideas. That is a need an individual owner should know best, but they should also be aware there are 24 state agencies that have federal or state funds for business and workforce development.

Laura McFarland may be reached at Lmcfarland@powhatantoday.com.

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