Most of the educational and training resources available today are focused on entrepreneurs just getting started. We have found very limited resources to assist the established small business -- companies that have been in business for several years and have attained a certain level of success with sales between $500,000 and $5 million.
Edmonds Community College has a Small Business Development Center. And, of course, we're very excited that our own institution, Everett Community College, is starting a new Small Business Accelerator program in September to assist established small business.
We recently spoke with Travis Snider, the program's lead instructor and a business coach, about the challenges facing established small businesses.
Here are the highlights from our conversation:
Question: There are many resources and classes for people starting their own small business. Why do you think there aren't as many resources for established small business?
Answer: Owners of established small businesses generally have limited financial resources to engage outside help. They also have limited knowledge about what to expect from outside experts. Both issues provide a reluctance to seek help.
On the other side, small companies are difficult for consultants to serve in an affordable manner. They have many of the needs of larger companies, but insist on low cost. Many consultants avoid the lower end of the market because it doesn't provide a high enough return for their time.
We believe the new program, which includes 50 hours of expert instruction and one-on-one business consulting for $1,200, is very cost effective for most small-business owners.
Q: What are some challenges for established business owners with revenue in the $500,000 to $5 million range?
A: There are many challenges for established business owners, but two top the list. The lack of a vision and goals is the first. Owners work hard, but may not be focused on ultimate results. Creating a vision that takes the business to the next level helps ensure the company is working on the right things and not wasting effort on the wrong things. The challenge is always keeping those goals in sight.
The second concerns a lack of the right people in a company. Owners of established companies have achieved success because they have learned that they can't do it all by themselves. They must have good people with the right skills to grow and become profitable. Finding and developing the right people is a huge continuing challenge.
Q. What are the most critical skills, knowledge and attributes required to build a small business to this size and get beyond the survival stage?
A. Small companies are complex organizations. Some of the critical skills an owner needs include:
Planning and communicating where the company is going.
Tracking performance by understanding and monitoring key profit drivers.
Demanding accountability of everyone, including the boss.
Attracting sufficient financial resources to support the business.
Q. As a business grows and matures it is increasingly difficult to rely on an informal organizational structure to be successful. How should established small businesses be thinking about this issue?
A. Established companies must define how their organizations are structured and determine if they have the right people in each position. A clear organization chart is a place to start. Identify key functional responsibilities and how they relate to one another. Determine whether there is someone with the right skills to fill that position. If not, that slot is the responsibility of the owner until it is filled.
If an owner is not good at the job or lacks interest in it; a skills gap is identified. Understanding where the skills gaps are and filling them leads to a more structured organization.
Q. Marketing is always a challenge for small businesses. How should established small companies think about keeping their product or service offerings fresh and innovative?
A. These companies must become familiar with the needs of their customers. Experience shows most business owners know very little about what their customers want. This lack of knowledge leaves companies guessing about what to do to adapt to the changing marketplace.
Defining the target audience and spending time getting to know customers enhances the understanding of how to serve them. Periodic surveying can provide information about changing preferences and trends in the marketplace. The more an owner knows about customers and their problems, the more innovative the solutions will be.
You can find more information about Everett Community College's Small Business Accelerator at www.everettcc.edu/accelerator or by emailing Travis at firstname.lastname@example.org. The program is offered through EvCC's Corporate & Continuing Education Center.
Pat Sisneros is the Vice President of College Services at Everett Community College. Juergen Kneifel is an Associate Faculty in the EvCC Entrepreneurship program. Send comments to email@example.com
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