Kicking Off the SBA’s National Small Business Week: May the Fourth Be With You

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 “Size matters not. Look at me. Judge me by my size, do you?” Star Wars aficionados recognize this famous quote by Force master Yoda on young Luke Skywalker’s misconceptions about diminutive stature versus importance. It seems apropos to pay a little homage to businesses that are small in size but great in number during the Small Business Administration’s National Small Business Week (NSBW), which celebrates American entrepreneurship. Those of you who either own, manage or work in a small business should pat yourselves on the back and recognize your value as a spoke in the wheel on which American economy turns. According to the SBA, America’s entrepreneurs create nearly two out of every three net, new U.S. jobs each year. In fact, over 65% of the jobs created in the last twenty years have been created by small businesses like yours!  More than half of all working Americans work in a small business. Considering the SBA’s definition of small business as one with less than 500 employees, almost all Bay County businesses are just that.  Small you may be but crucial are you indeed!

For those of us not operating near an NSBW event site, the SBA is offering a series of free, one-hour online webinars on a host of timely topics:

Note that these webinars are posted on Eastern time, so adjust your viewing schedule accordingly. Register online in advance for speedy access.

The Business Innovation Center (BIC) itself grew out of recognition of the importance of small businesses and our need to diversify our local economy. Not to be confused with the Small Business Development Center, the BIC offers business expertise, mentoring, networking and access to resources to our clients, from start-ups to those expanding from home-based operation to foothold firms looking to test our local business waters and relocate here. Find out how the BIC can work for you by scheduling a free Discovery Session at our offices on the FSU-Panama City campus: 850-770-2451 or  Info@businessinformationcenter.com

Need a little inspiration to go with your aspiration? Watch the highlights of last year’s NSBW celebration: https://www.sba.gov/nsbw/yearspast#  Encourage you it will!


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Jamie Shepard
Consultant, Business Innovation Center

More info


The BIC Spotlight: dsi Associates

Government Contracting: It Can Pay to be Woman-Owned

PictureSusanne Hogan, CEO dsi Associates

Women may be deemed the “gentler weaker sex”, but in the government construction contracting arena, one woman has done some pretty heavy lifting to make her mark in a typically male-dominated field. Susanne Hogan, founder of dsi Associates, has over twenty years of professional experience successfully managing large public sector construction projects at the federal, state and local levels. And she did it the old-fashioned way, by being really good at her job and by using the tools at hand to help her small company succeed in Illinois. As a resident client of the Business Innovation Center, she has established a presence here in Bay County to oversee the FamCamp renovation project at Tyndall AFB, hired two more people, and sees a bright future here in the Florida panhandle.

Susanne’s first job out of high school was an administrative clerk at the U. S. Department of Energy National Accelerator Laboratory site office, “…readying the site for the design and site team to begin the process of constructing a 25-mile diameter ring for what would become the world’s largest proton accelerator. Acquisition, development, design, permitting, inspections, and all aspects of constructing this extraordinary facility, along with the unique aspects of art and restoration that were a part of the project, set the stage for what was to become my future career, then business,” quipped Susanne. Armed with a Master of Management from Northwestern University, she continued to work and rose up the construction project management ladder in the private and public sectors. She helped make her organizations and colleagues more effective, efficient and profitable through innovative institutional research programs to bolster expertise on public sector projects, as well as a project incentive program that led to double-digit annual growth gains for her employer. She skillfully guided the Illinois Corridor Transportation Management Association members through the web of Clean Air Act requirements to avoid non-compliance fines and help redevelop blighted areas in Chicago.

After years of proving herself to be equal to the tasks, Susanne took the initiative to start her own enterprise in 1991, and now manages a $150M annual construction management portfolio. She pursued and won status as an SBA 8(a) firm, a Women Business Enterprise (WBE) and Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE), all business development tools to help small disadvantaged businesses compete in the federal and state contracting marketplace.

When asked about her success, Susanne said that often being the only woman in the meeting can be daunting. “But if you are willing, as my mentor, Lt. Col. Charles Dierker (USACE, Ret) said, to be ‘an individual who leans forward in the foxhole’, armed not only with the knowledge on how to do your job, but the confidence in yourself and your abilities, you can win them over and win those contracts. Then you have to deliver what you promised on time and on budget. That’s how you succeed.” Not too bad for a girl who started out as clerk!


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Jamie Shepard
Consultant, Business Innovation Center

More info


Outsource your payroll, not your people.

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One of my best pieces of advice to fledgling companies is to focus on your strengths, do what you know best. Recognize your operational shortcomings and delegate those tasks to somebody who has the expertise you need. Whether you are hiring your first employee or the fiftieth, if you aren’t a human resources professional or have someone on staff, outsourcing your payroll to someone who can handle it correctly, and going as far as potential employee recruitment, and short and long term hiring could make sense and cents in today’s complex and litigious tax/healthcare/workers comp/labor law arena.

One way to make your work life easier is to outsource your payroll. Payroll is one of your company’s biggest expenses AND biggest headache if it isn’t done correctly.  Employers are responsible for withholding federal income tax and other federal and state taxes from each employee’s paycheck. Payments and requisite documentation, namely the IRS Form 914 Employer’s Quarterly Federal Tax Return must be submitted on time to avoid penalties. The end of the year requires preparing and distributing W-2s for your employees and 1099s for contractors paid over $600. And don’t forget about 401(k) and Section 125 mutual fund plans and other automatic paycheck deductions, garnishments and employee benefits. National names like Paychex and Adecco as well as many local accounting firms can handle all those payroll tasks for you. It’s not always cheaper than an in-house person and an adding machine but when you factor in the time, the talent, and the risks of doing it wrong, that extra expense may be the price of sleeping  a little better at night, knowing it’s  done right.

Let’s back up another step to the initial recruiting, screening and hiring process. Local Adecco branch manager Nancy Luther suggests that companies like yours turn to companies like hers to navigate the HR waters. She explains, “Companies with seasonal needs, gap coverage issues and special projects routinely use workforce solutions providers. First, you define the task at hand — a data entry person for 2 months to help you catch up on required documentation or extra hands for 3 weeks to help with year-end inventory or an administrative fill-in to cover medical leave. Whether for a short term or long term assignment, you let Adecco pre-screen, test, and interview and then send you qualified applicants. Adecco then manages the payroll, tax reporting, workers comp issues, health benefits, etc., for you for the term of the contract. That’s a win-win for all involved.”

What works short term can be employed for longer term hires too. You’ve heard stories of someone who is great in the interview and has good references but underperforms on the job or never quite fits into the company culture after they’re hired. “With Adecco workforce solutions,” says Nancy Luther. “You define the requirements, let us handle the recruitment and hiring process, and then let time tell whether or not this person is a good fit for long term employment. It can even work for the term of that multi-year contract you’ve won or just as a matter of convenience for all parties.”

Or you can take the soup-to-nuts approach of having some to no employees on your books at all. Everyone in your workforce is a contract worker, employed by the outside agency, like Adecco and PMIPEO in Fort Walton/Panama City. You retain the role and responsibilities as well as boss’ prerogatives to select candidates and manage their performance on the job. You pay more per hour of course but forego all that overhead and compliance associated with payroll, tax reporting and HR in general.

Of course, it’s up to you. But it pays to know your options in HR.

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Jamie Shepard
Consultant, Business Innovation Center

More info


Women-Owned Small Business

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In an effort to motivate women to follow their dreams of becoming a small business owner, I feel the need to determine what the challenges are, as well as what practices assist women in achieving success. According to Stephen Morris from the SBA, “Year round the SBA works to improve our outreach and services for women entrepreneurs, and to identify opportunities to empower women entrepreneurs to start and grow businesses. As a part of this effort, we continue to counsel and train roughly 500,000 women through SBA’s extensive resource partner network, including our Women’s Business Centers.”

In the past, I recall speaking with a very successful male entrepreneur who confirmed that women have a much higher fear of failure than their male counterparts. I think of it as a double-sided sword. Business women who operate in feminine ways are often not seen as leaders. Although times have been changing for the better, women have had to take on a more masculine role to ensure their leadership is recognized properly…but if their mannerisms become too masculine, often times they are disliked. According to Forbes WomensMedia contributor Caroline Turner, “While women make up 46.6% of the Fortune 500 workforce and 51.4% of middle management, according to Catalyst, in these companies they represent only 14.1% of executive officers, 7.5% of the highest paid and only 4% of CEO’s.”  In my opinion, this is the very reason I say “Go for it!”

Women need to lose the fear of failure and take a wholehearted leap into their deep seated dreams of being a successful business owner [themselves]! The title of CEO or President of your own company can be very motivating and profitable, which will drive momentum and creativity when building a successful business. The sense of accomplishment would be amazing in being able to create jobs in the community, help with economic health, and promote a higher standard of living. Ask yourself how satisfying would it be to wake up every day and be excited to put in the long hours needed to be a successful small business owner, and yet, loving every minute of it?

There are also many challenges women face when starting a business [of their own]: raising the necessary capital, identifying and gaining access to markets, and limited resources. To be successful, small business owners need to [take full advantage of the free] resources available to them. [The Small Business Administration website is an excellent place to start.]

Another way to do this is by using no-cost and low-cost social media platforms. They should be used diligently due to the fact that it helps to promote business. Small business owners can engage their audience and increase visibility by using sites such as Facebook, Pinterest, LinkedIn and Twitter, to name a few. Another tip would be [putting your website to better use] by adding an information registration form, so you can easily build a mailing list.

Yes, there will always be challenges. [We as women cannot let fear of failure be one of the biggest obstacles to our success.]


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Anne Helmer 
Certified Consultant

Veterans Business Outreach Center  (VBOC)

Small Retailers Can Compete with Big Box Stores IF…

By Jamie Shepard, Consultant, Business Innovation Center

PictureAllison Craft Designs bets the odds in Grayton Beach

Small retailers everywhere struggle against national chains which can offer deeper volume discounts and loss leader items to entice shoppers in person and online. Does that mean you should shutter your doors and surrender? Certainly not! In fact, your mom-and-pop shop might have a distinct advantage over the megastore. 

A good case in point is Allison Craft Designs (ACD), an artisan pearl-on-leather jewelry studio in nearby Grayton Beach. What began in designer Allison Craft’s home studio a few short years ago has blossomed into a successful storefront business with a growing regional and soon-to-be-national wholesale presence. Her success has been built “the old fashioned way” by offering a unique, high quality product, genuine customer service and outside-the-big-box marketing strategies.  According to Allison and senior manager Scott Henderson,  quality and innovation are at the forefront of Allison Craft Design’s philosophy and retail practice. Here’s how:

  • A Quality Product and a Wide Range of Price Points. The desire for artisan-made, high quality products is a growing trend in domestic and international retail markets — a definite niche for small local retailers.  There are cheaper, knock-off versions at flea markets but one look at the real goods tells the tale. Allison Craft explains, “Real pearls are lustrous and radiate a natural warmth that synthetics cannot replicate. The workmanship of small production houses like ours and our ability to customize our designs to target local markets in other markets like Nashville and Colorado differentiate us from chain stores.” ACD also recognizes the need for entry-level, affordable and versatile products. “By introducing these buyers to our line, we build the same brand awareness as with higher end clientele. Both wear their purchase with pride and tell their friends, who in turn become our customers”, says Scott.

  • Quality Customer Service. According to Allison, “As kids, we all loved to play dress up. We embrace that need for relaxed creativity in our store. Our staff is very well trained (another key element in success) in how to market our product but also in ways to make the customer relax and enjoy the whole shopping experience.” 

  • Quality Exterior and Interior Appearance. First impressions count! Making the storefront visually appealing and your inventory accessible inside are equally important. Front window dressing is your store’s billboard. ACD has made a concerted effort to make its studio airy and welcoming with attractive point-of-purchase displays that showcase the jewelry’s versatility and the variety of its inventory.

  • Innovative Marketing. Traditional advertising is expensive but necessary to create brand awareness. The key is to know your customer and target your marketing accordingly, not to what the ad sales reps are pushing this week. Small retailers especially benefit from targeted customer loyalty /repeat purchase programs.  ACD’s “Pearl Perks” program rewards loyal customers with gift cards for future and referral purchases. It doesn’t really cost anything until redemption, then sales offset that expense.  

    Small retailers also have the advantage of being more nimble, “guerilla” marketers, capitalizing on opportunities as they arise. For ACD, the idea of “gifting” music performers at the 30A Songwriters Festival was one such opportunity. Allison created music-themed jewelry especially for female and male artists, who wore the gifts onstage at the festival. Many came by the shop and bought other pieces, which caught the eye of other performers, their entourages as well as music magazine reporters and the fans. This has significantly impacted online purchasing and wholesale vendors in the artists’ home market.

    Small shops can indeed compete and prosper. You just have to be creative and think out of the “big box”.


Jamie Shepard
Consultant, Business Innovation Center

More info