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Small Businesses, Partners and Resources: Connecting the Dots at Sage Summit 2017

No matter how you define “small businesses,” one thing is certain: they drive our economy. And the Georgia Department of Economic Development (GDEcD) helps support the growth and success of small businesses and entrepreneurs in communities across Georgia.

I had the opportunity to participate in a panel discussion at the 2017 Sage Summit held in Atlanta. During the discussion with Nancy Harris, Managing Director for Sage North America, small businesses owners and my fellow panelists, we quickly discovered that even though we each had quite different backgrounds and experiences, we each have common interests and a goal of helping others to connect the dots.

“Georgia’s small businesses make some really cool stuff.” During the panel, Denise Zannu discussed her Gwinnett County-based company, Black Mermaid’s Bath and Body. Black Mermaid hand-makes luxury bath and body products from all natural ingredients, nearly all of which are sourced locally. Denise believes that the combination of quality ingredients and innovative packaging have helped to define the success of Black Mermaid.

“I’m a small business owner. Who wants to help me?” Entrepreneurs and fledgling small businesses often do not know where to turn with questions that they might have and think that just because they don’t have hundreds of employees, that they are overlooked. This could not be further from the truth. In Georgia, 78 percent of the employers have fewer than 10 employees. This is why partners are so valuable. By establishing relationships with groups such and the Metro Atlanta Chamber, your local Chamber of Commerce, the Small Business Development Center, the National Federation of Independent Businesses and others, local entrepreneurs and small business owners can increase their knowledgebase of resources and where to turn for help before assistance is required.

“We don’t know what we don’t know.” So once we realize that there are partners whose sole purpose is to help the entrepreneur, what resources exist to help? Here in Georgia, we leverage our Centers of Innovation that help entrepreneurs solve real world problems, create new opportunities and overcome production hurdles. GDEcD’s International Trade Division works to help businesses of all sizes identify new overseas markets. More than half of the businesses assisted by the Trade Team have fewer than 20 employees. And funding opportunities, such as Georgia’s State Small Business Credit Initiative help small business access capital through local banks and a network of community development finance institutions.

Connecting small businesses, partners and resources: it’s what we do every day.

Got a Small Business question? Start the conversation! Contact Ryan Waldrep, Assistant Director for Entrepreneur and Small Business Development, at (404) 877-8406 or [email protected].

About the Georgia Department of Economic Development

The Georgia Department of Economic Development (GDEcD) plans, manages and mobilizes state resources to attract new business investment to Georgia, drive the expansion of existing industry and small business, locate new markets for Georgia products, inspire tourists to visit Georgia and promote the state as a top destination for arts events and film, music and digital entertainment projects.

About Ryan Waldrep

As the Assistant Director of Entrepreneur and Small Business and Regional Project Manager with the Department of Economic Development, Ryan provides assistance to companies considering Georgia as a business destination and identifying and pursuing prospective companies with expansion and or relocation potential. He also assists local Chambers of Commerce and Development Authorities in the development of entrepreneurial ecosystems throughout rural Georgia.

Ryan earned his Certification in Economic Development through the International Economic Development Council in 2006 and Economic Development Finance Professional through the National Development Council in 2012. His membership affiliations include the Georgia Economic Development Association and the International Economic Development Council. Ryan is a member of several local organizations, including the Rotary Club of McRae, as well as a graduate of Leadership Georgia and Leadership Telfair.

Prior to joining the Georgia Department of Economic Development, Ryan served as President of the Telfair County Chamber of Commerce and Development Authority and as an Economic Development Planner at the Heart of Georgia Altamaha Regional Commission.

A native of McRae, Ryan holds a BFA in Speech Communication (Public Relations) and an MPA in Public Management, both from Valdosta State University. Ryan continues to reside in Telfair County.

More people are setting up businesses on their own as sole traders or freelancers, or with a very small team. This can bring a number of specific challenges, and co-working is an increasingly popular option that helps solves some of the issues.

Co-working reduces the sense of isolation as well as costs for anyone wanting an alternative to working from home or taking an expensive office space. But more than that, we find that co-workers benefit from being with a mix of others, some may run very different businesses and some are similar. It is an environment where people can bounce ideas off each other, give help and support, and even work in partnership, with other businesses they may never have otherwise met. Opportunities can arise from just a chat in the kitchen or over a beer on a Friday. There's also a great sense of support and community.

Technology and the availability of co-working spaces has made it an increasingly attractive and easy way of working. Teams no longer need to all be based in the same country let alone area, nor do clients. Tools such as WebEx, Skype, Slack, Basecamp all mean it is easy to communicate and work with others in different parts of the world. It is a much smarter, effective way of working and can be much more cost efficient.

Based in Newcastle upon Tyne, Campus North is one of the best co-working spaces for entrepreneurs, tech meetups, start-ups and established businesses in Europe -we’ve even won awards!
Community really does come first at Campus North and our events, sponsors and contacts can really benefit small businesses at every stage of growth. We host monthly events for the wider digital community and our teaching space is free of charge for local tech meetups.

With a clear vision to support the North East by building a stronger digital economy, we’re all about putting the needs of the tech community at the heart of everything that we do.

We’re funded entirely by our members and through sponsorship from small, medium and large businesses including Sage. It’s important to us that businesses of all stages of growth add value and diversify our community. Our sponsors are our partners where we mutually benefit from a collective pool of contacts, knowledge and expertise, supporting and strengthening the digital ecosystem in our region.

What does our community think?

“The fact that there’s always someone who has been in a situation like the one you’re in — and usually pretty open to give you some advice on how to learn from their mistakes or successes.”

“I like that you get to mix with really interesting people and being a lot of small separate entities there is a lot of different things going on. You can focus on your own thing but still get to hear about lots of other things that other companies are doing.”

Starting a business: the dream, and the reality…

Many people have a dream of starting a business. Separate to the idea itself, expectations are often framed by the positive, glossy, upbeat versions people consume from successful business people and media. But, let me tell you, the reality rarely matches the dream. I’d go so far as to suggest that helping people not lose sight of the dream, when the sometimes dreary reality of starting a business bites, could make a big difference.

My personal experience lies in creating OneFifty. We are a digital and social media consultancy fusing the emerging fields of behavioural data and digital marketing. In our second year trading, we have a ten strong team composed of bloggers, Instagrammers, consultants and data analysts, with clients who range from the world’s biggest brands to cool start-ups. In short, I, and my co-founder Katie, are living most business people’s dream: our idea has proven appealing, we’re commercially successful, and growing fast.

Getting here, however, saw some dreams prove tough to hang on to, in the face of the cold reality. Here are the top three we faced:

Dream 1: If I devote myself to finding customers, the business can thrive.
Reality 1: Actually being able to receive payment from these hard won customers can be tough: getting VAT numbers takes weeks and weeks, and getting business banking is surprisingly difficult, and has surprising restrictions.

Dream 2: A great vision is what matters - the idea is the business.
Reality 2: Finding info on how to set up the business is seriously tough. Full stop. As in the basics of registering, what structure to use, where and what to register, what insurance you need, working capital requirements, tax obligations… No one-stop shop, no real advice from government which is detailed enough to navigate your way through. Great for professional advisers and experienced business people, less useful for those stepping out for the first time.

Dream 3: We’ll deliver the plan.
Reality 3: You spend hours sweating out your business plan… then reality strikes. Events overtake you, for better and worse, and what you’re left with is the pragmatic plan. I.e. what you can execute within available opportunities, time and resources.

So, what could interested parties - such as the Government - do to help more entrepreneurs be able to retain the dreams, and not get put off by the reality? Well, I’d start by simplifying, streamlining and changing the support to be focussed on small, not big business. That way the reality can match the dream - the passion people have for building their business, providing services and goods to customers, not trying to understand legacy byzantine systems, struggling to work out whether they even apply, let alone how to pay taxes larger businesses can navigate with ease, or suffering the pain of working out the actual cost of hiring people… Of course, the old saying “if it weren’t hard, everyone would do it” remains valid.

In essence, I’m proposing helping people deliver and live the dream, by making the reality come closer to the rosy expectations everyone sets out with.

Alex Pearmain is the Co-Founder of OneFifty, a consultancy which uses data and models of human behaviour to drive purposeful digital interactions.

Alex was one of the early UK pioneers of brand social media adoption. He has built awarded social media, service, communications, and digital marketing teams for consultancies, agencies and within major brands. His work at O2, as the first head of Social Media demonstrated that it was possible and desirable for major organisations to utilise social media at scale across customer services, sales, retention, brand and communications activity, blazing a trail for other brands to invest and adopt. He brings together analytical data and creative strategies.