Help is out there for small businesses
Running a small business is never easy, and when the economy is struggling it only gets harder.
That's where Christine Pigsley comes in.
Pigsley is associate dean of business and entrepreneurship at Dakota County Technical College. She's also the person in charge of the area's Small Business Development Center, a government-funded office set up at DCTC to help businesses that employ 500 or fewer employees with everything from marketing to balancing the books.
The SBDC, which has regional offices across the United States, can help people looking to start a business, but Pigsley said much of what the center does involves helping small businesses get bigger or struggling businesses get healthier. She and the two other consultants who work at the center can help business owners develop a presence on the Internet, learn better accounting techniques or learn how to manage employees.
Depending on a business' needs the center's services range from quick answers to in-depth analysis. The best part? There's no charge for any of it.
Pigsley said keeping the services free allows consultants to be completely honest with their clients.
"I'm not being paid to tell the client what they want to hear or anything else," she said. "My goal is to help that client and be as honest as I can."
The idea, Pigsley said, is to give people the tools they need to succeed.
"A lot of people are really good at their craft. They're great technicians," she said. "They're not always the best managers. They're not always the best accountants."
Trent Eigner and his partners stumbled across the SBDC while they were printing some flyers. Eigner, one of the co-owners of The Pond mini rink in Rosemount, said he's "thrilled" they did.
Eigner and his partners have met twice with an SBDC consultant to talk about marketing for the business. Consultant Connie Kotke helped them put together a marketing strategy that includes plans looking more than a year into the future.
For Eigner, the SBDC has become a nice one-stop shop for advice after months of going from one person to another and finding mostly people who wanted to be paid for their services.
"Anyone who's in a position that we are starting a new business, it's amazing the amount of questions that you have and the questions are so wide-ranging," Eigner said. "We opened a new business at what most would consider the most challenging time in our economy. To be able to lean on somebody for questions, answers, advice and not constantly be reaching into your pocketbook, it's invaluable."
The Pond has done good business in the six months it's been open. Kotke said the SBDC tries to stress it's not only for struggling businesses.
Eigner said he expects to go back to the SBDC in the future when he has questions.
"I don't think I'm in a position to call for any type of bailout money," he said. "If this is what's there for me, I'm going to do it."
Pigsley knows a little something about running a small business. She was working as a chamber of commerce director in a small Iowa town when she decided to put her money where her mouth was and go into business for herself. She started three businesses. But when the economy went bad she closed one, sold another and remade the third, a tuxedo shop, into a mobile tuxedo service. The tuxedo shop quickly grew from one employee to seven.
Pigsley, who has owned 11 businesses in all, came to DCTC in 2004 and at first was the only employee of the local SBDC. Last year the center added two more consultants. Everybody at the center has experience running a business. Even Pigsley's assistant has a business on the side.
"I probably bring more experience in the failures I've had in my own businesses," she said. "A lot of (advice) is what I failed at: 'Here's the mistake. I'm telling you about it so you don't make the same mistake.'"
Business at the center has picked up as the economy has gone south. Pigsley said while some business owners seem resigned to their fates others are doing everything they can to stay afloat.
"It's the fighters that we see," she said. "We see somebody that says, 'I've been doing business like this for 20 years and I've gotta change. I don't know how to change. Help me change.'"
People seem especially to need help working with banks that have become less willing to lend money.
All consulting done at the SBDC is confidential.
Ultimately, Pigsley believes building a health base of small businesses will be good for Rosemount and the rest of Dakota County.
"If we grow our own businesses we stand a lot better chance of sustaining those than trying to attract some giant retailer or some giant company," she said. "We can help that."