Last Updated: Jan 8th, 2015 - 07:42:25

Local Business Owners Inspired by Workshop for Entrepreneurs
By Sarah Steele Wilson
Sep 21, 2012, 11:02

Strengthening what Prince George County Administrator Percy Ashcraft referred to as “the backbone of our economy” was the goal the county hoped to further by hosting the Entrepreneur Express seminar from the Virginia Department of Business Assistance on Tuesday.

“We want you to be successful, because when you are, the government and the citizens are successful as well,” Ahcraft said to the already established and aspiring business owners gathered at the Redemption Inn and Conference Center.

He said that while Prince George County has attracted a lot of attention as a new location for international aerospace giant Rolls Royce, small businesses are what makes the county tick.

Wayne Waldrop, Director of Business Information Services Virginia Department of Business Assistance, said that holds true throughout the state.

“About 98 percent of the businesses in Virginia are small businesses, so yes, small businesses are very important to the state,” he said. “About two thirds of the net new jobs in Virginia will come from small businesses, so we believe that if we can keep small businesses strong, the economy will be strong as well.”

The Entrepreneur Express seminar was designed to present important knowledge about business essentials, introduce aspiring and existing business owners to resources, provide a networking opportunity and encourage audience members to “take the next step” in their businesses.

“We’ve had a lot of interactions with small businesses and we found that these three subjects, of business planning, finance and marketing, are the three critical areas that make small businesses successful,” Waldrop said.

Pat Hood, with the Crater Small Business Development Center, talked to attendees about designing a business plan, which she said is necessary part of starting a business.

“From the banking perspective, don’t even come to us if you don’t have a business plan,” said Jim Clements with the Bank of Southside Virginia, which was on hand to provide information on loans to small businesses.

Hood said that while her organization can assist entrepreneurs in putting together strong plans, personally creating it helps an entrepreneur know the business they are planning on running thoroughly.

“There’s nothing more important that writing it yourself,” she said.

The plan, she said, should help business owners know their industry, target market, customers and competitors and should include information about advertising and promotion, location, the management team and the financial plan.

In terms of location, Hood urged the audience to get their business plans and financing together before signing a lease.

“I cannot emphasize this enough,” she said.

That lesson hit home for Trisha Rosiles, who tried to open a Mexican restaurant on East Broadway in Hopewell.

“I did exactly what they said, when they were doing the business planning, what not to do,” she said. “I didn’t know not to sign a lease. Code enforcement shut me down and it wasn’t my fault. It was the building.”

Rosiles said she plans of trying again and thinks the information she learned at Monday’s seminar will be useful. She said she didn’t attend any seminars like Tuesday’s before her fist try.

“I lost a lot of money in the process, because I didn’t know what I was doing,” she said.

She said that the the presentation had encouraged her to think more carefully about location and had introduced her to a number of resources she will be able to use while reviving her goals.

“It was very useful,” she said. “There are a lot of tools I’m going to use.

The seminar also explored ways businesses can link in with the state’s tourism campaign. Virginia, which ranks eighth in the nation in U.S. visitor spending and 14 in international spending.

Mary Jo Sisson-Vaughn from the Virginia Small Business Financing authority discussed the different types of loans available to business owners and Joan Tompkins with the Crater Procurement Assistance Center spoke about contracting with the Federal government.

Virginia is the number one state in the number of federal contracts awarded, raking up $536.7 Billion worth a year. Some of that money has been seen locally as contracts related to base realignment and closure growth at Fort Lee provided an economic boon.

While some members of the audience were still in the planning phases, established business owners also learned from the presentation.

“I would say for me the main take away is while I knew that a business plan was important, this really gave me a good outline and path to go down to tweak the one that I have and really use it,” said Laura Johnson, whose Art in Motion commercial and residential interiors business has been operating in Prince George since 2005. “It also is extremely helpful in resources.”

Waldrop said he presents about 100 Entrepreneur Express programs across the state each year and had about 2,500 business owners attend the classes last year.

“We have anecdotal success stories of people who have taken the next step, whether it means expanding their business or writing a business plan or trying to get a loan,” he said. “We feel like it’s having a positive impact.”

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