Small business owner David Phillips, owner and operator of Lake Charles’ Dairy Barn diner, encourages shopping local on Small Business Saturday on Nov. 26.
(November 22, 2016) The ads are everywhere touting national Small Business Saturday on Nov. 26 – the Saturday after Thanksgiving. Positioned between the traditionally busy shopping days of Black Friday and Cyber Monday, Small Business Saturday aims to help advertise and popularize local businesses.
Donna Little, director of the Louisiana Small Business Development Center at McNeese State University, hopes that the popularity of the unofficial Shop Small holiday will pique interest on the other side of the equation, encouraging individuals not just to patronize small businesses but also to start them.
For over 30 years, the LSBDC at McNeese has helped Lake Charles’ thriving small business environment grow and prosper by providing information and guidance to local business owners and hopeful entrepreneurs. The non-profit LSBDC at McNeese is located inside the SEED Center on campus.
“We work with individuals looking to start their own businesses, as well as owners of existing small businesses. We help them solve problems, cope with changes in the economy, get ready to go to the bank - all of these are issues that we help existing and prospective small business owners handle,” says Little.
Besides one-on-one counseling, the center provides regular workshops on many business topics. These programs give individuals an idea of what it takes to start, fund and run a business - everything from managing cash flows to using technology for successful marketing.
The size and complexity of the small businesses served by the LSBDC vary widely. Little has seen enterprises ranging from a very small company made up of a lone jewelry maker to construction companies that have dozens of employees. “No two days,” Little explains, “are ever the same.”
Clients can be very different in their business experience and in their goals. Prospective entrepreneurs range from young adults with business degrees looking to make their mark to senior entrepreneurs with little experience who just want something fun to occupy their time. “We have people here who have just a vague idea of what they want to do and others with step-by-step plans. We assist owners to build their business plan, develop financial projections and plan marketing, whatever it takes to be successful,” she adds.
No problem is too big or too small. The LSBDC has been able to help some people by simply letting them know whether or not a market exists for what goods or services want to provide, the center has assisted others by pointing the entrepreneur towards potential funding sources, based on the LSBDC’s knowledge of local banks’ attitudes and interests.
While the center doesn’t secure funding for any small business, Little says the LSBDC’s efforts make a difference because it prepares the owner to meet with the lender. “We get clients ready so when they talk to a bank, they’re bulletproof.”
In fiscal 2016 the McNeese LSBDC counseled 372 clients and had over 650 attendees at 43 workshops. The Center’s staff helped at least 21 small businesses get started and client capitalization was nearly $5.4 million. At least 70 jobs were created with the help of the LSBDC. For its hard work, the center received the 2016 Small Business Development Center Service Excellence and Innovation Center Award for Louisiana.
David Phillips, owner and operator of Lake Charles’ Dairy Barn diner, says that his experience with the LSBDC was significant when it came time to expand his location. While he has been comfortably running a business for years, the idea of a business plan was daunting. “I had never sat down and tried to get something prepared for investors,” he says. “I found it highly intimidating.”
By providing Phillips with a step-by-step guide and breaking down the sometimes complicated business language into everyday terms, the staff at the LSBDC helped Phillips cross those crucial bridges to securing a loan. “In fact, when I went to the bank, when the lady who initially looked at my loan found out I went to the LSBDC, she said that she wished everybody did,” he says. “I talk to people all the time who are thinking about doing it. It’s a wonderful opportunity, and the free access — you couldn’t ask for more.”
As for Small Business Saturday, Phillips stresses that it’s a mindset that should extend well past the weekend. “It’s one of the things that needs to be higher on everyone’s list, to prioritize where they’re shopping and where they’re buying their merchandise from. It’s going to be the road to recovery for our economy, supporting local and keeping it local.”
Little also emphasizes that small businesses offer buyers not just the opportunity to support the local economy, but to get a truly one-of-a-kind, personalized shopping experience. “Explore small businesses in Southwest Louisiana,” she says. “Support your neighbors, your friends and your family by shopping local. It’s fun, it’s rewarding and you’re doing good for the community. It’s something that’s very worthwhile.”
The LSBDC serves small businesses in Allen, Beauregard, Calcasieu, Cameron, and Jefferson Davis parishes. For more information, visit the center’s website at www.lsbdc.org/msu call 337-475-5529.