Despite the shaky economy, 21 percent of small-business owners nationwide polled in December believe conditions are getting better, up from 15 percent in November, according to Discover Card’s monthly national survey Small Business Watch.
John Bjeldanes, vice president of programs at Score San Diego , the local office of a national nonprofit partnering with the U.S. Small Business Association , says this survey reflects the levels of participation he’s seen from local small businesses and startups the past few months at his workshops and counseling sessions.
Score held 198 workshops with 4,400 attendees in the fiscal year ending Sept. 30.
The workshops cover such topics as developing a business plan, Internet marketing, financing and QuickBooks. These programs cost from $29 to $99 and are held at Point Loma Nazarene University’s Mission Valley campus or Score’s downtown office.
Up until the end of September, attendance and counseling activities compared favorably to 2007, says Bjeldanes.
A Giant Shock
Then in October, Score suffered a 20 percent drop in attendance from new business startups. Attendance rose 10 percent in November and jumped back up to 2007 levels in December.
“There was a giant shock at the first of October,” said Bjeldanes. “People just kind of stayed away from everything, stayed away from business.”
Bjeldanes believes the drop in attendance from startups had to do with the economy coming to its tipping point.
“When lots of people are concerned with the economy, they stop making big purchases, and starting a business is a big purchase,” he said.
Although attendance from startup businesses dropped in the fall, there was a 5 percent increase in October over 2007 in requests for counseling and workshop attendance from established business attendees. Participation in December was comparable to December 2007.
Currently, the most popular workshops deal with marketing promotion or financial management for those already in business.
Addressing another timely issue for small businesses, Score held a panel discussion in December titled “Surviving the Downturn.”
The big topic was cash control, says Bjeldanes, essentially the organization and documentation of a business’s financial exchanges.
Small businesses are concerned about how they can conserve cash when dealing with an uncertain future and they want to market their businesses without making a huge investment.
He says Score plans on increasing recession-related workshops and discussions at chambers around the county.
According to Bjeldanes, the community-based and small service operations, such as the corner grocery store or fitness center, are the businesses not dramatically affected by the recession.
“The ones that are hurting are providing a product or service that requires a large investment: housing, remodeling, construction, or large ticket items such as automobiles, refrigerators,” said Bjeldanes. “Customers are holding back from purchases.”
Because banks have tightened lending requirements, a big worry is borrowing money. But while cash may be tight, marketing needs to stay a top priority, says Bjeldanes.
“They need more marketing instead of less. The key is not to simply drop the price to the ground, but perhaps to give more value to what they are selling, like two-for-one offers,” said Bjeldanes.
Businesses doing well have supportive customer bases that they are in constant communication with, he says. Whether it’s over the Internet, in person or with newsletters, these entrepreneurs are nurturing their client base and aggressively marketing their products and services.
Bjeldanes cites Heart to Heart Gifts, a Web-based business, as an example. With a warehouse in Oceanside, the site is doing well selling such items as party dresses and room decorations for little girls by informing clients about new products.
The following are samples of upcoming workshops sponsored by Score:
– Internet Marketing 101 , Jan. 9 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Point Loma Nazarene, 4007 Camino del Rio S., San Diego.
– Financing Your Business , Jan. 12 from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. at Score Entrepreneur Center, 550 W. C St., Suite 550, San Diego.
– How to Start and Manage Your Business , Jan. 13 from 9 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. at Point Loma Nazarene on Camino del Rio South, San Diego.