Women of business

Janet Wilson, Adrienne Barker, Sherry DeCrenza, and Lourdes Leon.

Small businesses are the backbone of West Volusia’s local economy, but starting one from scratch isn’t easy.

Some of West Volusia’s movers and shakers from local Chambers of Commerce and a mentoring agency talked with The Beacon about the dos and don’ts of small-business ownership.

Building relationships is important

“People want to do business with a company they know is going to be around,” Sherry DeCrenza, executive director of the West Volusia Regional Chamber of Commerce, said.

Networking and building relationships are essential in the small-business world, she said, because businesses with a known face will do better.

“It’s not just about having a drink, or shooting the bull with people; it’s about letting people like you, know you,” DeCrenza said. “When you’re a small business owner, it’s important to always be out there.”

Lourdes Leon, director of community relations for the Volusia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, agreed. Whether its relationships between big and small businesses or small businesses and their customers, relationships are important.

“It’s important to stay connected, stay engaged,” Leon said. “More businesses have the opportunity to thrive if they do.”

Flexibility is key

The COVID-19 pandemic laid bare the need for flexibility in business. Overnight, industries collapsed and livelihoods were turned topsy-turvy.

“Right now, we’ve seen a lot of businesses during COVID have to pivot,” Adrienne Barker told The Beacon. “If it’s not a pandemic, it could be a hurricane. People need to be careful putting all of their eggs in one basket.”

Barker is the incoming chair of the Volusia and Flagler County SCORE chapter. SCORE — the Service Corps of Retired Executives — provides mentoring programs and classes for small-business owners.

As the COVID-19 pandemic shuttered businesses of all kinds, restaurants had to do more takeout and some stores were delivering goods for the first time.

Being able to think on your feet, Barker said, can make a good business great.

But having a plan is still important

Flexibility is important, but there are some things a business owner ought to have planned.

For businesses big or small, online or brick-and-mortar, Barker said, a business plan is a necessity.

“I do think some of these different kinds of business, like e-commerce, are picking up like crazy. That’s easier to open up, but you still need to have a plan,” she said. You still need to know what you’re doing.”

DeLand Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Janet Wilson told The Beacon that not making a business plan is a common mistake she sees.

Wilson said business startups need not fear their business plan will trap them on a wrong course.

“You need to look at it as a work-in-progress, an ongoing thing,” she said.

Generally, Wilson said, planning and communicating with other small-business owners can help in the long run.

Leon agreed.

“You need to plan ahead. Program your future so you can conquer your goals,” she said.

Know your competition, know the community and do you marketing

Running a business is rarely as simple as throwing open your doors and watching customers rush in. You have to give them a reason.

“You have to set yourself apart from the others,” DeCrenza said.

And, even in a small community like DeLand or West Volusia, marketing is important.

No matter how great a business is, Wilson said, if no one knows about it, it won’t succeed. Marketing can get you inside the circles of associates and businesses where many people spend their time.

“It’s so important in West Volusia where we have such a tight-knit community,” she said. “If nobody knows about it, that’s where you’re not going to succeed.”

In getting the word out, it’s also important to know your target clientele. You probably don’t want to spend a lot of marketing money, for example, pitching tattoo shops to the nursing-home community.

“Who are you catering to? Who is the population?” Leon said.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help

When it comes to starting a small business, you don’t have to go it alone.

“It’s very important to educate yourself in the area you’re in,” Leon said.

Not fluent in insurance? Not great with numbers? Talk to someone!

“A lot of people have the passions, the ideas, but they’re not quite sure where to start or what should come first,” the West Volusia Chamber’s DeCrenza said. “There are great organizations out there, a lot of people just aren’t aware of them.”

Chambers of Commerce and other organizations, like SCORE, exist to connect business owners with one another, and help educate business owners about the answers to questions they may not even know to ask.

Be ready to not make back all of your costs immediately

It may be disheartening, but the experts urged business owners not to give up if they aren’t making wheelbarrows full of dollars right out of the gate.

“In the first year of a new business you may not make any money,” DeCrenza said. “It takes a lot to start up. It takes a lot of courage, a lot of patience.”

Leon agreed — patience and planning for the long haul are important.

“You’re not going to get profits right away,” she said. “Have some savings, some plans so you can stay in the business.”

But if things really aren’t going well, don’t be afraid to pull the ripcord and try something else.

“There’s a fine line between being profitable and closing your business doors,” Barker said. “Every small business better have an exit plan.”