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WNC Business

Small business trends into 2024

Apr 01, 2024 03:48PM ● By Randee Brown

Service Corps of Retired Executives, commonly known as SCORE, is the nation’s largest network of volunteer business mentors who help small business owners establish and grow their companies. 

SCORE’s Western North Carolina branch consists of about 160 active clients, with approximately 220 new clients each year. Mentor Michael Dexter-Smith said he sees an uptick with the start of each new year, and each small business is unique and different. Small business owners themselves are varied as well. Mentor Tim Morris said they see a lot of retirees or retired military personnel who have a passion, want a change, and are finally able to do what they want in their career.

There are many young adults coming to SCORE for help as well. Dexter-Smith said there is a generational trend of younger people wanting to work for themselves, or start working for another entity and expand one aspect of it on the side. He sees more women interested in “breaking the norms” and running a business by themselves as well.

“We have seen a lot of younger people starting up,” Dexter-Smith said. “So many people want to do something by themselves, and bring their new ideas to life. Currently, there are a lot of young people moving into the area with a software background, and we typically see them right at the beginning as they’re starting off.”

Mentors are noticing an increase in the popularity of lifestyle businesses. These small businesses are created with a focus on the potential lifestyle offered more than the potential revenue. Some owners want to spend more time with their family, and some have a goal of simply doing what they love, such as gardening, farming, or boarding horses, and people are not afraid to try to get any type of business started.

“Something unique about America is that failure is seen as a learning curve; it’s not an issue,” Dexter-Smith said. “That’s unique to the US. People are encouraged to try anything, and if they fail, they fail, and they are open to adapt and change. Reaching new markets with social media is easier than ever, and people are talking about entrepreneurship more in education. That can be difficult to teach, but more and more people are willing to try. It’s something in your gut."

Starting a new small business can be tricky, according to Dexter-Smith. Entrepreneurs must consider their career goals, how to fund those ideas, craft a business plan, and create an elevator pitch — a brief overview of their business they could share with someone within the time spent on an elevator.

Owners need to consider early on what they’d like to get out of their business by asking themselves about their ultimate goal - this could be establishing a generational business, starting and selling a business, or scaling and growing. Considering a succession plan and/or an exit strategy is also important for every business.

While the initial startup phase is exciting, many encounter difficulties six to 18 months after opening. The initial enthusiasm can wear off and sometimes businesses need more money to keep operating, so it can be challenging for small business owners to keep the momentum going.

Some businesses grow rapidly, and Morris said there is no such thing as growing too fast, but the owner must be prepared. There is a risk of putting in too many hours and burning out. Owners may need to seek additional capital, hire employees, or outsource some tasks through contractors. Adapting to growth is key.

Seeking additional capital often happens in a small business’s growth phase, and owners need to have a plan of where to raise money in the future. Businesses can go public to raise funds, seek venture capital, visit a community development financial institution like Mountain BizWorks, or speak to a traditional bank.

“Cash flow is often the Achilles heel for growing small businesses,” Dexter-Smith said. “Business owners need good people to help, and they will still need money.”

When it is time to hire employees, Morris said business owners should consider hiring contractors instead of hiring directly. Many people are less worried about things like 401(k)s and people are unsure if social security will be around when they approach retirement age. Instantaneous rewards seem to be more of a driving force for many.

“Many people are more than happy to work on a contract basis,” Morris said. “A lot of people are thinking more short-term in terms of jobs. Small businesses often can’t afford to pay health benefits, and nowadays there are other ways people can access benefits rather than exclusively through their employer.”

SCORE is about helping small businesses at any stage, during startup, growth, or simply getting through a challenging time. 

“We see bigger companies who are struggling a bit coming to SCORE for mentoring,” Dexter-Smith said. “They are looking for direction on where their business can be lucrative; how they can deliver offerings with different value propositions and revenue models. We try to show them different opportunities and be a sounding board for their ideas. We’re not taking money; we’re just here to be the ‘gray hair in the room’.”

Morris said though mentors are not employed or contracted with the business owner, they always strive to provide great service and experiences. Mentors offer thoughts and critiques, and a variety of webinars are available on SCORE’s website at or