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WNC Business

NC's Small Business Centers

Apr 09, 2024 09:29AM ● By Randee Brown

Any small business owner, or entrepreneurial-minded individual interested in becoming a small business owner, can meet with staff at their local Small Business Center for direction, mentoring, and other resources. From the idea stage to those looking to grow an existing small business, Blue Ridge Community College Small Business Center Director Ben Smith said owners are encouraged to reach out for support.

At the idea stage, aptitude resources are available before individuals begin diving into business concepts. Potential business owners may find assessments to help them determine if they are ready to become an entrepreneur, and the Small Business Center can help them prepare if they decide to move forward.  

“If they’re ready, we can help them determine what resources and funding may be available,” Smith said. “We’ll help with developing a business model, help look at target markets and demands, and may be able to help entrepreneurs determine if their business model is appropriate after doing their research. We can then provide additional resources and strategies for them to work with if they’re ready.”

The two primary areas the SBC focuses on are classes and counseling. When small business owners are in exploratory mode, they can attend free classes and feel out ideas before their initial counseling session to gain a foundational knowledge. With more than 100 live classes offered by local instructors, the core curriculum of classes is offered multiple times per year and includes topics such as getting started, marketing, taxes, and financing. Other focused niche classes like farming, Quickbooks, AirBnb operations, and mindset are offered from time to time.

Once entrepreneurs begin their small business journey, the SBC can partner individuals with counseling services. Mentors can help individuals find the support services they need to get their business off the ground, including connecting with people like business attorneys, branding experts, CPAs, and SEO experts.

“These resources can get very specific,” Smith said. “While we cannot do the work for the entrepreneur, our counselors can offer advice and referrals to a variety of experts.”

Small business owners looking for support can find a Small Business Center in each of North Carolina’s 100 counties. They exist at local community colleges and satellite locations, ensuring everyone in North Carolina has access to an SBC within 30 minutes of them, according to Smith. While offerings may vary from Center to Center, the core of each is the same — classes and counseling. 

Small Business Centers can benefit growing businesses in addition to startups. When small businesses approach their growth phase, owners can speak to SBC counselors and mentors about how to hire their first employees, what systems need to be in place in preparation, how and where to post jobs, as well as tips for recruiting and interviewing. 

There are classes available for businesses in the growth phase as well. Offered through the Blue Ridge Community College, the Mission Acceleration class is for established businesses ready to scale. Classes are also available for marketing which are applicable to most small business owners, sharing steps that need to be taken for their small business to grow and increase revenue. 

Other services the SBC may offer include incubators — a full-scale suite of services, spaces, and/or capital funding to help businesses grow. At the Small Business Center at A-B Tech’s Enka location, food or beverage businesses can reach out to Blue Ridge Food Ventures, which provides infrastructure and technical product development assistance to help these businesses expand their offerings. Other incubators and further resources may be found at other Small Business Centers around the region and the state.

Smith said similar advice, resources, and services are provided to businesses across a variety of industries. After several years of uncertainty, one key thought small business owners should consider is diversification.

“You never know what the economy or the pandemic may do,” Smith said. “There are always unknowns, so you need to have a contingency plan. Think about diversification of your product or service, and the channels you have to promote them. Maintain savings to cover at least a couple of months, know where to access capital, and have a line of credit that is possible to use. Be careful about using those funds, but keep an option in your back pocket.”