Small-business owners told ways they can save money, better meet their needs

By Charlie Bermant
Peninsula Daily News

PORT TOWNSEND — Small-business owners should be clear about their needs before hiring consultants or they run the risk of paying more than necessary and getting incompatible service, according to material presented at the Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday.

“When the budget is tight, money is always an issue, so you don't want to spend money on things that you don't need,” said Elaine Jones, who directs the Port Townsend office of the Small Business Development Center which is administered through Washington State University.

“But if you don't know what you need before you hire an attorney or a consultant then you will end up spending money finding out what you need,” she added.

About 30 people attended the presentation, where Jones offered advice as to how businesses can help themselves and save money at the same time.

Another hazard of being ill-prepared is that consultants may tailor the jobs to fit their own offerings, she said.

Jones, who previously worked as a consultant, once spoke to a prospective client who needed services that differed from what the company offered, but was told to continue serving the client even though the needs did not mesh.

“If you don't know what you want, a consultant will offer you services based on what they can do rather than something that will help solve your problem,” Jones said.

Jones works out of Port Townsend, meeting with small businesses to determine their needs and offer advice as to how to succeed.

She is part of a nationwide network of Small Business Development Centers that are supported by the Small Business Administration.

“You have already paid your taxes which support us, so our services are free,” she said.

In the same way, business owners have already paid for the library with their property taxes, making it an important free resource.

“The library is a tremendous source for business research,” Jones said.

“In most cases, there is a reference librarian with business knowledge who can tell you how to find things and there are a lot of online resources where you can get the information you need about starting or running a business,” she said.

Jones said that one way to choose a consultant is to research papers online and approach the person whose paper makes sense within the context of the specific business.

“This is a good way to hire a consultant because you are familiar with their work,” she said.

“And there is no better way to approach someone than to say 'I read your paper on so-and-so and I have a question.'”

Online databases contain substantial demographic data and market research, she said.

For instance, if a person wants to open a meat market in a specific location, data can be found that shows the buying patterns of that neighborhood.

“The details you can find are really amazing, you can determine how big a market is and whether the customer base exists for a particular business,” she said.

Jones said that the Internet is an “endless” source of information.

For instance, instruction about anything can be found on YouTube which can also be used to provide a how-to in an area of expertise, she said.

Jones also suggests tapping schools as a source for completing a project.

A business in need of a web page or a graphics project can approach a high school or a community college class and run a contest where the winner would get a cash prize and the business would then have a website.

On a higher academic level, a graduate business school may encourage its students to work with a local business to plan its trajectory.

“If you have a contest everybody wins,” Jones said. “The winner gets a little cash and the thrill of accomplishment while the business gets a number of options to choose from.”

Jones said that small businesses need to learn how to do a lot of things on their own but should recognize their limitations.

“Small businesses need help,” Jones said.

“It doesn't matter who you go to, but when you have a problem you shouldn't hesitate to reach out.”

Jones operates an office in Port Townsend at 211 Taylor St., Suite 402A and has a satellite office in Port Angeles at 905 W. Ninth St., which she visits periodically.

For more information, call 360-344-3078.

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Jefferson County Editor Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or cbermant@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: August 19. 2013 6:44PM
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