Want to help other entrepreneurs? Here's how.
- Small business owners are working to strengthen their local business communities
- Networking, mentorship and youth initiatives are just some of the ways small business owners can help
In business and life, it’s tough to go it alone.
And at a time when the economy is still recovering from a downturn, it’s more important than ever to help other small businesses in your community thrive—or to seek the support you need to grow your business. After all, small businesses make up 99.7 percent of U.S. employer firms and create 64 percent of net new private-sector jobs, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration.
Across the country, experienced small business owners are volunteering time and energy to strengthen their local small business communities. They’re aiding startups, mentoring entrepreneurs and teaching kids entrepreneurial skills, all while taking on key leadership roles within their towns and cities.
Here, we feature small business owners who have successfully supported entrepreneurs getting their feet off the ground.
Knock Down Roadblocks
Owner: Jim Mayfield
Business: Rainbow Agricultural Services, Ukiah, Calif.
Support Strategy: Bolstering economic development efforts
NFIB member Jim Mayfield is proud of his city. The Ukiah, Calif., resident—who is president of Rainbow Agricultural Services, a seller of vineyard, orchard, lawn, pet and livestock supplies and equipment—says his region is a great place to live, but it needs help developing its economy.
“In our area, labor is scarce, housing is high and transportation is difficult,” says Mayfield. “As a result, we must find people with entrepreneurial passion, welcome them to our community and help them grow their businesses here.”
Filled with passion for his locale, Mayfield has spent the past 25 years working to attract other small businesses to Ukiah and help them thrive. Although he has served as a board director for private industry councils and a local business assistance organization, he found the two groups were too restrictive.
“It started out as a great idea and effort, tying all of the local government agencies together with a vision of growing our economic base,” he says of the local business assistance organization. “However, over time, this organization’s mission drifted to ‘follow the funding.’ It became a slave to revolving loan funds, and the broader mission of economic development got lost.”
That caused Mayfield to shift his volunteer emphasis. In 2005, he joined The Community Foundation of Mendocino County, a nonprofit organization that aims to strengthen local communities. He’s been president of the board for two and a half years and has led the effort to encourage private philanthropy to support local economic development.
“Our goal is to connect people with those who have ‘been there and done that,’” he says. “We want to help our budding entrepreneurs identify the exact roadblocks to their vision and then go out and knock those down.”
Mayfield says the foundation is in the process of launching a mentorship program to help local entrepreneurs who need business advice and connections. For example, the foundation is helping one entrepreneur who wants to turn excess wool from local sheep farms into a marketable product he can sell to custom yarn shops around the country. “He is working on fundraising now and has been talking to our community foundation to make some connections in financing and the agricultural industry,” Mayfield says.
Mentor a Budding Business Owner
Owner: Charles McCabe
Business: The Income Tax School and Peoples Tax, Glen Allen, Va.
Support Strategy: Leading mentorship programs with new business owners
As Charles McCabe sees it, the best advice a new entrepreneur can get is from an experienced, successful entrepreneur.
In 2009, McCabe, who is CEO of The Income Tax School and Peoples Tax in Glen Allen, Va., a tax preparation trainer and bookkeeping and payroll service provider, respectively, launched a support program for local entrepreneurs. He started the initiative—called Lunch With CEOs—through The Venture Forum, a Richmond-based nonprofit group that supports entrepreneurship and of which he was a board member.
“We focused on early-stage entrepreneurs who have at least $100,000 in revenue and at least one employee, because we wanted to focus on businesses that would continue to create jobs in the community,” McCabe says. In most cases, the businesses were between one and five years old. “Issues relate to finance, personnel, marketing, sales, technology, security, expansion and personal issues,” he says.
McCabe’s initiative eventually led to an informal one-on-one mentorship program that connects early-stage business owners and veteran CEOs. “One of my first mentees was a woman who had a business selling off-brand maternity clothes on the Internet,” says McCabe. “I am now mentoring a woman who has started a local social media company.”
Over a series of lunches, McCabe helped the first mentee with pointers for leasing business space. He helped her brainstorm marketing and distribution strategies, and connected her to several professional contacts who helped her business with finance, accounting and marketing tasks.
McCabe meets with his current mentee periodically to discuss issues and decisions affecting her business. He contracted her to provide social media services to his own business and introduced her to other potential customers in his network.
To McCabe, mentoring is personally gratifying. It has enhanced his professional reputation and the image of his business in the community, he says, boosting his own success. But there are also more tangible benefits to the entrepreneurial community. “Mentorship programs help early-stage businesses to survive and grow, thereby hiring more employees and contributing to local economic development,” he says.
Share Your Expertise
Owners: Mike and Sally Horner
Business: Tom Sawyer Camps, Altadena, Calif.
Support Strategy: Helping entrepreneurs replicate their success
Since it opened in 1926, Tom Sawyer Camps in Altadena, Calif., has been committed to the idea that every child should experience carefree, constructive outdoor activities. Mike Horner and his wife, Sally, who have owned the children’s day camp since 1973, strongly believe in their business’ mission—so much so that they voluntarily help entrepreneurs launch individual, entrepreneurial camps that are like theirs.
“We have spawned several other camps in locations that are outside of our market area,” says Horner. “Some of these have been started by people who worked for us at one time and had a desire to go out and do similar work on their own.”
Part of the reason Horner enjoys doing this is that he was a business consultant before he bought Tom Sawyer Camps. “I have always loved helping businesspeople succeed,” he says. “These days, I don’t charge consulting fees to help out other camp owners.”
For example, Horner and his wife are helping a former employee who now owns a camp in San Diego. “He successfully built the camp from a startup 10 years ago,” he says. “We have helped him frequently over the years, and he comes to us on occasion for guidance on financial elements of the business, including cash management, bank relations, borrowing and related matters. I have also given him a lot of help in the insurance and risk-management areas.”
For Horner, this works well as an informal, as-needed process, usually by phone. “The people that I have helped are very appreciative,” he says. “I get a lot out of seeing them succeed.”
Teach Young People About Business
Owner: Patricia Baldwin
Business: Reliable Contracting Co. Inc., Gambrills, Md.
Support Strategy: Teaching children about business through educational programs
While the Horners focus on helping entrepreneurs who are ready to launch their businesses or have already done so, NFIB member Patricia Baldwin focuses on fostering entrepreneurship among the younger set.
Baldwin, treasurer of Reliable Contracting Co. Inc., a Gambrills, Md., company that provides site construction services, including paving, grading and utilities, has been volunteering for the national nonprofit youth organization Junior Achievement since 1997. That year, a fellow graduate of a local leadership-training institute invited her to become a member of her county’s Junior Achievement board of directors. Junior Achievement focuses on youth work-readiness, entrepreneurship and financial literacy skills and uses experiential learning to inspire students to dream big and reach their potential.
Baldwin regularly participates in Junior Achievement’s BizTown program, in which fourth- and fifth-grade students spend a day running a miniature town. There are several BizTown events during the school year and summer. “Prior to this, they do several weeks’ worth of preparation work, including creating business plans and even electing a mayor,” Baldwin says. “The students see all the aspects of business, including selling products, paying bills, balancing checkbooks, making payroll, paying taxes and even filing insurance claims for flood losses. They also buy advertisements to get people to purchase their products and services. It really teaches them how the economic system in the United States works.”
At the most recent BizTown event, Baldwin got six other volunteers from her local business community to work with the students for the day. How was she able to round up six busy entrepreneurs? “I asked,” she says. “When they hear about what BizTown does, it’s usually an easy sell. Every time I participate, it reinforces just how important the program is.” After all, she notes, these students are the customers, employees and business owners of the future.