Small Businesses Can Have Big Ambitions
Although the director of The Arkansas Small Business and Technology Development in western Arkansas emphasizes that the center is not just for startups, he clearly has a soft spot for watching the process from idea to execution
Bill Sabo said his role is to be one part cheerleader and one part challenger.
“There are a lot of hurdles to opening a business, and you are going to hear a lot of nos,” he said.
When people come in with a new idea, he ensures they have done – or will do – their homework.
He pushes them to identify their customer (spoiler: it’s not everyone), their geographic area (It’s not everywhere), and how much capital they would need to get started (It’s not a wide-eyed stare).
The best ideas are ones that answer a need in the community. Sabo shared two stories of would-be entrepreneurs trying to find their way.
Faith Myers, class of 2019, said after she lost a great deal of weight, she couldn’t a safe fitness center for people fighting obesity.
“Because of that, I am working to open New Me Fitness,” Myers said. “It is designed for those who are on a weight-loss journey with or without the help of weight-loss surgery. I have begun to incorporate walk/run clinics to help with building my revenue to get the building I am considering for my gym.”
“I feel like this gave me a second chance at life, and I want to share that with everyone who needs it,” she said.
Collin Whittington likes to go camping in his car, and he was looking for something to make that easier, maybe more efficient, definitely more comfortable. When he looked for conversion kits, they were all $4,000-$5,000. Instead of that, he built his own platform for a fraction of the cost.
“His next step is grassroots,” Sabo said. “He needs to show it off and maybe start some buzz. Maybe he will go to cycling events, showing off his product and talking about it, getting responses that will help him on his next prototype. In the meantime, he has a line on a third party to manufacture the product.”
When people come in with a new idea, Sabo works to ensure they have done – or will do—their homework. He pushes them to identify their market (spoiler: it’s not everyone), their geographic area (it’s not everywhere), and how much capital they would need to get started (it’s not a deer in the headlights stare). The best ideas are ones that answer a need in the community.
Once people answer those questions and show they have skin in the game, they can start.
Along the way, staff at the ASBTDC encourage when spirits lag and offer a big dose of reality when clients have unrealistic ideas.
“Once I had a client who wanted to take a break and go on vacation. I told him, ‘You can have a business, or you can go on vacation, but you can’t do both.’” Ultimately the client chose the business and later thanked Sabo, he said.
Sabo often has to tamp down expectations. “You should work to get your first location started before you think about opening more sites,” he said.
When an idea begins to take shape, practical challenges arise. Creating a limited liability company (LLC) or another type of company requires mountains of paperwork.
“I probably walk 75 percent of people through this step,” Sabo said. “It’s not hard, but the website is confusing.”
Sabo wants to make things easier for young entrepreneurs.
“When you are young and energetic, you might have a dream. But you need money to follow your dream, so you take a job. Then you look up and realize 25 years have passed,” he said.” I’d like to see people go from academia to business in one step.”
Sabo may be living his own dream.
“It’s heartening,” he said. “People have dreams, and watching them fulfill their dreams – it’s satisfying.”