Seven years ago, Greenville, South Carolina, had very little recognition at the national level, says Scott Whelchel, area manager and business consultant at the Greenville Small Business Development Center. In recent years, however, Greenville’s growth and innovation have garnered national attention—thanks in large part to the city’s collaborative pursuit of a high quality of life and entrepreneurial success for its residents, Whelchel says.
“It takes a positive, supportive local and county government, as well as the experts in their field, to help people succeed,” Whelchel says. And, he says, the resources available at his organization and others go a long way to foster new business growth in the area.
Taryn Scher, president and founder of TK PR, says she experienced this firsthand when she started her public relations firm in Greenville eight years ago.
At the time, Scher was in her early 20s and had no prior knowledge of what it meant to run a small business, but she quickly found the help she needed, she says.
“Greenville is a huge community when it comes to giving—not just financial charities, but their time, resources and mentorship,” she says. “The Greenville SBDC is one of those hidden gems that a lot people don’t know about.”
The Greenville SBDC offers confidential and free consulting, based on client needs. Consulting often relates to topics like the startup process, business planning, financing options, licensing and compliance assistance, government contracting and even exit strategies. The center also offers workshops and seminars, which typically cost $10 to $50.
“If you’re someone with a business idea or someone who wants to develop your business ideas, the Greenville SBDC is the place to go,” says Michael Hughes, SBA business development officer for the Carolinas and VP, commercial banking division at SunTrust.
Hughes encourages small business owners to reach out to other business owners, form advisory boards and look to resources like the Greenville SBDC to become better equipped and knowledgeable.
“You may not know what’s available in the markets if you’re not willing to put aside what you think you already know,” he says. “Talk to other folks and business owners in the community about what you’re going through, be willing to receive constructive thoughts and collaborate on the next best steps for your business,” he says.
This approach paid off for Steve Bailey, CEO and chairman of Merus Refreshment Services Inc. and vice chairman of the South Carolina SBDC.
Though Bailey had considerable business experience and training, he says there were aspects about starting a business he wasn’t aware of when he opened his company 18 years ago.
“The Small Business Development Center is great at helping you really evaluate the potential opportunities that your small business may have and potential risks to your small business,” he says. “Those two things are invaluable.”
To make the most of your local SBDC, Whelchel advises new small business owners to focus on specific tools that will jump-start their company.
“There are more resources out here than you can handle,” he says. “You just need to find the two or three that are going to be beneficial to you today.”
In general, Whelchel recommends that any new small business owner keep two obligations in mind: writing a business plan and networking “like crazy.”
“Make yourself available to resources and get involved with your community,” he says. “The more involved, the more visible, the more connected you are, the better.”