KOSBE (Kingsport Office of Small Business Development & Entrepreneurship), which is directed by Aundrea Wilcox (left), provides guidance and support to small business owners. (Contributed photo)
KINGSPORT — Aundrea Wilcox can’t get away from the same question over and over again in her line of work.
“I am often asked ‘Is it a good time to start a business?’ ” said Wilcox, executive director of the Kingsport Office of Small Business Development & Entrepreneurship (KOSBE).
She has the response nailed down.
“It’s always a good time to start a business because people are either feeling fearful for their job and they want to take that into their own hands and start a business or they are feeling really good, that times are good, and the money is out there (to start a business),” she said.
Wilcox, whose office is at the Kingsport Chamber of Commerce, serves as a mentor, financial adviser, hand holder and cheerleader for people with an idea they think will make money.
With the 2008 financial crisis in the rear view mirror, Wilcox said the interest level in starting a business from the ground floor has been up about 20 percent this year.
“About 60 percent of the people who come see me are in business so they’ve started something, they’ve signed a lease, and they’ve opened the door, and the other 40 percent are thinking about an idea (for a business startup),” Wilcox said.
A recurring problem, she said, is entrepreneurs wait too late to seek out investment capital.
“It’s always best to get capital when you’re doing great and when things are going well and you have a good credit score, it’s easier to get that capital,” Wilcox said.
Besides aiding businesses in Kingsport and Sullivan County, she helps small business startups in Hawkins, Hamblen, Hancock and Grainger counties.
More and more of those startups, Wilcox said, are centered around personal services.
“We have more baby boomers (in our region),” she said. “In-home care is taking off. ... There’s also more remodeling of old construction. ... Most of the businesses are self-proprietors.”
Another obstacle most prospective small business owners face, said Wilcox, is they don’t want to put together and maintain a business plan.
“You have to force yourself to sit down and write down what you want to accomplish for your business for the next 12 months,” she said. “You need to set some measurable goals. What kind of clients do you want? How many exhibit shows are you going to? You should track your goals and look at the end of the year and say ‘Have I done it?’ Be proactive about where your business is going.”
One extra worry for small business owners, Wilcox said, is what to do about Obamacare — also known as the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
The White House announced Wednesday a delay in launching its online health insurance exchange where small businesses can shop for coverage until November 2014. Small businesses will still have the option to purchase coverage through the new marketplace but will not be able to do so online. Instead, until next fall, employers with fewer than 50 workers will need to work through a broker or agent to buy health plans for their employees.
ACA offers incentives, such as tax breaks and tax credits, to small businesses with the equivalent of less than 25 full-time workers to help them provide health benefits to employees. Those small businesses eventually not offering their employees health insurance face paying a penalty to the Internal Revenue Service.
Wilcox said in the old days, offering health insurance to new employees was a recruitment tool, but not anymore.
“I think there will be a large number of people who will just say ‘We will take the penalty and let health care go,’ ” she said. “With some businesses, that may be the only option they can afford to do.” Besides dealing with ACA, Wilcox said a number of small business owners also seem to have trouble in the area of marketing.
“Social media is not the only advertising outlet. ... That’s a misconception,” Wilcox said. “These traditional marketing strategies need to be employed for certain audiences. ... People will still have to do newspaper ads and direct mail for certain customers.”
Kingsport area small businesses will be recognized by KOSBE at a special event on Thursday, Dec. 5, from 6 to 9 p.m., at The Club at Ridgefields. Awards will be given out in the following categories: Young Entrepreneur, New Business, Business Excellence, Minority-Owned, Woman-Owned, Veteran-Owned, Multiple Store or Franchise, Manufacturer or Fabricator, Home-Based, Rural Business and the Impact Award.
Tickets for the event are $65 per person and can be purchased in advance in person at the Kingsport Chamber of Commerce, or by calling (423) 392-8811. This event has been sold out for the past three consecutive years. The public is invited to attend.
KOSBE is the Kingsport affiliate office of the Tennessee Small Business Development Center at East Tennessee State University.
For more about KOSBE, visit www.kosbe.org.