Are you a Columbia small business owner looking to expand your business, or are you just exploring the idea of starting a small business? If so, then you need to connect with the City of Columbia, Office of Business Opportunities. The OBO provides Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE) and Local Business Enterprise (LBE) Certifications to do business with the City of Columbia. In addition, they also conduct training events, the Mentor Protégé Program, Commercial Revolving Loan Funds for qualified businesses and much more. I had a chance to chat with Deputy Director, Ayesha Driggers to discuss the OBO and her experiences in small business and helping others start their businesses.
1. Could you please tell us a little bit about your small business background and how you came to be a part of the South Carolina Small Business Development Center (SCSBDC)?
I’m a lifelong public servant with over 20 years working in the public sector. I’ve worked with the City of Columbia for a total of 8 years and I love assisting our small business community. We have some amazing entrepreneurs in the Columbia area and it’s honor to work alongside them and help them navigate the process to opening and expanding their new business. At the City we pride ourselves on customer service and I enjoy being a part of team that is community-driven.
2. What services does the SCSBDC offer and is everything still done virtually? What services are free and which ones are not?
We are committed to supporting initiatives that benefit small, women, minority, and veteran owned businesses in the City of Columbia. This objective is accomplished by providing creative financing, technical assistance and education to build the capacity of these businesses. We have held a few in-person events recently, but I think providing a virtual option is here to stay. A lot of our entrepreneurs appreciate the convenience and flexibility to access these resources virtually. Typically, all of our services are free. Occasionally we charge a nominal fee for in-person events to cover costs.
3. What is the is the most important thing to take into consideration before starting a small business?
It’s important to have a plan. Rather it be a lean business model canvas or a full formal business plan, you need to do your homework before taking the leap to start your business. Also, don’t underestimate the importance of networking. Building a strong network is imperative to success. Connect with other business owners and the various community partners to expand your reach and access.
4. As a small business owner did you use a similar service when you started your business?
Not a small business owner.
5. Are there certain types of businesses to stay away from because of current supply chain issues?
No, but I think you need to be realistic with yourself and your customers on your turn around time to deliver your products. This is also a great time to be creative and look at new ways to provide your services. Maybe there’s another method that has products that are more readily available. I’ve learned from successful entrepreneurs that the key to sustainability is flexibility.
6. Are there places to get small business financing that don’t require perfect credit?
The City of Columbia Office of Business Opportunities offers more lenient financing than what you will find with a traditional lender. We also have some great relationships with our local lenders if you need to pair financing options. Access to capital continues to be a barrier for our minority and women owned business and we work with our various partners to address some of those issues.
7. How much money do you have to have saved up before starting a small business? Can some businesses be started on a shoestring?
I don’t think there is a magic number to starting a new business, but you need to be aware that it is very unlikely that you will see profit as soon as you start. You need to consider it may take several months or longer before you start to generate a profit. I think this is another reason the business plan is so important. It helps you determine the different components of owning a business. You need to include insurance, license requirements, payroll, utilities, inventory, marketing, shipping, etc.
8. What is the biggest mistake people make when starting a small business?
The biggest mistake we see, especially during the beginning of the pandemic, was lack of a financial infrastructure. Many businesses were not prepared to show their profit and loss statements. This lack of documentation resulted in their inability to access some of the funding that was available over the past two years. I would recommend all business establish a financial system from the very start.
Also, not preparing for a crisis. Establishing a crisis management plan is essential to sustaining your business. The next crisis may not be a pandemic, but there will be another crisis and it’s important that you put a plan in place now.
9. What is the best way to contact you about utilizing OBO’s Services?
You can contact our office at 803-545-3950 or firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also visit our website at www.obo.columbiasc.gov
10. Final Thoughts?
Columbia has a small business ecosystem that is full of passionate people who want to assist our small businesses. We recognize the complexity of navigating the process and we all meet on a regular basis to share ideas and opportunities. I encourage our local businesses to reach out to some of the community partners to see how we can assist your business. We want you succeed because your success is our success!
This post is part of Richland Library Business and Careers Department’s Community Partner Spotlight, which highlights a new community partner each month in order to spread the word about the services available to current and potential small business owners across the midlands. Please see our Community Partner Spotlight Display in the Business and Careers Department at Richland Library Main – Third Level. Special thanks to Ayesha Driggers and the City of Columbia, Office of Business Opportunities for contributing to this post.