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Small businesses rule city scene
Jason Rogers
James Rogers - photo by Courier file photo

Who set up shop?

Here’s a snapshot of the types of businesses that received new permits in 2009

• Residential/business services: 20
• Retail, non-grocery: 15
• Medical/health care: 13
• Beauty/beauty supply: 11
• Restaurants/bars/fast food: 6
• Auto Sales/repair/service: 5
• Financial/legal services: 5
• Real estate/housing: 5
• Education/child care/family services: 4
• Construction/general contractors: 3
• Self-storage: 3
• Surplus/used goods/pawn shops: 3
• Tech Services: 3
• Retail, grocery/convenience: 2

 Resources for business owners

Is your business a good fit for Hinesville? Do you have a unique or needed product or service, and the business plan to get it off the ground? Look to these resources to help you on the way to opening and running a successful business.
• “How to Do Business in Liberty County” from the Liberty County Chamber of Commerce: A guide for the potential business owner starting a business in Hinesville and Liberty County.  Includes a self-test to evaluate readiness and suitability.
• Georgia Small Business Development Center at the University of Georgia: Programs and training for new and experienced business owners.
• Georgia Department of Economic Development: Features a small business department.
• Small Business Administration Online Resources: Tools to help business owners from start to finish.

Though debate continues over whether the economic recession will end in 2010, the mom-and-pop shops that opened in 2009 might just stick around another year, and Hinesville is inviting more businesses to bring their goods and services to town.
More than 100 businesses received licenses from the city of Hinesville between January and November, and they run the gamut of services, from electrical and plumbing services to fashion accessories to eco-friendly home and business solutions. What’s common among many of them is that they are technically small businesses, often with one or two proprietors and a handful of employees, rather than large corporate owner-operators with huge staffing numbers.
Kenny Smiley, executive director of the Liberty County Chamber of Commerce, said where there’s
a perceived need, a business that’s meant to fill it should succeed. “Think about those products or services that you actually have to travel to
receive,” Smiley said. “You definitely do not want
to open a business where that niche is filled or saturated.”
So how do you know your mobile dog-wash service will be the only one in town? The city of Hinesville issues business permits and keeps records of new businesses that receive permits.  However, according to Pamela Coleman, business license and tax coordinator for the city of Hinesville, unless companies voluntarily let the city know they’re going out of business, knowing whether your competition has shuttered its doors is often anyone’s guess.
“We can only track the businesses that inform us they closed,” Coleman said. “Most of the time we find out about business closure during the renewal process.”
Smiley recommends potential business operators do their homework and produce a viable business plan.  “Research other successful businesses and try to consult with their owners,” he said. “Also, there are many other organizations and resources available to potential and current business owners that can be a tremendous asset.”
Smiley said the Chamber is one of several entities in Liberty County that help potential business owners put together a viable business plan and pursue opportunities to begin operating on their own. “We try to provide as much updated and attractive information as possible to encourage them to pursue Liberty County as a place to start a business,” he said. “The Chamber also partners with other organizations such as the Hinesville Downtown Development Authority to further this endeavor.”
When an entrepreneur has an idea of how he wants to put his or her business together, that person may share their business plan with the Service Corps of Retired Executives. SCORE meets on  Wednesdays at Chamber offices to consult with potential business owners. 
“Once it is determined that the person or group is ready to move forward with their venture, the Chamber will then assist with any needs they may have,” Smiley said.
No business can get off the ground without startup capital, which is where small business loans often come into play. James Rogers, vice president of The Heritage Bank in Hinesville, said his institution saw strong interest in business lending during the first four months of the year, but it dropped off when the city learned the planned fifth brigade would not be coming to Fort Stewart.
Regardless, opportunities exist for financing — if business owners know where to look and they have a good business plan that can show where the money will go.
The Small Business Administration is playing a large role in banks approving business loans these days, Rogers said. “It’s easier to get approved with the SBA,” he said. “We’re looking for that type of credit enhancement.”
Rogers said some people shy away from SBA loans because they think the process is too drawn-out, but he disagrees. “The SBA process is not hard — sometimes that’s the only way it’s going to happen,” he said.
To help secure financing and keep the business afloat in the first year — when most businesses go under — Rogers said applicants need to have some of their own money saved. The amount often depends on the business and loan amount, but “usually it’s 15 to 20 percent [of the loan total] minimum,” he said.
Rogers said the idea of working capital is a concept many businesspeople fail to grasp, putting the success of their business at risk. “People always sell themselves short on working capital. You have to have at least 12 months’ worth to sustain your cash flow, until the cash flows on its own,” he said.
Add to that the idea that “things will be good forever” and some owners may find themselves in over their heads. He said owners should take care to stay on top of things like payroll and sales taxes, and not spend that money thinking it will come in at the end of the year. “You’ve got to set that aside,” Rogers said.
Even a business with few local competitors and a solid business plan has to have more than just a product or service to sell in order to stick around.
“Just because somebody likes to cook, that does not mean they need to open a restaurant,” Smiley said. “There are many aspects to running a business and all of those pieces must be addressed and fit together to make the business successful, sustainable and profitable.”
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