Throughout the past 25+ years profiling businesses and business leaders in the North Country, Strictly Business has learned a thing or two about what it takes to be successful. Small business owners in particular have a lot on their plates, simultaneously balancing the roles of CEO, payroll, benefits, purchasing, accounting, and countless other jobs all the way to chief cook and bottle washer. The reality is that when you have to be a Jack or Jill of all trades, quite often your attention is spread so thin that you can be master of none.
Now that we have the bad news out of the way, here’s the good news— this community is teeming with experts, ready and willing to help. They’re sitting next to you when you go to a show at the Strand Theater, lacing up their shoes at the start line of the Plattsburgh Half Marathon, and beside you, cheering on the Plattsburgh Cardinals at the Fieldhouse. The greater Plattsburgh community understands better than most that we’re all in this together. Better still, our wise words and big ideas are followed up with actions here. Groups like Vision2Action and Adirondack Young Professionals grow and thrive by pooling the talent, resources, and ideas of our most important community resource—each other.
Capitalizing on this resource is critical to the success of small business in our community. This month, Strictly Business is pleased to introduce a new series called “Best Practices.” Each month, this series will shed light on one of the many challenges that keep small business owners up at night. Taking it one step further, it will also share stories of local businesses who are meeting these challenges success- fully and introduce resources, service providers and others who can help businesses navigate through similar storms.
To help us tackle the issues that are most important to you—our readers—we’d like to hear what you have to say. What significant issues are you and other business leaders grappling with year after year? We’ve been listening to conversations at past Strictly Business Forum events, and pulled some themes of struggles that we believe are commonly faced by those in our business community. We present them below, and welcome your additions.
Workforce training and development: Attracting industry to build and grow in our area has been an important strategy in our economic growth plan. In order to remain competitive in the eyes of the relocation scouts of the major corporations we hope to attract, we must make sure that we nurture and develop a strong pool of qualified and available potential employees. Every business must keep watch on industry changes and regularly invest in the continuing education of its workforce. Where do you turn? The process of learning new skills takes time, so how do you predict what skills your staff will need in the next year so that they can be ready to meet the needs of your business when the time arrives? For small businesses, succession planning is essential. Potential leaders need to be identified and groomed for the C-suite years in advance if the long-time matriarch or patriarch ever hopes to transition into retirement.
Employee wellness programs and benefits: Growing a staff can be a catch-22. You need employees to grow, but once you have them, you need to redirect a significant amount of time, energy and money away from business growth and toward human resource management. Most business owners don’t have time to develop the expertise needed to navigate the complex array of programs and options that are available. Do you know enough to get by? Is that good enough? There is a wealth of knowledge in our community that we will tap to shed some light on the dos and don’ts of benefits.
Marketing and advertising: Unless your business is large enough to sustain a marketing director, you’re probably either not advertising at all or not using it strategically. It’s simple enough to place ads here and there online and in publications. This tactic doesn’t work quite as well if those ads are not part of a larger and more comprehensive marketing plan. If customers are important for the success of your business, marketing is something that needs your attention. You don’t need a marketing degree, but you do need to arm yourself with some information and some trusted expert advice. We’re here to help.
E-commerce and online sales: We’re living in a time when consumers can sit in their homes and order almost anything to be delivered right to their doorstep. Cheaper prices and free shipping promotions only sweeten the pot, leaving local brick and mortar shops struggling to compete. Maybe it’s time to join them, or maybe not. Either way, this trend is affecting consumer behavior and sales in every sector. Stay on top of it in order to know when it’s time to jump in and get some of the action. We’ll talk to companies who are thriving online and share what lessons they’ve learned in the process.
Transportation and aerospace industry boom: Plattsburgh’s location along the corridor between Montreal and New York City puts our community in an excellent position for growth in these two industries. Companies like Nova Bus and Bombardier come in and can’t help but give rise to ancillary business-to-business growth. Start-ups and small businesses in every industry can learn to capitalize on the growth of larger businesses in this sector. Sharing expertise here can help everyone stay ahead of the curve by keeping informed about the growing needs of these giants, and anticipating the problems they might encounter by being ready with solutions.
Canadian partnerships: Recent statistics have illustrated the significance of our expand- ing relationship with Canadian businesses, citing 15 percent of our local workforce as employed in companies with strong Canadian ties. You don’t need to be fluent in French to offer a welcoming presence to our neighbors to the north. Of course, it doesn’t hurt to post a “nous parlons francais” sign in your window, but there is much lower hanging fruit for all local businesses to harvest. Whether it’s breaking ground with advertising to Canadian consumers or researching the products and services that are attractive to Canadian tourists, we hope to help you tap into some of this potential by asking some of our local experts to share what they know.
Substance use and abuse: Of all the personal and emotional problems employees bring to the workplace, substance abuse is one of the most destructive. Local businesses need to be aware of signs of abuse and have systems in place to address the many side effects that employees with substance issues bring to both their work and personal lives. Decreased employability is just the tip of the iceberg, and if our community is going to meet growing workforce needs, then more collaborative solutions are necessary to bring about a holistic solution.
Now it’s your turn.
What issues do you scratch your heads over? What keeps you up at night? What tasks are you handling in your business that you might admit you often barely manage to accomplish? On the flip side, are you a business that is doing a respectable job managing one of these challenges and that might offer advice or suggestions to others?
Do you know or use any service providers or subject matter experts locally who we might tap to share best practices? We want to hear from you to make this piece the most effective it can be for promoting your success— and the success of business in the North Country. Email your thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org.