BANKING INDUSTRY VETERAN OFFERS ADVICE FOR SMALL BUSINESSES IN NEW NORMAL
With two decades of experience in the banking industry, including helping entrepreneurs position themselves to qualify for loans of all sizes, Jeremy Wiersma has learned a thing or two about what it takes for small businesses to succeed.
During the past two years, for example, he watched as small business owners focused their efforts on survival.
Now, as the initial impacts of the pandemic have given way to new shifts in the economy, the vice president of business services at iQ Credit Union has some advice for those small businesses that have managed to survive — it’s time to take a deep breath and prepare to position for the future.
Many entrepreneurs started small businesses during the past two years with an idea and as much money as they could scrape together, Wiersma told Opportunity magazine. Meanwhile, owners of existing small businesses trimmed back expenses and then adjusted operations.
While those temporary approaches have worked, long-term success and resiliency will require an honest, full assessment of where the business is now. Wiersma recommends taking a moment to step back and look at whether you have all of the basic business tools in place to make sure your small business is structured to last — especially as we may be heading back into uncertain economic waters.
The first step Wiersma recommends is to make sure you have a solid business plan in place. If you don’t have one, take the time to create one.
If you do have one, pat yourself on the back and then assess whether it still fits your business. Many businesses have pivoted during the past two years in ways that have caused them to shift away from original products and services into new areas. Ask yourself if your current direction will best serve your business going forward. Whatever you choose, your business plan needs to reflect that decision.
Even if the business plan you’ve got in hand feels solid, Wiersma says it’s important make sure it looks beyond the immediate future. That includes making sure it is supported by current, real-world market research that helps support or justify the direction you’re heading.
“Take that out two to three years,” Wiersma says. “If you don’t have that research done, you’re not prepared.”
Having a multiple-year business plan doesn’t just provide peace of mind for you as a business owner. If you’re planning on approaching a bank for a loan or seeking out investors, a plan longer than one year will show lenders or investors that you’re serious about doing what it takes to make the business a success.
“You have to be fully committed,” Wiersma says. “A side hustle is just that. If you want to make it a full business, then you have to be all in. Otherwise it’s always going to be an afterthought.
“You also have to be an active member in running your business. Those are typically the business that don’t fall. You are to be all in and have skin in the game. Otherwise, the chances of failing are pretty high.”
Another area Wiersma says should be given a close look is how much cash an owner can now comfortably bring to table to help their business move forward.
“If your business needs a whole bunch of cash,” Wiersma says, “How much can you contribute to the business without jeopardizing your personal position?”
If the business needs more financial backing than an owner can comfortably provide on their own, it may be time to consider other options, such as bringing investors into the picture.
Speaking of investors, are you considering building your business with an investment from a friend or family member? Wiersma says putting agreements with investors down in writing is always an important step. But that step is even more crucial when the money is coming from a family member or friend.
“You want to get it in writing, especially with family members,” he says. “If hard feelings arise down the road, those feelings can be permanent. Having a written agreement in place gives everyone a little more confidence.”
He offers another piece of advice for those who are in a position to now be able to begin paying off those who may have invested in the business to help it get started or stay afloat during the pandemic.
“Make sure you don’t pull out too much money from the business too quickly to pay yourself or investors,” Wiersma says. “This is an investment to your future. It’s got to have a long-term scope.”