Small businesses and those interested in starting a business had a big opportunity to glean expertise from professionals at the 2019 Small Business Summit in Helena last week.
From guidance on a business plan to obtaining funding, from social media to contracts and insurance, representatives from around the state and state departments were on hand to lend advice and guidance.
Kriss Sullivan of the National Center for Appropriate Technology came from Butte to take in all she could during the three-day event. She said it was a great experience and she appreciated the variety in the knowledge shared from area experts.
“The networking was wonderful,” Sullivan said. “Seeing the different perspectives was educational.”
While not every seminar pertained to her position in human relations at the company, she was excited to be taking back information to share with others who could put it to use.
Megan Armstrong Wold of Armstrong Marketing Solutions presented a breakout seminar on brand strategy and shared with attendees how to create their business brand and how to use it to their advantage.
“It’s not easy running a company if you don’t know who you are,” Armstrong Wold said.
Once you define your business, use social media to share it with the world, she said.
However, she cautioned, don’t overshare on social media, and do become informed about which social media your audience uses.
Several representatives from the Montana Department of Commerce presented different programs to assist a variety of small businesses. There are grants and loan programs available for those willing to seek them. A good place to start is with the Small Business Development Center, said Sean Becker, bureau chief of the Business Assistance Bureau.
“There are 10 centers around the state and 11 advisers,” he said. “They each have a different specialty and individual expertise.”
From microbusiness financing to loans for businesses in the wood products category, Carolyn Jones, section manager for the Commerce Loan Fund, is available to guide people through the process. International Trade Officer Katie Willcockson said she helps people interested in taking their products from Montana and marketing them out of state. She even helped area gun makers get their wares into Europe and brewers get to Japan.
Heather Sobrepena, Office of Indian Country Economic Development program manager, is focusing on tribal tourism and is available to assist in her area of expertise. Annmarie Robinson works with the Big Sky Economic Development Trust to help fund businesses looking to grow. She guides businesses in workforce training and finding ways to reimburse employers who want to send staff back to school.
There are many options, and details can be found online at marketmt.com. Business owners just need to be willing to bring their situations forward.
“Don’t be overwhelmed,” Sobrepena said. “We can get you access to good information.”
Doing business with the Montana Department of Transportation is just as easy but can be just as overwhelming.
MDOT looks to local businesses to work on a variety of projects. From road to fence construction and including aeronautics to janitorial services, MDOT has many needs. There are several ways to get businesses in front of the department, but first they must be certified. Certification is done through the Business Development Program.
“If you’re a business, it’s definitely worth becoming familiar with our website, www.mdt.mt.gov,” said Kolby Manderle, purchasing services sections supervisor.
Sheila Cornwell, owner of Montana Adventure Shuttle of Missoula, is a member of the Disadvantaged Business Enterprise Program. She said she was surprised to find out how much is available for small businesses to utilize. She hadn’t been aware of some of the programs and would be trying to see how they could fit with her businesses.
The summit and its attendance grows every year.
“Once they come, they always come back,” said Shannon Hahn, small business specialist with MDOT. “They learn so much stuff every single time. People are surprised they can do more than they think.”
People traveled from as far as North Dakota and from cities all around Montana. What surprises Hahn is how few small business owners actually come from Helena.