Any business owner will tell you there is nothing small about owning a small business. In fact, the name “small business” has become more of a misnomer in the years since it was coined by the federal government to try and establish categories for different business types. BRF’s Entrepreneurial Accelerator Program (EAP) prefers to think of these businesses as family businesses, as the business becomes part of the owner’s family every day of the year. The spouses and children of these business owners will also tell you that it is a family affair, as they can often be found working the cash register or helping with social media posts.
There is no question that these family-owned businesses are extremely important to Louisiana, and specifically to Northwest Louisiana. Drive past any school and you will likely see sponsorship signs from local family businesses. It is hard to imagine a Friday night without high school football, which coaches and principals alike would tell you would be impossible to put on without generous contributions from local family businesses.
When we support these local businesses, we know that the dollars we spend are going directly back into the community we love. It is important to remember that these businesses don’t become successful overnight but rather require hours upon hours of dedication from the entrepreneurs who have the initial vision and idea. If you talk to any family business operator in this region, you will immediately realize that they have an immense passion for their business. Passion is something an entrepreneur must have to work the long hours required to get a business off the ground from conception of the idea to the opening of the doors.
Ultimately, when asking a family business owner if they would do it again, most of them would say “absolutely,” but had they known then what they know now, they would have done things differently. The learning curve is steep for first time business owners, particularly when they don’t know where to begin when it comes to starting a business.
Local business owner Matt Snyder remembers going around to six different business owners to ask how they got started when he decided to start his marketing business. He recalls being told to go to the Secretary of State website to register and that he needed to pay several different fees, but no one could offer him the practical tips of what to do and what not to do in getting the business up and running. Eventually, he would meet fellow entrepreneur Grant Nuckolls at a Cohab event, and from there he was able to expand his network and find success.
Many entrepreneurs do not begin their journey with a built-in network of entrepreneurs. North Louisiana is so lucky to have programs like Cohab and the Launch Network, which connect entrepreneurs with the people and the resources they need to successfully launch and operate their businesses. Entrepreneurs will have an automatic network as soon as they reach out to EAP for resources and assistance through Launch Network, and if EAP is not the right fit for them, they will be connected with other resource partners that can help them. Rather than trying to figure things out as they go, entrepreneurs in North Louisiana can rely on the wisdom of those who have already walked that path.
Tinsel, which is an annual event put on by Snyder each winter, has seen immense growth since it began seven years ago with just 81 shoppers in attendance. The event was started to help combat Black Friday online sales, which can devastate local businesses. Snyder said at least 400 shoppers attended this past December anxious to participate and support local family-owned businesses. Snyder estimates that during the 2021 event, shoppers spent approximately $150,000 in the four hours of the event. For many of these businesses, the sales they make during Tinsel might be more than they make in a week.
The 2018 Small Business Profile produced by the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) found that in Louisiana there were 437,437 “small businesses,” which made up 99.5 percent of Louisiana businesses. These small businesses employed 917,466 employees, which made up 53.2 percent of all Louisiana employees. It is clear from the numbers that family-owned small businesses are a critical part of the economy in Louisiana, and there is no doubt that these numbers have been significantly impacted by COVID-19.
In the last two years, we have all driven past buildings that were once thriving businesses only to see a “closed” sign in the window. However, despite the many closures we have all seen and the obstacles we have all faced due to COVID-19, LendingTree found that “the number of new U.S. business applications rose 25% between 2019 and 2020.” Of this national rise in business applications, Shreveport had the third largest with an increase of 58.7 percent. Even during a period of financial chaos and uncertainty, over 12,000 people took the first step to starting their own business here. This is huge for our area and proof that family-owned businesses are crucial to North Louisiana.
Maybe you are sitting at home (or at work) reading this and thinking about the side hustle you’ve always wanted to start or how you’d love to make your own schedule. The first obstacle for entrepreneurs is often figuring out where to begin to turn these thoughts into reality. With the help of EAP, there is now an answer to that question. Call us! There are plenty of resources out there to help bring your idea to the next level. With a little assistance from EAP, a year from now your business could be the next local family business that is thriving in a once shuttered building. We want to work with you to build our region’s future!
Dave Smith, Executive Director of EAP, and Matt Snyder of Pinpoint Local Marketing