Sandy Knight, co-owner of Wake and Bake Pizza and Coffee Company on the Jacksonville square, has discovered that first-hand. She opened her restaurant with co-owner Dev Wakeley in October 2011, just outside Jacksonville State University. But even with a master’s degree in stage and event management, Knight soon realized running a business for the first time is no easy task.
“Just learning the mechanics of business, it’s definitely been a learn-as-you-go process,” Knight said. “Just with how a business runs … especially with the paper aspect of it with taxes and codes … it’s good to seek out advice.”
New small business owners like Knight will soon have access to better advice and education on operating their businesses through Gadsden State Community College’s new entrepreneurship program. The college will offer classes on how to be a successful small business owner — education some experts say is needed, especially since small business accounts for most of the jobs in the state.
Gadsden State, which has campuses in Anniston, will begin offering the five-course entrepreneurship program in the spring semester of next year.
The program will consist of courses in the classroom and online on subjects such as small business management, entrepreneurial marketing, finance and business planning.
“A number of colleges have one or two courses in entrepreneurship,” said Brandon White, program instructor. “What I have found in teaching elsewhere is those don’t always do a student justice.”
Robbie Medders, associate director of the small business development center at Jacksonville State University, said education is important when starting a business. The development center offers training and advice on how to effectively run a business, from planning to how to secure a bank loan.
“I think it’s very beneficial,” Medders said of business education. “A lot of people come in to us and have an idea, but they have not put anything on paper yet.”
Bill Cummins, executive state director of the Alabama Small Business Development Center, said preparation and education are keys when starting a new business.
“The complexity to starting and running a small business is significant, and it’s unusual to meet an entrepreneur who knows it all at the start,” Cummins said.
The Small Business Administration identifies a small business as one that employs fewer than 500 people.
Cummins said statistics show that helping new business owners thrive is important, with more than 99.4 percent of total business in Alabama in 2008 represented by small businesses.
U.S. Census Bureau statistics indicate that in 2008, there were 388,853 small businesses in the state. Of those, 77,465 were employers, accounting for 49.3 percent of private-sector jobs in Alabama. There were also 311,388 non-employee small businesses — businesses with an owner but no employees.
“The great majority of jobs are from small business,” said Keivan Deravi, economist at Auburn University Montgomery. “Small businesses are extremely important because of that.”
However, Deravi said, it will not be small business alone that pushes the state and country out of the recession. He said more big business investment is needed as a catalyst to drive the creation of small businesses and create more jobs.
“A really large firm that creates the industry that the economy needs to grow,” Deravi said. “Then small businesses move in around that.”
Deravi said the Anniston Army Depot is an example of a large firm that spurs the creation of small businesses and the jobs those bring.
But before a person can even open a small business, he or she typically requires a bank loan, which is where education and preparation are again important.
Shad Williams, president and CEO of Cheaha Bank, said though his bank wants to lend money to new businesses, it first needs a plan.
“You have to prove your business model to us,” Williams said. “We don’t want small business owners to go out of business and neither do they.”
Williams said his bank routinely directs prospective business owners to classes and training similar to Gadsden State’s new program to learn how to properly plan a business model.
Knight also recommends people get all the help they can before opening a new business.
“I don’t think you need to get a business degree, but I think definitely you should get an education and prepare yourself,” Knight said.
For more information about the Gadsden State entrepreneurial program, call 256-549-8250.