By Jenna Martin The Augusta Chronicle, Ga.
Deborah Eason went to a city-sponsored business expo Wednesday for one big reason: networking.
Eason's New Beginnings Medical Services LLC started in October 2013 to provide medical billing and coding services and training to health-care practices and universities in the area.
Eason said she attends four or five business events monthly to get the name of her company and its mission out to the public.
"I'm finding out a lot of people don't even know you exist," she said. "They don't know what you do unless you get out and network."
The Augusta Disadvantaged Business Enterprise Department held its seventh annual business expo Wednesday at the Boathouse. The event, designed as an educational resource for the small-business community, focused on businesses building strategic alliances and cultivating entrepreneurial thinking.
The expo featured guest speakers Kimberly King from the Georgia Department of Transportation and Dr. Anthony Robinson, a business professor from Georgia Regents University. There also were a dozen private and city government exhibitors who networked with attendees.
Speaking to a crowd of about 15 people, Robinson shared the not-so-good news that small businesses are continuing a downward trend. Robinson, however, attributed those statistics to a lack of effective planning by business owners.
"The Apples of the world and the Toyotas of the world are not outperforming others because they don't have a plan," he said.
"They are doing that because they do have a plan.
"If you can plan, if you can execute, that's going to differentiate you from everybody else."
Robinson advised those in attendance to know their industry, customers and competitors.
He also spoke about the importance of entrepreneurs and business owners identifying their competitive advantage and adapting to changes in the local market. He used GRU's consolidation and the forthcoming U.S. Army Cyber Command headquarters at Fort Gordon as examples.
"You're going to have a huge influx of younger people who are probably going to come to the downtown area," he said. "You're also going to have a huge influx of individuals in the military and also the contractors.
"How do those things potentially affect my business?" he asked the audience. "How am I going to be successful now?"
For automotive repair shop owner Adrian Wright, the biggest business challenge she faces is finding skilled staff to help the business grow.
"Our type of business has a high turnover rate," said Wright, who owns Wright One Paint & Body Shop. "It's hard to find people that are qualified to do that type of work."
While a chunk of repair work at the Gordon Highway shop goes to city-owned vehicles, Wright said the business is prime for more expansion into the community.
The shop, currently staffed with 15 employees, is hiring, said Wright, who has waited as long as six months to fill certain positions.
"There's more out there," she said. "The problem is if you take on more, you're going to require more staff."