ST. PETERSBURG — These are tough times for business. So what kind of advice are the counselors to small businesses giving these days?
Mats Bengtson is president of SCORE Pinellas, a nonprofit made up of former corporate executives and business professionals who volunteer as mentors and conduct seminars for businesses. We talked with Bengtson about his organization's focus in this down economy.
How has the recession affected your work? Where is your focus today?
The current business environment is making it more challenging to start a new business. Now it is not as easy as before, but still possible when preparation is done correctly. The biggest battle for SCORE is probably to reach the current business owners and provide help and guidance, when there still is possibility to refocus and reconstruct.
Unfortunately many people wait too long to ask for help, hoping that the next week or month will show a turnaround. We know that waiting is the worst you can do in a weak market.
If we can save ... 10 percent of the businesses out there in trouble, we're doing this market an enormous favor.
What are the essential keys to small businesses' success right now?
Re-evaluate everything. Revise all expenses and cut away everything that is not an essential part of the core business. (Recognize that) existing customers are important sources of information. Talk to them and investigate how you can serve them better if they can refer you to their friends. Identify how your customer profile might have changed. People might buy the same products as before but the main reason for the purchase may be different now than in the past. Listen to your customer.
Also, review your marketing and advertising expenses. Are you reaching the right target? Be sure to use the fantastic potential of the Internet. You can reach new markets to sell your products. Many times you can reach and motivate customers to seek your services more efficiently and with less money, using modern Internet tools.
Ask for help. Look at the president or the governor, they have a bunch of advisers. That's just being smart.
Can you give us a local success story?
We've seen retail businesses in St. Petersburg who traditionally relied totally on the local market. Then they started selling (over the Internet) to customers outside Florida and making up for the loss of local sales volume.
What is your own background?
My background is in industrial and retail sales, mostly, with food products, computer systems and auto parts. Before that I was immersed in industrial engineering, helping companies save costs by reducing waste time. I was born (and) raised in Sweden, and I lived for many years in Latin America. For a couple of years, I had a small business in Florida (that also) had sales via the Internet.
Reach Luis Perez at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 892-2271.