During National Small Business Month, Entrepreneurs Offer Tricks of the Trade (KTVA.com Exclusive)
ANCHORAGE – The spring season traditionally brings new growth, but small businesses nationwide have bucked the trend this year.
While companies across the United States have experienced slower than usual growth lately, small business owners and state economists alike said Alaska continues to experience better fortunes than elsewhere in the country. At the start of National Small Business Week, local entrepreneurs said several words of wisdom prove true despite the economic climes.
Take Risks, Don’t Make Assumptions
On a sunny weekday afternoon, a short line formed outside the sausage stand across the street from Salmon Berry Tours in Downtown Anchorage. The bright spring weather brought people out in droves, and the smell of caramelized onions hung over Fourth Avenue.
The first summer tourists were beginning to arrive in groups of two and three, rambling up and down the street with other pedestrians enjoying the fresh air after work. The avenue offered some of the most prime real estate in town, and the businesses lining the sidewalks enjoy heavy foot traffic nearly year round.
Salmon Berry was sandwiched between two other tour companies, souvenir shops and a popular downtown eatery, and Candice McDonald said the move there has been a big step up for the small business she founded seven years ago.
“It was just time,” said McDonald, who originally ran her company from a secluded storefront just a block over. “Third Avenue doesn’t get walk-in traffic: Don’t assume people are going to come to your office if you’re Downtown, because they don’t if you’re on Third Avenue.”
For McDonald, learning not to make assumptions was a vital step towards sustainability and growth for her business. The first plans for Salmon Berry Tours included walking tours around Anchorage, a concept McDonald said fell right in line with the company's small, personal appeal.
“If I had done more research, I would have known there was already a free walking tour every day,” she said, laughing.
Now, she said the company employs seven Alaskans year-round, and several more during the busy summer season. The company has grown steadily since its inception thanks to careful planning and management, but McDonald said there was also another element: calculated risk taking.
Without taking a financial leap and purchasing larger vans or making new hires, McDonald said her business would never have been able to reach its current level. In a nutshell, it came down to one seemingly counterintuitive principle.
“Don’t make assumptions, but still be able to take a risk based on assumptions,” McDonald said.
Play to Your Strengths
The QuiltTree, situated inconspicuously in a worn-looking Midtown strip mall, has been dealing in fabric and yarn since 1997. It was a steady business, but Brandy Bland said it wasn’t the profits that drew her into a part-ownership five years ago.
Instead, she said she took the opportunity to create her own schedule and spend more time with her two young children, embracing a job that offered flexibility and control.