I recently had the opportunity to interview noted Colorado author and businessman Chuck Blakeman. Given the depth and breadth of our half-hour conversation, I’ve split our talk into two posts. The second is below.
The nation is not doing nearly enough to support small businesses.
If that gets your attention, then Chuck Blakeman’s argument holds power. As someone who has worked with building small businesses repeatedly over his long career, Blakeman expressed significant concern over the ability and willingness of the U.S. to advocate and provide support for its small businesses in a recent interview with BizEngine.
He isn’t overly enamored with the Small Business Administration and the government’s work for small businesses, which he says has been insufficient. But it’s the recent economic woes in the U.S. that have cast a lack of support for the country’s smallest businesses into sharp relief, he said.
He said the U.S. economic recession, featuring its bailouts of big businesses and banks, sent an unfortunate message: That big businesses merit bailouts, but that same add cannot or will not be extended to their smaller counterparts. Banks reacted to the atmosphere by “slashing” business credit lines, according to Blakeman, and it was small businesses who bore the brunt of that move.
“Big got the bailouts, handouts and support and the infrastructure required to keep moving. Small did not,” Blakeman said.
“They went out of business just like that. Those that didn’t get put out of business were put in a position where they had almost no working capital to build on,” Blakeman said. “There are actually a lot of viable small businesses out there who could get it now. These guys would like to grow, they’d like to expand, but they can’t.”
One Helping Hand
In what started as a local effort and has grown internationally, Blakeman’s 3to5 Club has attempted to connect small businesses to one another, to share expertise and receive guidance from Blakeman and his small circle of advisers. It’s not cheap at $199 a month, he acknowledges, but insists he and his staff can offer expertise that makes that price worth.
It’s also a transformation of the network. Instead of trying to cultivate and maintain dozens or even hundreds of contacts in the networking world, something that’s typically impossible for small businesses to do with their limited time. The groups meet, discuss, examine expert advice and move toward a business that can sustain itself well within three-to-five years, hence the name of the club.
“Everybody in the group has a business maturity date and they’re running toward them,” Blakeman said.
Blakeman sees considerable value in those kinds of groups, ones that can build relationships and procure resources that help at the micro level. Until that kind of aid and guidance is ubiquitous at the federal level, he argues, it may be the only way to help.
And until small businesses—those with truly tiny numbers of employees—are properly recognized as the important economic drivers they are, he fears not much will change.
“Politicians get to trot out 275 person businesses….people actually believe them,” Blakeman said, citing the the fact that close to 99 percent of all businesses are much smaller than that. “We don’t know what small business is.”
Photo credit to www.chuckblakeman.com. Many thanks to Chuck for his willingness to answer our questions.