Officials guide entrepreneurs through startup checklist

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Entrepreneurs are accustomed to jumping through hoops to realize a dream, but local officials took time recently to bring those hoops into focus for a group at Wilson Community College.

“Be honest and transparent. If you fly by the seat of your pants or try to skirt under the radar, watch out. It is going to catch up to you and it is going to cost you,” said Fire Marshal Blake Holloman of Wilson Fire/Rescue Services. “We want to make sure you guys are successful and as long as you’re transparent with us, we’ll be there for you.

“Dishonesty will get you on the wrong foot every time.”

Holloman was one of the presenters at an ‘ask the experts’ night by Wilson Community College. The college’s Small Business Center has free seminars each month about a variety of topics for entrepreneurs to veteran business owners, but the “ask the expert” roundtable was a first.

“We’re always changing it up to try to meet your needs. If there is a class you want, let us know,” said center director Melissa Evans. “We want you to get what you need so you can have that viable business and it can be in our community long term.”

The experts at the class included Wilson Assistant Director of Development Janet Holland, Wilson Inspections Manager Kevin O’Brien, Tax Administrator Randy Faircloth and Angela Manning, environmental health supervisor at the Wilson County Health Department.

“Kevin O’Brien is one person to get your business open and Janet is another piece of the puzzle,” said Holloman. “When you put all those pieces together, you get the business open.”

Each of the presenters gave an overview of some of the most common stumbling blocks they encounter with entrepreneurs.

“What we cannot do is help you find a location. Once you find it, we can tell you if that business use can go there,” Holland said. “Do not sign a lease or rent or purchase a property before you have checked your zoning. Believe me, at least a couple times a month, we see someone do that. Please learn from their mistakes.”

O’Brien said a good starting point is the most recent use for a property. He noted that if a property was a restaurant, then a retail space and now someone wants to put a restaurant back into it, the project could entail significant investment to get the property up to code.

“I can make any building into whatever you want, but you ought to be ready to pay,” Holloman said of safety upgrades often involved when transitioning the use of a property. “It is going to cost you.”

Holloman gave attendees a handout with common fire inspection deficiencies such as electrical hazards, blocked exits and chemical storage. He also offered a word of encouragement.

“Stay positive. That is the hardest thing to do because you are dropping all this money to make your business happen and no money is coming in,” he said. “It feels like you are bleeding money, but you’ve got to stay positive. Expect the unexpected, but do your research.”

Carletha Ward started her home-based business, Legacy Life Purpose Coaching and Empowerment Training, on Jan. 2 and was glad she attended the class with the experts.

“The most important thing I learned was I had to have a zoning permit at all. Given the nature of my business, everything is really done over the phone or through technology from my home, so I had no idea I would even need a zoning permit,” Ward said. “That was eye-opening to me and I was glad to hear that.”

She also learned that since she started her business on Jan. 2, she doesn’t have to fill out the county’s business property listing. Faircloth said all business assets owned through Jan. 1 need to be included on the listing and turned in to the county by Jan. 31. Property purchased afterward will be on the 2019 listing.

“Don’t ignore the paperwork. If you do, you’ll have a 10 percent penalty on the amount of taxes,” Faircloth said. “The property taxes are not going to break you, so don’t run into the fees for delaying. Time is money and a lack of understanding can cost you dollars.”

Each of the experts said they’d be glad to sit down with entrepreneurs to discuss their respective topics, but Evans is often the best first line for prospective business owners. Whether determining if there is a market, developing a business plan or bringing a dream to life, presenters said expertise offered through the Small Business Center is a great resource for entrepreneurs.

“It does take a lot to have a business, both monetarily and time-wise, but I can tell you right now, you’re not going to be successful unless you do the steps you need to do,” Faircloth said. “Time is money and you can’t afford to spend time spinning your wheels.”

For more information on the Small Business Center and upcoming seminars, visit tinyurl.com/yb2cbyx2/.