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7/11/2004

Small businesses band together for survival

By Tony Kindelspire
The Daily Times-Call

LONGMONT — Last year, more small businesses closed than opened in the United States. According to the federal Small Business Administration, about a third of new businesses close within two years, and about half of them are gone within four years.

What can small business owners do to protect their chances of survival?

In Longmont, a group of them are banding together to explore that very question.

“It’s one of those ‘united we stand, divided we fall’ type of things,” said Barbara Goettsch, president of TeamBTS, a Web design and business consulting company based in Dacono.

Goettsch and her husband and business partner Greg attended the first meeting of Longmont’s yet-to-be-named small business group in May.

Barbara Douglass, co-owner of Hard Copy Solutions, helped organize the group, which meets again this Thursday.

“We hope to have a small business organization that’s for and by small business,” said Douglass.

About 25 businesses were represented at the first meeting, she said, and hopes are the turnout will be even bigger this time around.

The important thing about the group, Douglass said, is that it will be the business owners themselves who decide what form the organization will take.

“Training was one of the big issues that came up (in May),” said Dou-

glass. For instance, many people had questions on how they could best market themselves on a very tight budget.

“Another type of training that a lot of people talked about was sales,” Douglass said. “The problem with some small businesspeople is that we know our business, but we’re not necessarily salespeople.”

The group has already attracted interest from two key organizations. A representative from SCORE — a nonprofit group of volunteers that helps entrepreneurs and small business owners — attended, as did the state director of the Colorado Small Business Development Center.

Kelly Manning oversees the 21 centers around the state.

“As a result of that (meeting), she has notified all of her directors throughout the state: ‘Hey, pay attention to what Longmont is doing,’” said Goettsch.

This month’s meeting, like May’s, will be held at the D-Barn on South Main Street. Sue Connelly, co-owner of Rabbit Hill Graphics & Signs and the D-Barn, volunteered her facility for the group.

“I’ve been trying to provide a space to see if it’s actually going to fly because a lot of times it’s difficult just to start something,” said Connelly.

As the owner of a now-successful small business, she empathizes with those just starting out — and even those who have been around a while. Connelly sees the new group having potential to pull the small business community together.

“There’s always room for improvement; there’s always room for growth,” Connelly said, “and if this takes off and helps the community, I think that’s great.”

Anyone is invited to come to the meeting, Douglass said, regardless of whether they are involved in a small business. But she stressed that however the organization is structured, its direction will be controlled by small business owners.

A group like the Boulder Independent Business Alliance, Douglass said, is probably the most common model for what this group hopes to become. But exactly what it turns out to be will be up to the group.

“Some people don’t want to be associated with anything, and there’s value in that, but then you have to re-invent the wheel,” she said. “The best thing about (May’s meeting) was the conversation that went on around small business.”

Tony Kindelspire can be reached at 303-776-2244, Ext. 291, or by e-mail at tkindelspire@times-call.com.