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Small Business Obstacles

Small-business obstacles Featuring Robert with Employers Advantage

Marketing, hiring, funding and ‘growing pains’ — some of the obstacles Charlotte-area small businesses are facing

Feature post: Small Businesss Obstacles - the Charlotte Ledger post

More than 100 businesses had booths at Thursday’s Charlotte Area Chamber Business Expo 2024, including M.N.D. Accounting of Charlotte. Small businesses shared their biggest challenges in conversations with Ledger reporters.

by Tony Mecia, Cristina Bolling & Lindsey Banks

Ask almost any small business what sets it apart from bigger companies, and you’re likely to hear about independence and personal fulfillment, offering more personalized customer service and making quick decisions free of corporate inertia.

But running smaller or newer businesses can also be challenging, with workers juggling multiple roles, leaders who are learning on the fly and competitors with deeper pockets and more resources.

And that’s before adding in some of today’s economic pressures, like higher inflation and a tight job market.

To get a sense of the challenges confronting small businesses in Charlotte, The Ledger talked with a few dozen small businesses on Thursday at the Charlotte Area Chamber’s Business Expo 2024. While generally upbeat, they cited many different types of challenges in their businesses, from getting to the right decision-makers to hiring to letting people know they exist.

Here’s a sampling of the challenges we heard:

◼️ Lower foreign labor costs: The top challenge of Lions Services, which makes military equipment like uniforms and body armor from a 270-worker factory on North Tryon Street, is “manufacturing textiles in America,” says business development manager Robert Peper. That’s because of lower labor costs in other countries and in Guam and Puerto Rico.

Peper says the nonprofit, which started in 1935 in Charlotte as an outgrowth of a Lions Club, employs blind and visually impaired workers. It is shifting toward consumer products like soap to “connect with a customer that cares.”

◼️ Hiring. At Falcone Crawl Space & Structural Repair, one of the biggest challenges is getting job applicants to show up for interviews, or for people hired to show up on Day 1, said business development manager Pete Baldus. “We get plenty of applications, it’s just getting them to show up — or if we like them and want to hire them, getting them to show up on the first day,” he said. The Charlotte-based company has about 45 workers.

◼️ Getting the attention of decision-makers: At Profit Advisory Group, a Matthews-based firm that helps medium- to large-sized companies save money on telecom and technology, the biggest challenge can be getting decisions from busy executives, says Tom Reda, vice president of marketing.

“Even though we can save them $1 million or $2 million, some of these companies are so busy on other stuff,” he said. “It can be not all that important to them. It’s a long sales cycle.”

◼️ ‘Growing pains’ and investment: Crimson Park Digital founder and CEO Alexa Parker said her boutique marketing agency's biggest challenge is “growing pains.” Parker founded the company six years ago in southern California and moved its home base to Charlotte last summer. As it brings on more team members and expands services, Parker said she wants to ensure clients don’t notice a difference in the agency’s attention to detail.

Oftentimes, when companies are cutting back costs, Parker said the marketing budget is the first to go. She and her team are working to help companies understand the value of marketing.

“Companies look at marketing as a cost instead of an investment,” Parker said, “so usually that marketing budget — that’s the first thing they cut because they feel like that’s a quick way to save money. But when you cut off your pipeline or awareness, in a few months, that sales cycle is going to be dry. Unfortunately, when they realize, it's too late.”

◼️ Securing funding: Whitney Dodds, founder of Wellness for the Culture, says securing capital is the biggest challenge as a growing minority-owned business. Dodds founded Wellness for the Culture in 2017 as a mental health organization that provides educational workshops, training and individual therapy to people and communities of color.

In November, she had to lay off some of her staff because of funding issues.

“Black women are starting the most businesses but are getting the least amount of assistance and capital,” Dodds said. “We are funding all of our things with our own pockets.”

But as mental health awareness increases, Dodds is optimistic that contracts with schools and businesses for mental health training and workshops will help stabilize funding and allow her to expand.

◼️ Letting would-be customers know you exist: Margaret and Morgan Hodge know there is a market for what they produce — custom women’s suits, geared toward both female business executives and lesbian weddings. But one of their biggest challenges since starting Charlotte-based M&M Suit Shop LLC in January 2023 has been finding ways for would-be customers to discover them.

“We spend a good chunk of our budget on marketing, and it’s definitely helping, but it’s still a little bit of a struggle for people to know we exist,” said Morgan Hodge. “I think especially because women haven’t had that for a long time, it doesn’t cross their mind that they could go and get a custom suit or suit separates to just make them feel confident in what they’re wearing.”

◼️ Convincing customers not to ditch you when times get tough: For Employers Advantage, a human resources outsourcing company based in Cornelius, a key challenge is getting small business owners to see the value in retaining HR services even when budgets need to be cut.

“HR sometimes is seen — especially outsourced HR — as that kind of dispensable thing, or maybe you don’t need that as much. So, we try to help them understand that HR from our perspective is your human element,” said Robert Williams, client relationship manager with Employers Advantage. “And so, when you affect HR, you are essentially affecting that culture you worked so hard to create, that helps you retain those employees. It should be one of the foundational pillars of the business and not an ancillary part that you add if and when there’s an opportunity.”

What do you think your biggest struggle in small business is? If you would love to see if Employers Advantage can assist your small business - reach out to us!

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