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Q&A With Judy Hawkins of Women’s Economic Ventures

The director discusses the role of small businesses and how they can weather the economic downturn.

Question: How are small businesses being affected by this economic downturn?

Judy Hawkins: Small businesses are being affected in a number of different ways by our economy. Primarily, customers are feeling more cautious, more uncertain and are therefore spending less money. Because of this, small-business sales are down. 

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Judy Hawkins
Secondly, when times are tight, people are more likely to be thoughtful and discriminating in their money-spending decisions. This increases the need for small-business owners to provide top-notch customer service. Small-business owners must spend more quality time with their customers, and this ends up being good for business as they get to know their customers better. At Women’s Economic Ventures, we encourage our clients to know their own niche and be able to communicate that to their clients or customers — to know how and why their service or product is valuable and unique to the marketplace. 

Thirdly, particularly for seasonal businesses (for example, any tourism-related business), the high seasons become even more critical to survival in a down economy. It’s important to be adequately prepared to capitalize on the good, high seasons because there will be even broader gaps during the low season.

Question: What are some things small businesses can do to stay afloat right now? 

Hawkins: Small businesses can utilize low-cost technologies such as putting their products online, to engage in a larger or global marketplace. For service-oriented businesses such as housekeeping, landscaping or educational services, they can consider adding a product to sell in addition to their service or bundling services. 

More than ever, small-business owners must focus on their niche, rather than trying to serve the whole world. To do this, they should have a more keenly focused eye on their unique selling proposition, meaning, the product or service they offer and why it’s so important to clients or customers.

Small businesses also must respond to changing client/customer demographics; if they’re starting to get a new kind of client or customer, they should examine that trend and ways to reach this different group of customers. 

My last piece of advice for small-business owners right now: Stay positive! Keep an optimistic viewpoint, which is a natural strength of most entrepreneurs. Respond to possibilities and take actions with those possibilities. Don’t hide and wait during a down economy — keep taking opportunities to make your business healthy and your clients or customers happy.

Question: Small business has always played an important role in our country’s economy. How do small businesses help stabilize an unstable economy?

Hawkins: Economic transformation in the U.S. economy has historically been driven by the development of small business. Small businesses account for 88 percent of all business in the United States, and they generate 50 percent of all private-sector jobs. They provide economic stability to their local communities by generating locally based taxes, and they help keep money flowing in the local economy. 

Question: Do you think starting a small business right now is a good idea? Why or why not?

Hawkins: There are clear challenges in starting a business in a down economy, in any economy. In expanding or starting a business, your business plan must include adequate capital to build your business so it is viable. 

Today’s tight credit environment is another consideration. It’s harder to get capital to start up a business right now. Organizations such as the WEV Small Business Loan Fund are good resources for start-ups in an economy like this. 

Question: What kinds of businesses do WEV clients have? What are some example of types of business that women entrepreneurs are turning to WEV to help start or grow right now?

Hawkins: Right now, we’re seeing a growing number of “green” businesses; either eco-friendly businesses such as cleaning and/or beauty or home supplies made with organic green ingredients or sustainable businesses, which means trying to do their work with a small footprint or impact on the environment. We’re also seeing a lot of service-based businesses — from health care to professional services (financial, academic) to pet care. Online-based product and service businesses continue to be popular as well.

Question: What are services that WEV offers to small-business owners, to help them through times of economic downturn and economic prosperity?

Hawkins: WEV offers a continuum of programs to help women start up, launch, grow and sustain their own business. This Friday, we are proud to present our Think BIG Conference and Business Expo on “Mastering Operations.” Think BIG provides advanced training and resources for established businesses who are looking for knowledge and resources to grow to the next level. This Friday, we will be offering solutions to help growing businesses face economic challenges, including retaining and attracting customers.

We also offer the comprehensive Self-Employment Training program for people to test the feasibility of their business idea and to complete a business plan. Additionally, we provide one-on-one counseling for people in all phases of business, a membership association with benefits such as discounts to WEV trainings and support services and the Small Business Loan Fund which makes loans to startup and expanding businesses. 

Women’s Economic Ventures Think BIG Conference & Business Expo

» “Mastering Operations; Extreme Customer Service, Maximizing Cash Flow, and Accessing Credit”

» 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday

» Fess Parker’s DoubleTree Resort, Santa Barbara

» Keynote: Eric David Greenspan, founder/CEO of Make It Work Inc., “Extreme Customer Service: How Your Values Translate into Business Success”

» Click here or call 805.965.6073 for registration and information

Marjorie Wass is a public relations representative.

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