Big shift in small businesses

Big shift in small businesses

CHAMPAIGN — After joining the county's Small Business Development Center two-and-a-half years ago, Don Elmore thought his bulk of clients would've thinned by now.

He thought wrong.

"We still continue to get a lot of new clients," said Elmore, the center's director. "There's a lot of people with the entrepreneurial spirit in this area."

The SBDC, which sits under Champaign County's Economic Development Corporation, took on 167 new clients from January to September this year alone and advised a total of 239 for that same time period. Elmore, who plans to brief the city council on the center's work at Tuesday night's meeting, said the SBDC advises businesses that range in workforce from one employee to employees in the low hundreds.

Despite today's economic climate, where online shopping is on the rise, Elmore said he hasn't seen clients get discouraged. In fact, he's seen the internet embraced.

"There's a lot of interest in online business," Elmore said. "There's no brick-and-mortar expenses and you can reach a wider market."

But he said some businesses are better suited for the internet than others. A general rule of thumb: If Amazon has it, don't sell it.

"Unique-ness is important," Elmore said. "It's also difficult if you have products without enough differentiation because you'll open yourself up to competition online."

Of course, a business can have both online and physical presences. Elmore said some clients show interest in that as well.

When it comes to online promotion, Elmore said that's essential for almost every kind of business these days. He advises people on digital marketing, social media and understanding online analytics.

Among the clients the SBDC has seen through September of this year are 68 women and 94 minorities. The center saw 68 women and 96 minorities for all of 2016, according to a report from city staff.

Elmore said he has also seen a fair amount of local young entrepreneurs, thanks in part to the University of Illinois.

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