Darrell Jones is area manager for Charleston Area Small Business Development Centers.
He has 20 years of experience in commercial banking and has been a business owner in three different industries — service, retail and wholesale.
He joined the center in August 2014 and succeeded Tom Lauria as area manager on Jan. 1.
Q: Your organization recently was named the 2016 national winner of the Small Business Development Center of Excellence and Innovation Award from the U.S. Small Business Administration. How did that come about?
A: We have a great team that is not only committed to, but enjoys what they are doing and the people they are helping. The successful partnerships that we have created have been of tremendous value. We have partnered with The Citadel, which gives us space for a satellite office and co-sponsors workshops. We have collaborated on projects with the College of Charleston, Charleston County and the Charleston Digital Corridor. They help us increase the accessibility of resources to our clients.
We have every expectation that these partnerships will continue to evolve and flourish. We will continue to add to our list of partners that want to assist in the area’s economic development. We are open to brainstorming with government agencies and private businesses who share a vested interest in supporting the success of small businesses.
Q: It’s Small Business Week: What makes this area a good market for small business?
A: The tools available to support a broad economy. The port is an integral part of the success of the Charleston region. The upgrade to the airport is an indication of the investment we are making with the infrastructure. Our diverse workforce and the ability to provide needed training are key elements to the area’s success.
Then there’s the diversity of our economy. Of course, there is tourism, but we also have the vast resources of the medical community, the growing manufacturing sector and what’s happening with the digital corridor. Those factors add up to creating a wide array of opportunities for entrepreneurs to provide goods and services in both the consumer and the business-to-business markets.
Q: What are the main reasons people come to the SBDC?
A: In general they need two things, guidance and support. They want you to help them get there and they want you to help them succeed. More specifically, the most common requests we get are help with financing and marketing. Those are the two biggest issues facing most businesses.
Q: Is everyone who visits you cut out to be a business owner?
A: I’ve heard people say that anyone can do it. I disagree. There are people that have the romantic notion that a business owner puts in fewer hours and gets a bigger paycheck. They don’t understand the necessary commitment to be an owner; and not just for yourself, but the time away from your family. You spend every waking moment thinking about your business. Having owned a business, I can tell you that I have had nights when I sat down to watch TV for an hour and my mind was so preoccupied that I had no idea what I just watched.
People come in and say they’re scared. I say that’s good. They understand the commitment they are having to make.
Q: What qualities make a good business owner?
A: There are a lot of qualities, but there are two that stand out. People skills — not only with the people who buy your product, but with the people who work with you.
And you have to have the ability to multi-task. If you can’t do that, you are not going to succeed.
Q: What tends to hinder most people from opening their own business?
A: Capitalization. There is so much involved — the inability to obtain funding for startups, lack of collateral, and equity issues. The majority of start-ups are funded by personal savings, family and friends.
Q: Are there any signs that the lending to small businesses is returning to pre-recessionary levels?
A: Banks have eased up on their lending criteria. However, it will be a long time before they fully recover from the sting of the “Great Recession.” This has led to the introduction in the market of credit options that are frequently more expensive and place a bigger financial burden on the business. These other credit options will continue to thrive until the traditional lenders take a more proactive role with start-ups and small businesses.
Q: Are there benefits for existing businesses to see an SBDC consultant?
A: Definitely. Starting up is just the beginning. A business’ needs change as the business grows. If you’re fortunate, you have expansion issues. Growth often means your marketing needs change. We assist with business strategy. We might help down the line with an exit strategy. I even had one client who said, “It’s nice to have you here as a sounding board.” I am often able to put a different spin on issues because I am outside the organization. We promote long-term relationships with our clients.
Q: What does it mean to the small business environment when corporations such as Boeing or Volvo move into an area?
A: It’s hard to define the magnitude of the ripple effect those businesses have on our economy. They provide new jobs and create new contract opportunities for outside businesses. And, with all the new employment, they create consumer dollars available for housing and retail. It goes on and on.
Q: Would people be surprised at how much of the local economy is influenced by government contracting?
A: Without a doubt. Last year alone, we assisted clients with the acquisition of $1.4 billion in government awards. Our partnership with the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center Atlantic has been invaluable in assisting with these acquisitions and putting on workshops about the government contract procurement process. Again, this contributes to that ripple effect on the local economy.
Q: What is the best leadership advice you’ve received?
A: Give yourself time to let your emotions retreat so you can make a carefully considered decision.
Q: What leadership style do you employ?
A: I want people to think they are working with me, not for me. I have worked for people who like to let you know they are the boss, and it’s not enjoyable. That attitude does not foster a productive environment.
Loyalty has to flow down before it will flow up. Employees have to know you appreciate them before they will reciprocate.
Q: How do you define a great business?
A: Obviously, the bottom line is important. But a great business has created an environment that fosters job satisfaction and, in turn, increases productivity.
Q: What does a good day for you look like?
A: At the risk of sounding trite, being a part of helping someone achieve that long-sought goal. There are those willing to pursue their goals and there are those that are afraid. It’s a good day when we can help them not only start or buy that business but make it a success.