Award winners offer advice for tough times
Small businesses are an important part of the Alaska economy, and in challenging economic times, advice gleaned from others can be valuable.
According to the U.S. Small Business Administration’s most current statistics, out of Alaska’s 16,136 employer businesses in 1999, 97 percent were small businesses, or firms employing fewer than 500 people.
In 1998 Alaska small businesses employed 118,592 of the state’s 196,135 nonfarm private sector workers.
The state Department of Labor’s 2000 list of 100 largest private employers records 59 that have fewer than 500 employees.
Several Alaskans have developed a proven equation for small business success. The Small Business Administration annually selects a Small Business Person of the Year, honoring the award winner for building his or her business and other specific achievements.
State winners advance to the national level. Alaska has had one national SBA Small Business Person of the Year, according to Ron Veltkamp, business development officer at the SBA in Alaska. In 1965 Don Donatello was chosen for his work at Alaska Mill & Feed Co.
The list of previous honorees also includes former Anchorage Mayor Rick Mystrom for Mystrom Advertising in 1982; Paul Reid of the New Sagaya stores in 1991; and Peter Eden of Alaska Wild Berry Products in 1989; as well as winners from Fairbanks, Soldotna and Southeast.
The Journal interviewed several recipients from past years, seeking their counsel for current or future small business operators.
Last year’s recipient, David Cottrell of Mikunda, Cottrell & Co. Certified Public Accountants, believes Alaskans looking to start a service-oriented small business should consider teaming up with others.
He is president and managing partner for the Anchorage-based Mikunda, Cottrell & Co., which is the largest locally owned accounting firm.
He was chosen for the firm’s growth in sales and employees, financial stability, innovation of products and services, response to adversity and community contributions, according to SBA officials in Alaska.
Cottrell, an Anchorage accountant and a founder of the firm, says service businesses include attorneys, accountants, insurers, dentists or physicians. Starting service businesses differs from starting construction or manufacturing companies, he said.
The first step in creating such a business is analyzing the market to see if one’s services are in demand, he said.
Then prospective small business owners should consider the possibility of combining skills with another business person, perhaps one who is already running a firm.
"If you think you have a good market, don’t always assume that going it alone is better than with a partner," he advised. "As a team you can actually have a broader base of services."
With a little help from friends
Barbara Cash, president and chief executive of RIM Design, was SBA’s Small Business Person of the Year in 2000. The company previously operated under the name Interior Space Design, which has a 22-year history in Anchorage.
The change to RIM Design allows Cash to bring together interior design talents and resources from the RIM Architects Guam and Hawaii offices.
She urged future and current small business owners to talk to Small Business Development Center staff.
"They have professionals there to help you. They have classes in how to write a business plan or how to start a business," she said. "They will help you do everything from planning and marketing to understanding payroll taxes."