Local Entrepreneurs Picking Up Steam
COLUMBUS – Courtesy of The Dispatch
MUW played host to a small business seminar Tuesday night, that was put on by BancorpSouth and the Columbus-Lowndes Chamber of Commerce. The hall was packed with people young and old who wished to learn more about how to go about starting up their own small businesses.
“The majority (who attended) were people who were just thinking about (starting a business) or have ideas to do it and needed to know where to start,” said Emily McConnell, director of programs and events at the CoC. “The seminar was great for that, just in encouraging them to do it, to get out there and try.”
One of the featured speakers was Mary Jennifer Russell of New Albany. In 1997, she had been moving from job to job while dabbling in baking on the side, as a way to bring in supplemental income. She gradually grew her business, and, a year after beginning, she had (what was then) her first major sale — ten cakes, sold to a yogurt shop. Fast forward nearly twenty years, and now Russell’s Sugarees Bakery puts out a thousand cakes a week, while employing 37 people. Her story has been featured in publications such as the New York Times and Oprah’s Magazine, and Russel earned her place as this year’s Mississippi Small Business Administration (SBA) Small Business Person of the Year.
She had this advice to give to people just starting out: “What do you want to see?” she said. “What do you want to smell? Really, really envision it with lots of detail.” She also emphasized the need to keep good books, constantly improving the business even after it’s up and running and – in particular – making sure to take good care of good employees.
Russell went on to offer this piece of advice: “It’s easy enough if you start with low-risk,” she said. “…It can be done. It should be done.” She recommends keeping your old job for as many years as it takes to get the new venture to a profitable stage; it took her four years to do so, herself, resulting in her opening her own dedicated shop after proving that her business concept was viable simply by doing exactly what she set out to do.
Small businesses are the lifeblood of our economy – The more of them we have, the more people who are willing to take on that risk – The more success stories we’ll hear, given time, investment, and a lot of hard work. And that’s Good for Business!