GRAND HAVEN — When it comes to starting a small business or running one, “Everybody has issues,” according to Mike Ver Duin.
The issues may vary, depending on whether the individual is just at the start of a possible business venture, or someone with years of experience running a business, said Ver Duin, general manager of Ver Duin’s Inc., a family-owned printing business established in Grand Haven in 1931.
Whether neophytes or experienced business managers, everybody wants answers — and now they can get them in Grand Haven, for free. An informal organization called Business Helping Business has been successfully launched by small business owners and community business advocates, including members of the Grand Haven chamber. The group meets the third Thursday of each month from 6:45 to 9 p.m. at the Grand Haven Community Center, 421 Columbus Ave.
Each session features one or more experienced speakers on an array of topics of interest to people thinking of starting a business or those who have questions about the newest trends.
“We didn’t even have a name for the group until January, our second meeting,” said Ver Duin, who was among the group that got Business Helping Business going.
“We’re very informal,” he said. “People show up and people learn.”
After listening to featured presentations, the meeting breaks up into roundtable groups to focus on a particular topic. Van Duin said the exchange is so interesting that sometimes people don’t want to leave at 9 p.m., when the Community Center is supposed to be locked up for the night.
Marketing and new communications technology are always topics of interest to people in business, but the Business Helping Business group has also heard from other types of experts, including a patent attorney.
In February, a different type of consultant spoke to the group: Kyle Williams of Lakeshore Leadership Development, a licensed clinical social worker and MentorCoach with 20 years of clinical and business experience. His clients include a variety of companies and organizations, ranging from manufacturing to municipalities and nonprofits. Williams’ topic was: “Is a coach right for your business?”
At the March meeting, two representatives from the Grand Haven chamber were the featured speakers. Jenna Paparella, program and events support coordinator for the chamber, talked about social networking on the Internet. Pamela Blake, the chamber’s membership services manager, covered the basics of face-to-face networking.
The use of social media Web sites “is an extension of face-to-face networking, not a replacement,” according to Paparella. She said social media sites shouldn’t be used for one-way communication of sales and promotions, but rather “a two-way conversation between users.”
Business Helping Business, in fact, already has its own Facebook page. Another Web site in use by the organization is eventbrite.com, where visitors can enter Grand Haven in the search field to find detailed information on upcoming sessions of Business Helping Business, plus an easy way to register for a seat in advance.
Paparella said companies need to plan how they will use and manage social networking sites, which includes making timely updates rather than plunging into them blindly.
Blake said entrepreneurs need to understand the importance of face-to-face networking as a means of “building relationships and connecting with others.” Good connections, she said, can turn into sales or a steady stream of referrals, alliances, advice, support and/or friendship — even a useful understanding of the competition. Networking, however, needs a systematic approach to be most effective.
Networking “is not about closing a sale or collecting business cards; it is about building relationships,” Blake said. “People like to do business with people they know, like and trust — people like them. The more people you know or who know about you, the more business will come your way.
“Networking is also about helping others and finding out what you can do for them, and that networking is a process that takes time and effort and requires many to step out of their comfort zone.”
At the April 15 meeting, the scheduled speaker is Dante Villarreal of the Michigan Small Business & Technology Development Center at GVSU.
The origins of Business Helping Business goes back to almost a year ago when Dana Kollewehr of the Grand Haven Main Street Downtown Development Authority took several people from the Grand Haven business community to a two-day seminar at Michigan State University on “energizing entrepreneurs,” according to Van Duin. He said the group came back with the desire to set up some type of community activity that would help entrepreneurs and established businesses find the information they need.
Although Business Helping Business is not an official entity of the Grand Haven chamber, “We did play a key role in forming the group, and we’re very active participants,” said David Miller, the chamber’s vice president of economic development. Miller said anyone interested in attending a Business Helping Business session can “just show up,” but they appreciate it when people register in advance to help in the planning.
Van Duin said some would-be entrepreneurs have a critical need for basic information before they even attempt to start a business.
“I get people walking in here on a Monday morning,” he said. “They quit their job over the weekend, and they’re going to start a business. They don’t know what they’re going to call it, but they’re just not going to take it from ‘the man’ anymore.”
“I tell them, ‘Look, I’m the new man, the tax guy is the new man, everybody’s the new man. You’re trading one guy for 70 guys — not to mention your customers. They’re the new man, too.’”