Program offers tools to steer growth

Northeast Products and Services Inc., a manufacturer of aluminum docks and other structures, was growing, with its products shipping across the country.

But as the Topton-based business scaled up, owner Scott Tihansky knew it needed to grow in a smarter, more strategic way.

He ended up finding help from the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Eastern Pennsylvania District in King of Prussia. He was accepted last year into the no-cost Emerging Leaders program.

Helping small businesses grow more effectively is one of the main goals of the SBA’s Emerging Leaders Program, which began in the agency’s eastern Pennsylvania office 10 years ago and now is offered nationwide.

The King of Prussia office alone has helped more than 100 business leaders delve into the process of working on their business rather than just working in it, analyzing finances and marketing efforts – and planning for where they want to see the business in three year.

Nationally, the program has helped small-business owners procure more than $1 billion in government contracts and $73 million in new financing.

And it appears to makes a difference for many: The SBA said 62 percent of graduates say they saw higher revenue after participating in the Emerging Leaders programs.

However, Mike Kane, deputy district director for the SBA Eastern Pennsylvania District, cautions it isn’t for everyone.

“It’s an intensive education, especially for a small business owner,” Kane said.

In order to help businesses develop a three-year growth plan and the tools to carry it out, the SBA asks participants to commit to 100 hours of classroom work in its King of Prussia office as well as homework and peer-to-peer counseling.

As a graduate, Tihansky said the work was worth it.

“It seemed to have all of the pieces that we needed to focus on,” Tihansky said.

He especially liked that the program embraced different kinds of businesses in different stages of growth.

His group had an engineer, a photographer, a welder, a mechanic and a microbrewer.

BETTER TRACKING, TARGETING

Using knowledge derived from the Emerging Leaders Program, Tihansky decided to implement an Enterprise Resource Planning system, or ERP, to help track inventory, production and staff.

“The ERP allows us to take our inventory and look at how it’s being used in projects, how many hours it takes to do a project” he said. “When you scale up you just can’t use traditional spreadsheets anymore. You have to have control of all of the parts of your business.”

The program also helped his company better target the right customers.

A FRESH PERSPECTIVE

Like Tihansky, Dorothea Gillette-Spencer, owner of D. Gillette Industrial Services in Bangor, said her business was going well. It makes equipment for the U.S. Department of Defense.

But she also decided to enroll in the Emerging Leaders program, where she gained a fresh perspective on her company.

“They look at your finances and your business in an objective way,” she said.

The takeaways for her included insights into how to properly present corporate numbers when looking for a loan.

“They let us know what banks look at and what others see when they look at our numbers,” she said.

Gillette-Spencer said she’s still in regular contact with at least one of her fellow graduates, and they still support each other to work on the skills and processes they learned through the program.

That’s good news to Kane, who said building those relationships with other business leaders who can help is one of the side benefits of the program.

If you go

The U.S. Small Business Administration is now recruiting businesses for its 2019 Emerging Leaders program and will accept as many as 20 businesses into this year’s class, according to Mike Kane, deputy district director for the SBA Eastern Pennsylvania District,.

To be eligible a small business must have annual sales of $250,000 or more, have at least one employee in addition to the owner and have been in business for three years or more.

Participants can be the owner, president, CEO, chief operating officer, CFO or a key decision maker.

The participant must commit to one evening every other week from April to October for approximately 100 hours of classroom work in the SBA’s King of Prussia office as well as homework and peer-to-peer mentoring. The program is free.

Applications must be submitted by March 1. Additional information is at www.sba.gov/emergingleaders.

Stacy Wescoe
Writer and online editor Stacy Wescoe has her finger on the pulse of the business community in the Greater Lehigh Valley and keeps you up-to-date with technology and trends, plus what coworkers and competitors are talking about around the water cooler — and on social media. She can be reached at stacyw@lvb.com or 610-807-9619, ext. 4104. Follow her on Twitter and on Facebook.

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