Chelsea Blair is a Penn State Small Business Development Center business consultant serving Lycoming County. She took some time to chat with us about her background, what makes the small business community of Lycoming County unique, and what small business owners can gain from attending Global Entrepreneurship Week Penn State.
Q: Can you describe your professional background and how you came into consulting?
A: How I got into consulting, because consulting is such an interesting role. Growing up in Sullivan County, where I’m originally from, there’s a lot of small businesses that are up there, and small businesses create tight communities. And I’ve had several family members who have started small businesses.
So when I went to college, it’s of course not at all what I went to school for, but eventually I made my way into community development, where I had been in community and economic development for local government for about seven years.
And I had heard about the Small Business Development Center when I actually came to Williamsport here in Lycoming County and had referred a few people over to the Small Business Development Center when they had would call in. But eventually, I was like, I really want to interact with people more. And what was a wonderful thing is through networking, which again, a lot of great communities, they have really great networks. A network friend of mine, she actually had said, “You would be a great consultant. Why don’t you connect with Penn State SBDC?” That’s kind of how I got into more consulting than anything.
Q: What is unique about the small business community in Lycoming County?
A: What’s kind of really cool is in Lycoming County, 50 to 56% of the economy is actually based upon small businesses. And so, with that, there’s roughly about 9,000 small businesses within the county. And what’s really cool is, again, like that network and the community that Lycoming County has, it’s so interconnected and it’s that, “Hey, yeah, my friend owns this,” and it’s honestly, people talk about the connectors between people and it seems like in Lycoming County it’s only one degree of separation because everybody knows of everybody.
Even though it’s a large county, somehow there’s always that connection. Small businesses work very much in that sense where they are working within their industry. But then if they need to spread or grow, they can connect with some of their friends that are in the industry that then connect them to another industry so that they can then grow even more.
Lycoming County has a lot of creatives and makers in the county. And what we’ve also seen a lot too in Lycoming County is e-commerce, a lot of restaurants, food industry businesses, as well as ag and forestry too.
I think one of the coolest things is you can be right in downtown Williamsport, but then you drive 10, 15 minutes outside of the city and you’re right in the thick of a state forest or state park. And I think that’s probably one of the coolest things. So, we’ve also seen a lot of outdoor recreation businesses as well.
Q: What is your favorite part of helping small businesses?
A: I think what’s cool about that is you actually get to see them form their ideas, develop their ideas a little bit more, see the discovery that they have in learning their target markets or learning how to do different processes.
And especially near the end where they’re like, “Yeah, I’m heading to the bank.” And it’s like, so they end up with a big smile on their face and then when you connect with them afterward, it’s a rewarding thing because you know that you not only helped them, but you’ve also really helped the community that they are a part of.
People make small businesses, but small businesses make communities, and I think that’s truly, truly the awesome part. So even when it’s an existing business, helping them rediscover is also really cool too, because they’re like, “Oh, I didn’t think about it in that sense,” or “Oh, I didn’t even think about that avenue.” It’s that rediscovering of your business again and again that adds into the community a bit more because then they’re continuing and thriving as well.
Q: Why should small business owners attend Global Entrepreneurship Week?
A: Honestly, networking. Learning from Global Entrepreneurship Week, it’s one of those key things that you not only learn about the locality of things, but you’ll also learn about things that are going on nationally and even across the globe.
You get to see different people come on as guest speakers talking about their industry or talking about the resources that you never thought that you may need, but all of a sudden you’re like, “Oh, that kind of fits into where I need to grow and expand into.” And then here in Lycoming County, the actual event that will be taking place is learning one of the key factors that really create the foundation of a business.
And one thing that we have learned is that a lot of businesses don’t have that necessary foundation. That’s why you see a lot of businesses fail between 3 to 5 years, because they don’t have the concrete to their, I’m going to call it their business home. If you don’t have that foundation, your house is just going to cave in.
Having that foundation and a little bit or a piece of that foundation at Global Entrepreneurship Week in the Lycoming County event is very key to have.
Q: I’m starting a business in Lycoming County. Where should I start?
A: You can start off with the Small Business Development Center. It’s definitely a great place to start. We have the resources. In Lycoming County, in addition to the Williamsport, Lycoming Chamber of Commerce and the subsidiaries, there’s also the Williamsport Business Association. So, if you are within the city limits, it’s a great organization again, to network and connect with. The Pajama Factory again, a great network and resource for the creatives, especially if you want to not be in your home, but you want to be in a space around other creatives.
You also have Lycoming Arts, who is a great creative organization, and they host First Fridays. First Fridays is a big downtown event that happens in Williamsport. But they do help creatives across the county and get you connected with different people as well.
That’s kind of the gist overall. But always connecting with the Small Business Development Center is key, and talking about the Small Business Development Center here in Lycoming County, I actually have two in-person locations, so we’re at one today, which is the Williamsport Lycoming Chamber of Commerce. And then the second one is actually at Penn College campus.
Q: What’s one key piece of advice you have for anyone starting a business?
A: You do not serve everyone. I think that’s really, really key. A lot of businesses come to us, even startup businesses, and they’re like, “I’m throwing all this marketing out there, and it’s not really getting me anything.” And whether it’s on social media or whether it’s on the website, whether it’s in the newspaper or even by word of mouth, one of the first things that we ask is, “Who’s your target market?”
And they’re like, “Well, it’s everyone.” And that’s not the key. Every market has at least three different types of people that actually come in, and we look at the demographics. And I think that’s where a lot of people get really surprised by learning, “Oh man, this is really my market, this is really what I do see.”
And so, then you can actually utilize your monies smarter and into the right appropriate categories to then make you more profit in the end.