Celebrating San Francisco Small Business Week
After recovering from last week’s Bay to Breakers run and the carousing that inevitably comes with it, the local small business community is gearing up for San Francisco Small Business Week, May 21 – 28. And it’s a pretty big deal. The City is home to more than 85,000 small businesses and entrepreneurs, and, according to small business owner and San Francisco Small Business Week Producer, Adam Straus, San Francisco’s is the largest such celebration in the country.
Local small businesses generate over 90 percent of the City’s business and this coming week is an opportunity to celebrate all that hard work with awards from the City’s Board of Supervisors, USF Gellert Family Business Center, and the national Small Business Administration. The business week is bookended by two Saturdays on which locals can patronize small businesses at neighborhood sidewalk sales across the City. More than anything, however, San Francisco Small Business Week is a chance for small business owners to learn about the many resources available to them here. San Francisco is the richest city in the country, but it can be a tough place to operate a business—particularly with recent changes in labor laws, like mandatory paid sick and parental leave, taxes, perhaps most of all, the infamous real estate prices.
Furthermore, small business owners are short on time and often operate on a margin, so seeking out resources can seem like a luxury. Yet, “San Francisco is an oasis for small business resources,” says Townsquared member Spencer Larkin, of non-profit microlender Kiva Zip. Straus, owner of Straus Events, noted small business owners are, by default, often required to be experts in marketing, human resources, and anything else it takes to run a business. Rather than doing it themselves, San Francisco Small Business Week is an opportunity “to find partners” to help them achieve their goals. “It’s amazing that there are so many organizations locally that want to support small businesses,” Straus noted. The Week is fully funded by sponsorships, which means their events continue to be free for attendees. Most workshops are on Thursday, May 26, and address topics from going green (and saving money) to alternative staffing solutions for restaurants, from creating a logo to buying commercial real estate, from making a living with beer to the future of video marketing.
San Francisco Small Business Week Workshops
One of the San Francisco Small Business Week sponsors is Airbnb, who are moderating a May 26 session about how small businesses can leverage San Francisco’s tourism, including accessing tourists staying in local neighborhoods. Jackson Meredith, Airbnb’s Small Business Outreach Specialist, notes that hosts make “thousands of referrals” to their guests, which can have a significant economic impact. Local businesses are a “crucial component to the Airbnb experience,” says Meredith.
Among the many local organizations dedicated to helping small businesses grow is Kiva Zip, which connects businesses with 0 percent interest, crowdfunded capital, up to $10,000. Kiva focuses on businesses that wouldn’t otherwise qualify for loans from traditional, or even many non-traditional, lenders. As Larkin explains, “Instead of relying on financial data to make credit decisions, our ‘character-first’ approach allows us to lend to the ‘unbankable.’ We’re looking more at the entrepreneur’s ability to demonstrate to us they have a community of people that believes in them.” Larkin is participating in a May 26 session called “Start-up Financing: Alternative Ways to Finance New Businesses” with Main Street Launch, another local nonprofit small business lender, the SBA’s Assistant District Director for Lender Relations, and others. He hopes the session spreads the word that there are many folks in the Bay Area “motivated to make a $25 loan” to a local business. One of the most important tips Larkin has for small business owners? “A mentor of mine always preached the 6 P’s, ‘prior planning prevents a piss-poor performance.’ Regardless of the avenue for exploring for loans, know how much you need. Never ask a lender how much you can get off the bat. Have a specific plan and use case laid out.”
Like finding the necessary funding, marketing is another familiar small-business challenge. Townsquared member Ken Stram, President of local PR firm 2Bridge Communications, specializes in helping small and growing businesses with strategic positioning, PR, and that scourge of the small business, social media marketing. Stram finds small businesses most often feel overwhelmed by the idea of building their brand. Tackling marketing in the “age of storytelling” can be a particular challenge for small businesses, even though they have some of the best stories. Many small businesses base their marketing on what Stram calls a fear of scarcity. “When we ask, ‘who is your target market?’ they say ‘Everyone!’” he explains. Success, he advises, is much more likely with an “inch wide, mile deep” approach to finding the customers who will keep your business thriving. Stram and his “business buddy,” (the two have been providing each other with moral and strategic support for years) Kristy Lin Billuni, the Sexy Grammarian, are offering a session on May 26, called “Who’s Your Jenny? How to Identify Your Target Market,” educating small business owners on exactly this issue. Stram promises a fun, “very interactive” session.
A particular challenge for the San Francisco small business community is maintaining, and growing, the diversity among the City’s small business owners. Longtime Townsquared member Gwen Kaplan, founder and CEO of ACE Mailing, has spent her career working to improve the entrepreneurial environment in California, a passion for which she’s been honored more than once. On May 26, Kaplan is co-presenting “Empowering Women in Business” with attorney Emily Wirowek, the San Francisco Bay Area President of the National Association of Women Business Owners. The session promises to provide attendees with critical information they can immediately put to use. Kaplan will focus on the issues of authority, community, and empowerment. For her, it’s important to “do what I can to inspire, to facilitate, to make [things] easy for other women.” Another reason for making this session is Kaplan’s seemingly inexhaustible supply of colorful stories about the history of small businesses in the City.
Despite the business challenges specific to the City, and in contrast to most small business owners nationally, the majority of San Francisco small business owners expect their revenues to go up this year. Likewise, 62 percent are still planning to grow their business over the next five years. Event organizers are expecting approximately 4,000 of them to attend next week. Stram describes San Francisco as a “small business city” whose unique neighborhoods are defined by local businesses. The City’s Small Business Week aims to keep it that way.
Did you know?
The Office of Small Business and other city offices created the SF Business Portal. Designed to help entrepreneurs start their business and small business owners to manage theirs, the portal provides “comprehensive information and tailored tools, including a permits and licenses section allowing users to select a business type and get a list of the required permits and licenses. The Portal allows users to quickly learn what it takes to plan a business, be compliant, and access a myriad of business resources along the way.”