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Help Is Out There for Starting a Business

By ROBERT A.

DEFRANK

Staff Writer

Starting a business in the hopefully post-COVID-19 world of 2021 can be an intimidating undertaking, but there are resources available to help people who want to take that step.

St. Clairsville Area Chamber of Commerce Director Wendy Anderson said there are a wide variety of business possibilities and the pandemic has not slowed down entrepreneurs. Many have taken to using other options.

“During COVID we’ve had several businesses, brand-new businesses, open and take advantage of the idea you don’t have to have a salesperson. They can run a business on their own with a website, with a Facebook live, and it’s a lot easier. They can alter their hours and it’s beneficial to them because they are open basically 24 hours a day,” she said. “It’s actually a benefit to be able to do that. We’ve had a lot of small businesses open because of that.”

She added that online meetings and interactions are still possible through a number of platforms.

“You can still make connections. You can still talk to people. You can still see their faces and their expressions,” she said.

Anderson added that the chamber has continued to hold networking sessions online and intends to begin meeting soon at a venue large enough to be compliant with social distancing.

Anderson said businesses such as restaurants, bars, barber shops and boutiques also persist, although some of the communal atmosphere at those places has changed.

“I get my nails done. I go in, I’m wearing my mask, they’re wearing their mask. It’s a different way of getting your hair cut. It’s not as personal,” she said. “I still feel like I’m safe. They have hand sanitizers at every station. … I’m more cautious. It’s become a way of life.

“It’s a little different, but it’s doable,” she said, adding that local barbers and other professionals are enforcing mask policies.

That was not the case a few months ago, when the Belmont County Health Department attributed some isolated outbreaks of COVID-19 to salons and spas where masks were not worn.

Lynn Jeffries, owner of Three Labs Salvage in St. Clairsville, has been in business for several years but said she might have started her business even during the pandemic.

“I don’t know that I would be discouraged. There are many ways now to promote a small business,” she said. “There are ways to still serve customers without them having to come into your physical location.”

Her business also partnered with the Flatiron Coffee Shop, which set up in her premises during the pandemic.

Blake Porterfield, who does marketing work for businesses including the Route 40 LumberJaxe family gaming venue in Belmont, said business has continued despite COVID restrictions.

“It’s a lot of fun and people seem to enjoy going out there,” he said of the facility near Morristown. He added that the marketing field has many opportunities.

“There’s a lot of very intelligent businesspeople here; however, with the marketing trends changing so rapidly with the advancement of technology and social media, a lot of these people that are very savvy businesspeople aren’t very inclined with the new fast-moving technologies,” he said.

Crystal Lorimor, executive director of the Belmont County Community Improvement Corp., said her office is one source of assistance for new businesses.

“It depends on the type of business. We have a lot of resources at our fingertips. We are helping people, connecting them to resources, helping them plan and helping them do research,” she said. “That’s probably the best thing I can recommend to businesses. They need to do their groundwork. They need to do their research on their specific type of business, and we can dig down and help them find that information.”

Lorimor said her office boasts experts trained in different tasks that a new business owner will need to perform.

“We help them through some of the processes — how to make a strategic plan, how to make a business plan, how to do an employee handbook. If it’s a startup that needs funding, we can help them with the requirements that those funders are looking for. Funders want to see projections, so we can help them with that type of thing.”

She said the COVID-19 pandemic has meant potential lenders now expect precautions to be taken into account and built into the fabric of the business.

“Some of our funders are wanting to see plans in place. What are their COVID plans? How does a business plan on handling some COVID details?” she said. “They want to make sure the startup is thinking of all the possibilities.”

She said her office offers help for the entire range of a business cycle, from exploring an idea to determine if it is practical, to considering whether to retire from a business and possibly sell it. She added that people have sought help in starting a wide variety of businesses from manufacturing to retail to restaurants.

Lorimor also expanded on the types of businesses prospective entrepreneurs are looking into. She said social distancing, masking and other requirements have not curtailed people’s interest in starting an eatery or other business where personal contact occurs.

“We can help them brainstorm through those processes. We’re seeing an uptick of people wanting to start businesses, and some of them are those types of service businesses, so I don’t think it has scared people off of it. But we try to help make sure they’re being realistic about it.”

Other topics include the best location for a business and how much a product should cost.

“We help them through all of that. Every business is unique … and we want to look at each one individually and see how each person can make each business their own and make their business stand out.”

Lorimor said her office also has a new revolving loan fund for businesses looking to expand.

Her office number is 740-695-6978 and her email address is lorimor@belmontcic.com.

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