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UGA office gives small-business owners a boost
Inspector Russell Edwards begins his inspection of a house for sale in South Hall County. Already a certified home inspector, Edwards got help from the University of Georgia Small Business Development Center to help him plan his own business, Platinum Plus Inspections.

University of Georgia Small Business Development Center

Where: 906 Interstate Ridge Drive, Suite B, Gainesville
When: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Friday
Contact: 770-531-5681;, go to “about,” click on “locations” and choose “gainesville”

SBDC office launches its StartSmart program April 6

The Gainesville office of the University of Georgia Small Business Development Center will conduct its StartSmart program for small businesses beginning April 6.

The program consists of eight sessions and helps business owners learn to evaluate and refine their concepts and develop a thorough, practical business plan.

Sessions are set for 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. April 6, 13, 20 and 27 at the Jackson EMC office, 1000 Dawsonville Highway, Gainesville. The cost is $495 per person. To register, visit

“Most people don’t know exactly what they need when they walk in here,” Holly Houston, project manager for Rustic Trades Furniture, said.

“In here” is the Gainesville office of the University of Georgia Small Business Development Center.

The local office has been here about 25 years, but it has new staff members. Bruce Cutler is the area director, who started in August. Marjory Wooten is the program coordinator and began in January.

Cutler said the agency is looking for a business consultant to join the staff. Business experience and a master’s degree are requirements.

Houston came to the office in January by sending an email.

“Purely out of curiosity — I didn’t know what we were after,” she said.

Houston said the company had a niche — “custom, farmhouse style dining room tables” and needed to understand how to expand.

Two months later, the furniture business, which started in the garage of owner Clay Adam, is adding two new product lines and has improved its production system, she said.

One of the additions is “wedding tables,” a customized table delivered on the wedding day so the couple can have “the first meal at their table at the wedding.”

Cutler said since the business was mostly tables for home, the new product is a “little branch off the residential side.”

Cutler said he encouraged the company to “put some things in writing” — develop a schedule and budget.

“From that we’ve had a lot of traction,” Houston said. She credited the SBDC with “helping us navigate a growth spurt.”

Rustic Trades will be in business six years in April. The business started because Adam said he’d make a table for his wife, Maggie.

He uses the theme, “Life is celebrated around the table,” on his website.

“They needed a simple, but written, plan for the next year to 18 months, and that’s what we went off and put together,” Cutler said. “We identified the top priorities and focused on those.”

The business has about 10 employees   and has added 1.5 people in two months.

“Businesses can falter if they grow too fast,” Cutler said.

Cutler said the office starts with “discovery,” a meeting of about 90 minutes. It is to learn about the business. Subsequent meetings are then set up.

“We’re good at asking questions,” Cutler said. “In this case, they wanted a plan for 2016. We were already in 2016.”

That also was the case for Russell Edwards, owner of Platinum Plus Inspections, who came looking for advice in January. He started the business in August. It does residential and commercial property inspections and measures indoor air quality. Edwards worked for another company in the field for 10 years.

“Business has been so good. We’re into managing the growth,” Edwards said, adding it has grown about 30 percent this year.

“I understand how to operate a business, but I did not know how to plan or grow a business,” he said.

When he talked to Cutler, “the first thing he did was researched our industry.”

Cutler said the office has “access to terrific databases of information.”

Those include demographics about many areas and business segments. Clients could not get that information “at a reasonable cost,” Cutler said.

Edwards and Houston praised Cutler for quickly providing market research about their respective businesses.

“I don’t think it even crossed our minds” to ask for the research information, Houston said.

“My need has been immediate,” Edwards said.

He is thinking long term; he’s just developing his business plan to expand the company, but he has dreams of national franchising. And he is thinking about retirement.

“How do you get out?” Houston asked about planning a business transition.

“I’ve got to have a plan of replacing myself,” Edwards said. He parroted a phrase he heard from Cutler: “working on the business, not working in the business.”

He noted that a one-day digital marketing boot camp through the SBDC office was illuminating and helpful.

Cutler said the office will schedule classes on starting a business and writing a business plan in the May to September period. Those will be offered throughout Northeast Georgia, he said.

The office can provide help with finances, financial planning, marketing, writing a business plan, strategy, market research and finding and getting capital for business. 

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