Small-business owners are optimistic about the economy, Kimberly Gangi finds. Though they face challenges such as taxes, costs and talent recruitment, Gangi, president of the Small Business Council of Rochester, says these individuals are driven to take risks and rise up to make smart decisions.
A CPA and partner at Insero & Co., Gangi spends time with small-business owners in her role at the firm where she also heads the small business and outsource accounting services group. Having good advisers at hand is essential, she says—running a company is not an easy feat.
Gangi recently discussed small businesses, the issues they face and the SBC’s role with RBJ Associate Editor Smriti Jacob. The following is an edited version of the interview:
ROCHESTER BUSINESS JOURNAL: How do small-business owners feel about the economy? What’s the mood?
KIMBERLY GANGI: I would say that while small-business owners are happier with the economy than in recent years, there is always room for improvement. I do think owners are more cautious—more cautious with spending decisions, internal changes, expansion, etc. That being said, small-business owners by their pure nature are risk takers … and up to the challenges that face business owners today. Some days can be more challenging than others, but I think one of the reasons that small businesses are so prevalent is that the desire and drive to start something and make it your own overrides the fear.
RBJ: What are some of the big challenges or concerns SBC members face or have faced this year?
GANGI: Concerns faced by our members are no different than any other business owner today. Rising health care costs, taxes and unease with the political environment are constantly in the forefront. I would also add that hiring and retaining the right people is something that is always at the forefront of any business owner’s mind.
RBJ: What are some areas of opportunity?
GANGI: The higher education institutions in Rochester are some of the best in the country and the talent that they are producing is true opportunity for business owners. Further, the area provides an affordable place to raise a family and is full of cultural benefits—museums, galleries, theaters—all while allowing owners to be connected globally.
RBJ: Would you say Rochester is small-business friendly? Why?
GANGI: I would say that overall Rochester is small-business friendly. There are so many organizations that currently feed that in our community as well as the larger companies of the past that aren’t as large as they used to be. What they have generated is a whole new level of entrepreneurs who have struck out on their own to start something new.
RBJ: Where do you think small businesses need the most help? Is it people? Financial resources?
GANGI: I honestly think that small businesses have a need that primarily lies with their professional advisers and management team, individuals they can trust. It can be really challenging to run a company on your own and the need to have someone to bounce ideas off of, to get a sanity check, is critical. Further, a solid financial adviser is an absolute must. So many businesses have financial challenges on the front end, which is very common, and having the right advisers in place can really make all the difference. The life cycle of a business has so many stages that surrounding yourself with the right people to experience and succeed through those cycles has a value that cannot be measured.
RBJ: Based on your experience running your own business, what advice would you give small-business owners?
GANGI: I would reiterate what I mentioned earlier, which is to surround yourself with the right advisers and mentors, people you trust.
RBJ: In your view, what are among the most important tools the SBC offers its members?
GANGI: There are so many tools and benefits we provide. In addition to the many professional development programs and events the SBC offers—monthly boot camps, the DMF series, networking, the Business Person of the Year Gala. The SBC also engages its members to give back to the community that we live in. The SBC Cares initiative, primarily surrounding the Annual Thanksgiving Appeal, seeks out ways to assist area organizations in need in various capacities. This effort is one that all members and non-members alike can participate in and truly gives members a sense of belonging. Providing a sense of community, celebrating, coaching, caring, connecting and establishing a culture: These “six C’s” are what we strive to provide the membership with at every event and through every program we do.
RBJ: How many members does the SBC have?
GANGI: The Small Business Council is around 250 in membership and growing. We do surveys after most of our programs to get feedback and take all of that into consideration when we work on future programs. The membership is stratified between corporate and individual members as well.
RBJ: How has the SBC evolved over the years? How does it measure success?
GANGI: The Small Business Council has experienced changes over the years; all organizations do. However, our core values and mission remain the same. We have fine-tuned things and spent some time and effort on strategic planning, but it really affirmed what we always believed. Our measure of success is in the membership, which has increased slightly over the years, and also with the success of our events. We make modifications where necessary along the way to programming, and feedback is critical. We have also made efforts to ensure that our board and executive committee include a balance of business owners as well as professional advisers who serve them. The complement is very important.
RBJ: What are some of the organization’s goals or new initiatives and programs as you look ahead to 2016?
GANGI: The Small Business Council is always striving to provide the best programming and services to its members. We are constantly reviewing the slate of programs and evaluating what we are providing, both from a quality and relevance stance. That focus will continue as we start planning for 2016, which is well underway now. A primary focus in 2016 will be on membership and a deeper connection with members on behalf of the board and the executive committee, both through direct touches and member networking. The year will bring some executive changes as well, with Paul Kaiser coming on as president in January. I expect the transition to be very smooth, as we have spent a great deal of time to ensure continuity at the executive level and building a solid infrastructure.
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