"Sink or swim", small businesses survive in tough economy

By Zaneta Lowe  - bio | email

COLUMBUS, GA (WTVM) - "You're one of our Groupon patients?"  Groupon is just one of the ways Columbus dentist Dr. Lance Collier gets the word out about his new practice.

"You're trying to coax people into spending their money," says Collier.  These days, that's no easy feat.  According to Collier, dentistry in general has seen up to a 20% dip in annual revenue since the recession started.

Despite these statistics, after graduating from dental school and working as an associate for a couple of years, Dr. Collier chose Columbus to open up shop.

"Reports were that Columbus was gonna fair the economy much better than, because of things going on at Fort Benning," explains Collier of why he selected the city.   He's on River Road in a new commercial complex.

Experts say location is also critical for entrepreneurs.  Four business partners came together to open Uptown Wings.

"We looked at traffic counts, we looked at the fact that it's a hard corner, with all the things that are going on in Uptown, the coming white water rafting, says Uptown Wings Co-Owner Karl Douglass.

One roadblock to starting a small business is getting a loan.  The Federal Reserve says small businesses' demand for loans is increasing.  Meanwhile, lending standards are tighter than there were before the recession, but better than the last three quarters.  So where does that leave someone hoping to open or expand a business?

"It's difficult for start ups that don't have that track record of tax returns that they can show and profits that they can show," says Greg McBride of Bankrate.com.

"Well, I think the climate is improving, but I don't think we're there yet," says Mark Littleton, Vice President of Credit Union Development at TIC Federal Credit Union.

TIC is in the process of opening a business services department so they can make small business loans.  It's also among thousands of credit unions across the country watching pending legislation in Congress that would remove a current cap on how much credit unions can lend.

The owners of Uptown avoided the bank all together and used their own cash.

"If you got it, that's the best way to do it, starting a small business the key is not to get in debt," says Uptown Co-Owner Travis Chambers who also runs a property management and real estate business.

Collier says learning to work with less is the key to having more in the long run.

"We're talking about people that have learned how to operate their lives in a lean fashion and how to be aggressive marketers and how to literally sink or swim."

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