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MN Mentors helps businesses stay afloat
Feb. 14, 2011
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By Starrla Cray
Staff Writer

WRIGHT, McLEOD, CARVER, MEEKER, MN – Successful business owners know that it pays to work smarter, not harder – especially in tough economic times.

One way people are working smarter is through Minnesota Mentors, a group of seven small business owners turned college business professors.

“Over 90 percent of the businesses that have been through my program have made it five years or longer,” said Minnesota Mentor Duane Hoversten.

According to the US Small Business Administration, typically only about half of new firms survive past the five-year mark.

Minnesota Mentors (provided through the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities System) specializes in coaching small business owners to maximize their business potential.

A free, expert-led Minnesota Mentors seminar sponsored by Herald Journal Publishing will take place Thursday, Feb. 24 from 3 to 5 p.m. at B’s on the River, 1455 County Road 27 in Watertown.

Business owners who attend will learn about the latest business trends, marketing strategies, emerging technologies, and more.

For more information or to register, contact Herald Journal at (320) 485-2535, e-mail cheri@heraldjournal.com, or register online at www.heraldjournal.com/mentors.

Space is limited, so participants are encouraged to register early.

Expert advice
Hoversten has been mentoring small business owners for the past 18 years. Before that, he owned profitable companies in various Minnesota locations.

“All of us are former business owners,” Hoversten said. “We’re not talking about what’s in a textbook.”

The other six Minnesota Mentors include Dan Sprague, Dr. Scott Taylor, Chad Ouderkerk, Dr. Deb Munstermen, Jay Bock, and Duane Krueger.

“I love the teaching part,” Hoversten said. “It’s so fun to see businesses succeed.”

Success stories
Hoversten recalled one client who was on the verge of closing his business. Although the company had been keeping busy, the owner hadn’t been keeping up with invoices, and was running out of money as a result.

“In that case, it was a very simple fix,” Hoversten said. “Sometimes, when you’re under so much pressure, it’s hard to see the obvious. To see them today, and how well they’re doing now, that is wonderful.”

Another memorable client was the owner of a landscaping company.

“He had been running the company for 17 years, hardly making any money,” Hoversten said.

The owner worked hard every day, spending time on the job sites with his 10 or 11 employees.

“No one was really running the company,” Hoversten explained. “I wanted him to manage the business.”

Hoversten helped the owner transition his business model, and it made a dramatic impact on the company’s profit margin.

“The first year, he made over $100,000, without hiring any additional employees,” Hoversten said.

The improved management techniques also took pressure off the owner, giving him the freedom to work from home for some of the day.

“He thanks us all the time for changing not only his business, but his life,” Hoversten said.

Convenient classes
Minnesota Mentors typically targets businesses that have 50 employees or fewer.

It’s much less expensive than working with an independent consultant, and there are a variety of resources available, according to Hoversten.

Classes are offered online, giving business owners the flexibility to learn without driving to a college campus. Participants are able to interact as a class or form small discussion groups.

“All of our classes are recorded, so people can listen to them later if they’re not able to make it,” Hoversten said, adding that this feature has been extremely helpful for business owners with unpredictable schedules.

“We’re taking advantage of all the technology that’s out there, which allows us to meet with more people in a day,” Hoversten said. “It also makes it more convenient for the business owner.”

A bright outlook
The economic downturn has resulted in tough decisions for many business owners, such as downsizing and pay cuts.

“We learned some things the past couple years none of use ever hoped to learn about,” Hoversten said.

Despite challenges, however, Hoversten is optimistic about the future of small business.

“Those that survived are going to do really well as they come out of this,” he said. “They’ve learned how to run their companies on less.”

The economy has also “weeded out” less viable companies, making room for new growth in other areas.

Small businesses (those with fewer than 500 employees) represent 99.7 percent of all employer firms, according to the Minnesota Mentors website.

“The small companies are, right now, the backbone of where jobs are at,” Hoversten said, adding that 80 percent of all employment in the next few years is expected to come from employers of 10 people or fewer.

In 2010, 600,000 new businesses were started in Minnesota, Hoversten said.

“If someone is thinking about forming a business, or has a business, Minnesota Mentors can really help them,” Hoversten said.

To learn more, go to www.sbmprogram.com/classes or e-mail duane.hoversten@southcentral.edu.

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