IN THEIR WORDS: MARGIE SMITH MAKES A DIFFERENCE IN THE FLORIDA KEYS

Margie Smith of the Small Business Development Center describes the services her organization offers to business owners in Key West. KEYS WEEKLY FILE PHOTO

The Small Business Development Center (SBDC) at Florida International University helps small businesses learn and make changes so they can grow, leverage best practices, expertise, and data they have. As a consultant with SBDC in the Florida Keys, Margie Smith, business consultant with SBDC, advocates for diversifying the economy and taking on economic development that works for a fragile ecosystem. She considers herself a change agent supporting our small businesses.

My vast experience provides me with the tools to have a business development slant. My husband, Cale, and I moved to The Keys from Washington, D.C. in 2005 with my first child, Corley. I have a bachelor’s in aviation management and a master’s in public administration with an aviation concentration. Cale received a new opportunity, which led us to move to the Keys, and his father lives in Key West. Cale is now the owner of Islamorada Investment Management.

Being a new mom in a new place, and especially after our second child Layne, I plugged into Keys Kids Play Group, which contributed to helping me connect with this wonderful community of women. 

FIU took over the SBDC in 2014 in Miami first and then the Keys in 2018. I started with the SBDC at FIU in October 2018; shortly after that is when we expanded into the Keys and continued to grow our team. So now, we cover both the Keys and Miami. 

My work experience here in the Keys with United Way, Center State Bank, and being involved in local organizations such as BPW, the Chambers and the Rotaries, help with getting the word out about SBDC at FIU. 

The SBDC is a non-profit partner of the Small Business Administration (SBA) and is a partner with the FIU College of Business. The SBDC was created as a free resource to provide boots on the ground for the SBA. The SBA doesn’t have the bandwidth to provide one-on-one assistance to the small businesses. Other areas of the country have other partners like veterans centers and women’s centers in addition to the SBDC; we don’t have that currently. Nationwide, there are 1,300 small business development centers.

SBDC at FIU has 26 consultants who cover the Keys and Miami. Our financial management team alone has six to seven consultants. We’ve never had as much capacity to help as many businesses as we do now.

The businesses we help vary in size and how long they have existed. They can be anywhere from a startup to one that has been around for 10 years. Some of the areas we help businesses with are social media, branding, capital, federal contracting, 8a, import export, financial planning and business continuity. The service is free and it’s convenient to go to the SBDC at FIU website and use the request for consultation button on the home page. All consultations are kept confidential.

Business continuity is something I have been specifically trained in and it has been essential for business owners in the Keys. It covers the critical, time-sensitive functions in the middle of a disaster. We help businesses come up with a plan to make sure they are able to keep their critical functions going in the middle of a disaster — hurricane, scandal and other situations — that can keep a business from scrambling or stopping. Businesses need to have a plan in place — back-up vendors, plans for essential functions. Unfortunately, a lot of businesses fail because they don’t have a plan. 

People also look to us for advice in selling their business. It’s important to be prepared to have something to sell besides your name. Your business needs to be self-contained —  in other words it can run without you. For example, there needs to be clear branding and a standard operating procedure. These aspects increase the value of the business.

Most commonly people say to us, “I need to understand my finances. I am getting bigger but not more profitable, so I need to understand how to improve.” And sometimes it’s marketing but it could end up being they need help in their financials. Therefore, being a consultant with SBDC at FIU is a very flexible and intuitive role.

Another thing when it comes to business development is social capital. It’s important to build social capital as part of your brand. You often have to be actively involved in your business and the community to get the word out.

In addition to my role as an SBDC consultant, I work on encompassing marketing and training; all the things to get the word out about the services we offer. And the biggest opportunity continues to be letting people know what we offer.

For the Keys, from October 2018 thru the end of 2021 we provided 3,461 hours of consulting, assisted 356 businesses, launched 14 new businesses, accessed $19.1M in capital and secured $2.2M in government contracts.

I have found it super motivating to be part of something that is providing help for dire circumstances and provide support on so many levels. There is a need in our community and our goal is to make you smarter.For further information and to apply for assistance check out www.sbdc.fiu.edu or contact Margie Smith with questions at [email protected]

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Melinda Van Fleet is a sales strategy and success coach/consultant, bestselling author of "Confidence Mastery for Couples and Life & Love Lessons," and speaker. Melinda is the host of two weekly podcasts, "The Good Karma Success Coach" and "Crush It In Sales." You can connect with her more at www.melindavanfleet.com.