Last updated: June 01. 2013 7:49AM - 249 Views
Dylan Lightfoot
Staff Writer

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Since May, 2010, the Ashe County Chamber of Commerce has offered free business consulting services to startups and going concerns alike, with valuable mentorship on tap from a board of retired business executives who volunteer their time as a resource to small business owners.

According to George Hayworth, coordinator of Ashe County Business Consulting Services, no one is biting lately.

“We’re perplexed that we’ve had no requests,” said Hayworth, a retired mortgage banker. “We know we aren’t being utilized.”

Serving 53 clients since its founding, ACBCS saw only eight new clients in 2012, and none since October. The board plans to meet next week to explore possible reasons for the slow-down, and brainstorm ways to kick-start their effort for 2013, he said.

Hayworth and the nine other consultants of ACBCS bring to bear a broad range of business experience, and try to pair individual business owners with the best consultant for their specific needs. Their mission is to give completely confidential advice on all aspects of business operation, from planning and marketing to personnel management and inventory control.

The two biggest problems small businesses face are raising working capital and generating customer traffic, with the former preventing some from venturing into business at all, Hayworth said.

Other clients come to ACBCS and leave discouraged by a tall order of recommendations. Hayworth clarifies that he and his colleagues are not an errand service, but an advisory panel.

“We can’t do it for you,” he said.

The ACBCS has its share of success stories.

Jody Sloan, who’s At Your Service Personal Concierge serves three counties out of her Fleetwood home, said her mentor helped her find simple solutions to a complicated price structure for the numerous services she provides.

“Just the encouragement they offered was good,” said Sloan. “It’s like having a personal trainer.”

Her mentor emails her regularly to check in, and sends business her way when opportunity arises, she said.

Julie McGunegle, proprietor of West Jefferson Coffee House had been in business for five years when the economy went south. Her mentor advised her on ways to optimize her pricing that helped her stay in business, she said.

McGunegle didn’t try go with every recommendation, she said, but got the most out of the consultation following what advice seemed right for her business.

She, also, values the ongoing relationship. “They stay with you a long time,” she said.

The Chamber partners with ACBCS to offer better member services, but business owners do not have to be members to take advantage of consultation services, Hayworth said.

To learn how Ashe County Business Consulting Services can help your business, contact Ashe County Chamber of Commerce Director Cabot Hamilton at 336-846-9550 or by email at director@ashechamber.com.

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