Bill Vickery helps prepare small-business owners for long-term success

Monday, June 18, 2012
Bill Vickery is area director for the Small Business Administration (Fred Lynch)

Bill Vickery is a small-businessman through and through. With a bachelor of science degree in business management, he has more than 25 years of experience in banking, including 10 as a vice president of commercial lending. He was director of the Small Business Technology Development Center at Southeast Missouri State University until about three years ago, when he became area manager for the U.S. Small Business Administration.

When he's not working with clients through the SBA, Vickery is putting his business skills to use with the Southeast Missouri Economic Development Alliance, the Small Business Council for the Cape Girardeau Area Chamber of Commerce, Old Town Cape Economic Restructuring Committee and the SEMO Booster Club -- and, just for fun, he's a member of the SEMO HOG Chapter. Here, Vickery shares his perspective on small business in Southeast Missouri:

Business Today: How do you spend the bulk of your time with the SBA? What's a "typical day" for you?

Bill Vickery: My primary responsibility is to assist the small-business owners in obtaining capital to either start or expand their business. I do this by working with the lenders throughout my 25-county service area to make sure that they are up-to-date on SBA's programs and services so they can optimize their ability to put funding in the hands of the small business owner. I also deliver training to various groups and individuals.

BT: What's unique about the Southeast Missouri business scene?

Vickery: Most of the headlines of economic "gloom and doom" we see in the media are mostly isolated on both coasts and some southern states. Our area has always been conservative in nature and relatively isolated from the big economic swings we hear about.

BT: What's the most important thing for people to learn or know if they're thinking about starting a business?

Vickery: Probably the old Boy Scout motto is the best: Be prepared! Do your homework, put together your business plan and utilize the great training opportunities and other resources we have in the area, such as the Small Business Technology & Development Centers (in Cape and Jackson) and the entrepreneurial training program Operation JumpStart, provided by the Douglas C. Greene Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. In addition, we have a great chamber of commerce that is very proactive in helping keep our small-business owners apprised of trainings offered and also legislative issues that could have an impact on them.

BT: How has the recession changed small-business owners for the short and long term?

Vickery: My opinion is that it has made the business owner a better manager. When things are going well it's easy to sit back and maybe not pay as much attention to things like revenue, expenses and cash flow. However, with a soft economy and margins shrinking due to rising costs and diminishing demand, those who take their eye off of those things may soon find themselves in real trouble.

BT: What's your best advice to aspiring business owners? What about to people who already own a business?

Vickery: In addition to what I mentioned above, I would say don't be afraid to ask questions. Talk with successful individuals, and if you can find someone as a mentor, even better. Get some good partners that will work with you not only in the startup phase but for the long run. I feel these should include an attorney, accountant, insurance agent and banker.

BT: This issue of Business Today features several businesses that have stood the test of time for 25, 65, even 96 years. What do you think it takes for a business to have success and staying power?

Vickery: Obviously these businesses have had to do several things right to survive and remain viable during this time frame. They have paid attention to their market (customers) and their needs and provided the products or services that meet that need. That sounds simple, but too many businesses get too wrapped up in what they "want to sell" and ignore what their customers' needs are. Not only do they have to provide the product, but also deliver it in the manner that their buyer wants. Just look at the way technology has changed the way we do business in the last 25 years. If you can't adapt to the new technology you will be left behind. Competition in most industries is very demanding today and everyone is looking for a way to make themselves stand apart from the "other guy." I bet if you look at the businesses you are referring to here you will find a deep rooted commitment to customer service. There are just too many options for consumers to spend their money, and poor service will close a business's doors today as fast as anything.

BT: What is something you wish more business owners knew about the SBA?

Vickery: SBA has become much more streamlined in its applications and response times than when I was in banking. A complete loan request package submitted today can have an answer back to the lender within seven to 10 days, where in the past you would be speaking in terms of weeks. We have several loan guaranty programs that can be tailored to the borrower's needs that go up to $5,000,000. You note that I state "guaranty programs" and not loan programs. SBA does not make direct loans (except under our disaster program). Instead, depending on the loan amount, we can guarantee up to 85 percent of the loan to the lender and thereby allowing the small business owner to obtain financing that they might not otherwise receive.

But we do much more than just offer guaranty programs on behalf of borrowers. As an example, we can assist businesses that have a need for export assistance, or that want to sell their products or services to the U.S. Government. We have service partners that receive funding from the SBA to assist and promote small business in these areas. Some of these are the Small Business Technology Centers, SCORE, Women's Business Center and the Veteran Business Resource Center.

BT: You work with small businesses at all stages, and in all industries. What's the best part of the job for you?

Vickery: Growing up in Chaffee, Mo., I understand how important small business is to the communities throughout my region. Knowing that I've played a small part in helping small business owners achieve their dreams of either starting a new venture or growing their existing business is very important to me.

BT: What do you like to do in your spare time?

Vickery: I enjoy watching all Southeast University sports and then when I really want to have some fun I take my Harley out for a ride.

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