STAMFORD, Conn. -- As an expert adviser for the Connecticut Small Business Development Center, Stamford’s Tony Peters works with entrepreneurs to help their businesses grow.
He speaks from experience. Peters launched two successful startups in totally unrelated fields, and shares his knowledge in building those companies with Connecticut entrepreneurs looking to do the same.
Peters drove job creation by mixing public incentives and private investment, and brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to the Small Business Development Center.
“This was an opportunity to work with small businesses to create opportunities for growth,’’ said Peters, who joined the state organization last year. “When this situation came up, it was a real world opportunity to utilize skills and training I’ve had over the years. It was a real world lab, as opposed to a theoretical classroom.”
Peters does a bit of everything as an adviser for the Center. He advises business on how they can grow faster, acquire resources and increase sales. “It’s basically a jobs program,’’ he said. “We bring whatever we can. Sometimes we’re cheerleaders. Sometimes we tell people don’t quit your day job. We perform a number of roles to help businesses move to the next level.”
Peters works with about 70 clients and a broad range of businesses. One of his clients has nearly 100 employees, while others have only a handful.
The Small Business Development Center has 13 advisers throughout the state. Peters and other advisers offer their services for free.
Businesses can seek out advisors through GrowCT.com , and the organization also gets leads through trade shows, business incubators, chambers of commerce, banks, development groups and referrals. The SBDC also works with the University of Connecticut, which provides interns to work with clients.
“Advisers are selected based on geography and expertise,’’ Peters said. “Each business is different. Sometimes I may talk to a client several times a day. Other clients don’t require that degree of touch time. At the very least, I try to stay in touch with them at least once a quarter.”
Peters’ path in building his golf apparel company, New Attitude , proves how business can be whimsical. “We hit every speed bump in the road in that business,’’ Peters said. “Fortunately, none of them were fatal.”
Peters had “zero” experience in the apparel business. But through a network of local contacts, good timing and shrewd decisions, the company blossomed. Ernst & Young named Peters the Entrepreneur of the Year in 2001.
“The growth of this business shows you don’t have to go out and spend a gazillion dollars to be successful,’’ Peters said. “There’s a lot of things you can take advantage of to promote your business. You don’t have to spend a lot of money on fancy equipment. You need to keep a laser focus on your clients, and a vice grip on expenses.”
Even if a client makes all the right moves, business success might not follow. Peters advises his clients to be realistic about their plans and goals.
“Some people will mortgage their home and go out on the street because they believe in their business,’’ Peter said. “I ask them just because you like it, what makes you think other people will like it?’ You have to be blunt with them. We have to be good sounding boards and give frank feedback. I always tell clients be wary of the three F’s -- family, friends and fools. They’ll only tell you what you want to hear. You have to get outside that circle.”
Click here for more information about the Small Business Development Centers of Connecticut.
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