No Bailout for Small Businesses … But How About Help With Planning?

Government has a role to play other than bailing out business.

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So everybody in power talks about helping small business but, seriously, how do they do that? The presidential election is over. The plumber is back under the sink. Small business is back out of the spotlight. Things go back to normal. In my business—20 years old, 40+ employees—we're back to watching our numbers. We tend our own garden.

Everything's back to normal, that is, except that we've got an economic perfect storm going: Banks are short, people are scared, layoffs everywhere, house values dropping, and so on.

So I don't know how government really boosts small business. Sure, I have my opinions. Obviously we need the banks to start lending money again, and let's hope the new administration restores the Small Business Administration because, when it's out there guaranteeing loans, it does a lot of good. That's just common knowledge. And this is just me, but I'm not worried about supposed tax hikes or healthcare costs in the next administration because I'd like having profits over $250K (what I call a high class problem) and we give our employees a lot more in healthcare than the government requires. We think every business should.

But how about this for a specific example: The city government of Myrtle Creek, Ore., is helping its small businesses do better business planning. And it's helping would-be business start-ups do business planning, too.

I was there last week. Myrtle Creek is a pleasant town of about 3,500 people, just a bridge away from the interstate that runs along the West Coast from Canada to Mexico, about three hours south of Portland, about three hours north of the California border. The main street in Myrtle Creek, by the way, is named Main Street. That's not metaphor; it's on the maps.

I talked to City Manager Aaron Cubic and Deputy Planning Manager John Lazur, who came up with the idea. What they said was they wanted to help the local businesses somehow, and business planning seemed like a good idea.

Joining the program is easy. Anybody in Myrtle Creek who wants to join just fills out a one-page application. Applicants don't even have to have the business already up and running; even wanting to start one is reason enough. It costs the city less than $100 per person. And maybe it will help.

I should add, however, that I'm biased. I'm a business planner. They're giving out software I helped to write. Furthermore, I was there to give the business planning workshop, and I enjoyed the town and the people thoroughly. Still, biased or not, given that they can't just bail everybody out, isn't this one good step in the right direction? 

Tim Berry is president and founder of Palo Alto Software, founder of bplans.com, and a cofounder of Borland International. He teaches starting a business at the University of Oregon. He is the author of books and software including Business Plan Pro, published by Palo Alto Software, and The Plan-As-You-Go Business Plan, published by Entrepreneur Press. He has a Stanford M.B.A. and degrees with honors from the University of Oregon and the University of Notre Dame. He blogs at Planning Startup Stories and Up and Running.