Laura Fine on Keeping Small Businesses from Missing the Market

Laura Fine joined the Arkansas Small Business & Technology Development Center in 1989. She received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Central Arkansas in 1987 and a master’s from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock in 1994. Fine has served on the Accreditation Committee (2011-13) and the Operations Committee (2015-present) of America’s Small Business Development Centers, the national association of Small Business Development Centers.

Last year, Fine was named state director of the ASBTDC by Jane Wayland, the dean of business at UA-Little Rock.

Please describe what the ASBTDC does.
We help Arkansans start and grow businesses. ASBTDC delivers high-quality events, market research and one-on-one consulting to assist current and prospective business owners. Our consultants work with entrepreneurs in confidential sessions to help them with a range of business issues, including business planning, identifying and targeting new markets, developing funding proposals and more. We work with small businesses in all industries in every corner of the state.

Describe a couple of ASBTDC success stories.
On a roll winning federal research funding with a hand from ASBTDC, Ozark IC is a Fayetteville-based company that develops circuits using materials that allow electronics to function in extreme environments like space or deep under the earth. With ASBTDC’s proposal review and advanced market research help, Ozark IC won multiple grants and contracts from agencies such as NASA and the Department of Defense. The research dollars will advance the commercialization of the company’s cutting-edge technology, helping grow Arkansas’ economy.

The Pharmacy at Wellington in Little Rock was started by young pharmacists who left the big chains because they were convinced they could serve patients better at a locally owned pharmacy. It has three experienced pharmacists, and this business excels at customer service in a highly competitive market. Its personal service, free delivery and extended hours set it apart from the competition.

ASBTDC worked with these clients during the concept phase of their businesses, providing market research and analysis, helping them define their trade area, choose a business location and create marketing strategies. The detailed market analysis in their business plans was a big hit with their lenders.

What are the top three qualities of a successful entrepreneur?
While many qualities propel successful entrepreneurs, my top three are 1) decisiveness, able to make decisions quickly and effectively; 2) competitiveness, driven to have the best product or service and win the most customers; and 3) passion, loving what you do so much that you are willing to put in the long hours.

What’s the biggest misunderstanding people have about starting their own business?
Knowing your customers. Without them, there is no business. Business is about understanding and meeting customer needs. Customers should be the basis for making decisions about location, pricing and marketing. Knowing and identifying target markets and customers is a priority for any business owner.

Because everyone is not a customer, ASBTDC has extensive market research resources to assist businesses with identifying and learning more about their target customers.

What was your biggest professional mistake and what did you learn from it?
We had a strategic goal to create an online learning platform that was beyond the scope of our resources. The project limped along way too long before I finally called a halt to it. Continuing with the project not only led to frustration, but missed opportunities. I learned to be more flexible with adjustments to our strategic plan.