Home Advertising Small businesses seek, find advice at mini-conference

Small businesses seek, find advice at mini-conference

TYNGSBORO — Small business leaders from three communities came together to hear advice on retaining employees through health benefits, digital marketing strategies and cash flow management.

The Big Ideas for Small Business mini-conference, held Sept. 19 at Old Town Hall in Tyngsboro, drew more than 30 participants in addition to conference sponsors.

The mini-conference was the result of a collaboration among those charged with business and economic development in Chelmsford, Dracut and Tyngsboro. Each had a chance to tout how their own town is doing to attract and support new businesses.

Before introducing the first speaker, Tyngsboro Town Planner Eric Salerno drew attention to the entertainment and hospitality businesses opening along Middlesex Road, the two breweries — one of them not yet open — in town, and the 1 million square feet of space that received in the last year.

Steve Mallette, owner and founder of New England Medical Insurance Agency in Chelmsford, told attendees that he has more than 40 years of experience acting as a broker and consultant to businesses about employee health insurance.

Businesses with fewer than 11 employees have no requirement to offer a health plan. Those with more employees need to hold and maintain many documents. For example, employees can waive health insurance coverage, but he said, “You must have a waiver. They must sign it,” Mallette said.

The same is true for the various kinds of health benefits an employer might choose: Health maintenance organizations, preferred provider organizations, health savings accounts, health reimbursement arrangements, cafeteria plans and others. Once again, the employer must have documents, Mallette said.

At the end of Mallette’s presentation, Lisa Marrone, director of business development in Chelmsford, noted the 1 million square feet of office space that received permits this year and the town’s AAA bond rating.

She was followed by Susu Wong, founder and chief marketing strategist at Tomo360 in Lowell, who talked about the “three pillars of small business marketing.”

Digital marketing is a $223 billion business, Wong said. She explained, “People don’t like to read. They like to watch videos.” And, of course, social media and email must be part of a digital strategy.

Dan Phelps, economic development director in Dracut, called it a vibrant community. Dracut has no easy access to any highway. Thus, Dracut will have trouble attracting a big box store, and so is focusing on smaller retail establishments and entertainment. The tax rate, Phelps said, is “the lowest around.” Dracut does not have a split tax rate as many communities do, so commercial entities are taxed at the same rate as homeowners.

Two speakers from Community Teamwork Inc. concluded the conference. Charles Smith, director of the Lowell Entrepreneurship Center, and Amanda Camerano, the center’s business coach/microloan program coordinator, talked about accountability for finances.

Smith highlighted some of what is available at the center, including confidential business advice, workshops and capital for small businesses. The center has worked with 966 clients, he said.

Camerano said her microloan program can fund up to $50,000.

Such small businesses as Tyngsboro Self Storage, Modest Roots Brewing Co., Parlee Farms, Dadiala Family Dentistry and Hammar Art Studio had representatives at the conference. Several vendors, including L’Hussier Insurance, V.I.S.E. Bridge Financial Services and Enterprise Bank, were available for business owners to talk with before and after the speakers.

This recent mini-conference will likely not be the last. The three organizers want to plan another one for next year.