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Giving Small Businesses a Leg Up

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Photo by Tessi Juario.

When you’re a small business owner on Molokai, it can be a challenge to find time to gain enterprise know-how and inspiration. A businesses conference last week brought it all together in one place for one day, with speakers specializing in technology, taxes, customer service, business planning and other topics.

“In 2014, we had 333 registered businesses on Molokai,” said Jennifer Hawkins, small business advocate at Molokai’s Kuha`o Business Center, which spearheaded the event under Maui County’s Office of Economic Development. “When you walk down the street, you don’t see 333 businesses. Some may have dissolved by now, some may have grown. But what that tells me is we have a lot of home-based businesses.”

Owners of those home-based businesses came out to learn the tricks of the trade at the second annual “Doing Business with Aloha” workshop. More than 50 attendees participated in the day-long conference held at the UH Maui Community College Molokai campus last Wednesday.

For some, the conference helped them take the leap to from side business to full self-employment. Sammi Kaai-Calairo said her five-year-old T-shirt printing business, Molokai Grafx T-Shirts, was something she had done in her spare time while holding down a full-time job.

“I’m going self-employed,” she said. “It’s a leap of faith…. This conference is helping me understand the steps I gotta do to go global.”

She said speaker Helen Wai’s story was particularly motivating for her. Wai, an Oahu-based Native Hawaiian business consultant, shared her personal experiences from being broke to building a million dollar business without a college degree, said Kaai-Calairo.

“It’s inspiring to see how it’s possible,” she said. “It encourages me as a business owner surviving on Molokai and knowing there are steps I can take to build a sustainable business.”

Kala`e Tangonan, who turned her art into a business and storefront last year, said she liked the networking opportunities the event offered.

“You can see who in the community is [also in business],” she said. “It helps to see who else is doing the same things — we’re all in it together.”

Tangonan said she found speaker Mckenna Hallet, a Maui consultant with 50 years of experience in sales and marketing, especially interesting.

“[She taught] total email marketing,” said Tangonan of the presentation she feels will help take Kupu A`e to the next level through an online presence. “She presented it in a different light.”

Hawkins said this year’s conference featured online registration and attracted interest from all over the U.S. One attendee came all the way from Washington for the opportunity. Hawkins said through local entrepreneurs attending mainland conferences and business exchanges, people are following Molokai as a small, Native Hawaiian community and are interested in “how we’re doing things.”

“Here on Molokai, we’re down to the bare necessities,” explained Hawkins. “We have what it takes to survive, but we don’t have a lot more than that. In order for business to thrive, we’ve got to take business to the next level, but not at a big expense to our business owners.”

Sherman Napoleon of Lohea Audio, who said his sound system enterprise borders between hobby and business, explained that the conference helped attendees define and refine those two categories and determine if your business is actually making money. He said it also assisted with knowledge like pricing, tax legalities and ways to get financing.

“Today has been awesome!” said Kaai-Calairo. “I was going to stay half a day but I stayed all day. It brought it all together in one location.”

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