Small businesses get help off the ground with new Hillsborough County program

It’s hard getting a business off the ground when you’re first starting out as an entrepreneur, so the Hillsborough County Small Business Development Center is helping people learn what they need to know to work for themselves and be successful. 

Registration is open through Friday for the county’s self-employment workshop program, which takes aspiring business owners through the ins and out of running a business. Stephanie Matthews was one of the program’s first students last spring, opening her notary business, Keep It Simple Signings in Sulphur Springs.

"I saw that the need was great. There were a lot of people who were doing refinances and mortgage companies needed people who were confident in their knowledge," said Matthews.

But she didn’t start off as a notary full-time. 

"I was working at a full service salon, and I wanted something to offer my clients. So I said well I’ll become a notary and that way if there’s something that needs to be done it’s a one-stop shop," she said.

Matthews ran a Tampa hair salon until the pandemic hit. Unsure how to stay afloat, she signed up for the three-month program.

"We start off with helping them to understand that entrepreneurial mindset, so they know how entrepreneurs have to think, what they should be thinking of because lot of the roses and glory is what people see. But they don’t see the hard work that goes behind that," said Carol Minor, the center director for Hillsborough County’s Small Business Development Center. "They learn about the business plan. They learn about bookkeeping. We have a marketing class, so they understand that everyone is not your target market and how to target market."

Minor said the county started the program to help those unemployed or underemployed by the pandemic.

"If they come in and they decide to be a business owner like Stephanie, they’re doing well. If they come in and learn this stuff and say it’s not for me, then they’ve done well. Either way, it helps them to understand what’s needed to be a successful business owner," said Minor.

Matthews graduated last June and displays her certificate in her Nebraska Avenue office. A year after starting the first class, she notices a difference.

"I maybe went from doing five to seven signings to maybe doing 10 to 20 signings a day," said Matthews. "I’m all in, and I have a plan to grow myself over the next five years into an establishment that will hopefully not be just in this community but other parts of the city as well."

The March course will be all online. Minor said the next round of courses will be this fall, and program leaders hope that will be a hybrid online and in-person workshop.