City program

Jeanne Honsaker, founder of Free Motion Stretch in Mesa, works with her client, Regan Gunzy. Her health and wellness company thrived with help from Mesa Business Builder, an umbrella program that assists small businesses. (Courtesy of Free Motion Stretch)

Are you frazzled by running a small business? The City of Mesa can help untangle some of the knots.

This fiscal year, the Mesa Business Builder’s Small Business Assistance Program has a budget of $300,000 to help about 100 for-profit businesses. 

Help is available for most aspects of running a business, such as social media, creating a website, learning computer skills, formulating a business plan, financial literacy and even one-on-one support. Applications, available in English and Spanish, are being accepted until next April.

“When you are a small business owner, you wear all the hats: manager, finance person, HR person, everything,” said Kelly Keffer, economic development project manager. 

“Most of these small business people don’t have the background to wear all those hats. So, when we pair them up with these professional advisors, they are able to get advice and assistance.”

Mesa contracts with five organizations that work with the business owners – the Mesa Chamber of Commerce, Prestamos CDFI (a division of Chicanos Por La Causa), Local First Arizona, CO+HOOTS .

Free Motion Stretch, a health and wellness company that provides a special therapy to get optimal results in mobility and pain management, benefitted from the city’s help.

Jeanne Honsaker founded her company in 2019, just six months before Covid-19 hit. She was pushed out from her location and had to reopen elsewhere in 2020. 

She soon noticed that her clientele was growing and as her business grew, Honsaker found she could not cope.

“As a small business owner, everything falls on you. I was the practitioner, the CEO, CFO, HR, marketing department, tech support and customer service. That can be very overwhelming and not for the faint of heart,” she said. 

“I did the best I could, but realized that if I was going to grow as I wanted to, I needed help.”

Honsaker is a typical business owner sought by the Small Business Assistance Program.

The program looks for the smallest businesses, or “micropreneurs”— the mom-and-pops, the main street businesses, the solopreneurs and the businesses that have fewer than five employees.

Mesa’s Economic Development team, which has many programs under the Mesa Business Builder program, found that many of these micropreneurs didn’t have the know-how to obtain help when they really needed it. 

Mesa administered $4.5 million worth of federal aid to businesses struggling under the pandemic.  The city also offered a technical assistance program that helped with professional consulting services to better prepare them to compete in today’s marketplace.

“The real small ones didn’t know how to even fill up that bank application,” Keffer said. “The city realized that these businesses were falling through the cracks and they weren’t getting any help and they were in real dire straits.” 

In 2020, Honsaker received help in social media branding, social media and guidance to improve her website for Free Motion Stretch. She also learned about search engine optimization to compete better with national companies.

“I immediately saw an increase in clients after that first assistance award,” she said. 

Last year, she received another grant that enabled her to revamp her website and improve her business plan. This enabled her to expand her studio, hire a second practitioner and double her monthly revenue.

So far, Mesa has helped 250 small businesses with about $1 million worth of technical assistance.

Honsaker said she was “incredibly grateful” to the city, which helped her “save thousands of dollars.” 

“I can understand providing funding for mid-sized businesses that have more employees or a larger presence, but to fund a small business like mine means more than I can put into words,” she said. “It has allowed us to help our clients, and the more clients we can help, the better.”  

With feedback such as this, the city’s leadership decided to continue the program for small businesses by providing these consulting professional services.

Mesa, which has a population of around 500,000, has more than 12,000 businesses that run the gamut from hair stylists to Boeing and everything in between, including techpreneurs, tech startups and boutique restaurants.

“The pandemic really put a stoplight on the fact that roughly 40 to 48 percent of all jobs come from small businesses,” Keffer said. “That’s a pretty big important factor in the local economy.”

Mesa’s commitment to for-profit businesses is noteworthy, said Keffer, who has worked in servicing small businesses for 17 years. “Cities just typically don’t do that,” she said. 

So, what’s in it for the city? Many people support their families with small businesses and they employ others who support their families, Keffer said. 

“Overall, we have a more diverse selection of products and services when we have a more diverse business space,” she added. “From our perspective, it is important to see our small business community be strong, vibrant and continue to grow.”

Details: selectmesa.com/business-environment/mesa-business-builder

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