Idea Cafe talks to business expert Jim Tracy

Please tell us a bit about yourself. When did your passion for working with small businesses start? Jim Tracy, 43, married, two sons, President of America's Best Companies, educated with a degree in Chemistry from Loyola University.

The passion for working with small businesses started when I was nine or ten and my father started a small plumbing company. I watched him experience the highs and lows of building and maintaining a small business. I was destined in life to build my career around helping small businesses. It was easy for me to identify with their needs.

Jim Tracy-- The Man Behind the Mission

Jim Tracy is the President and Founder of ABC, which was established in 2006.

A graduate of Loyola University Chicago (1987), Jim served as senior vice president of National Translink Corporation and over a span of 10 years worked with thousands of entrepreneurs and small business owners looking to grow their businesses and reach more customers.

Over the years Jim had witnessed countless small businesses going out of business as a result of heightened competition from big corporations and online retailers. This led to the inspiration in creating America's Best Companies. Jim strives to bring the issues of the small business owner to the forefront, while leading a dedicated and professional staff working to make a difference for the small business community.

Why did you create America's Best Companies? What are you working on at the moment, and what can we expect from ABC in the coming months?

I felt something was missing in America. There was a very good, specialized effort from associations and local chamber groups, but no single source for all small business needs. At ABC, we are constantly adding benefits. We are adding more discount programs, making improvements in our magazine, developing a better local search experience at ezlocal.com and adding health and dental benefits. In addition, we are creating a podcast, advertising on radio, and adding 2,000 salespeople through our new job website at work4abc.com.

In the video presentation on your website, you call small business owners "the heartbeat of America," and this, at least to me, implies a social role in addition to the economic aspects of small business. Would you agree with my interpretation?

Yes; without small businesses, there will be no sense of "community" in any town.

What are your thoughts on the importance of small businesses for the overall health of the economy?

Small business, in my opinion, is the key to a thriving economy. It keeps money in America and in the local communities which is the key to economic development. Besides, every big business started as a small one.

Where should entrepreneurs look for inspiration and the energy to continue pushing ahead every day?

There are countless success stories to look at for inspiration and within every community, there are business owners that have survived two or three recessions. I have always been a proponent of the creation of a "Mastermind Group" of business owners in every community. This group should meet once or twice a month to share concerns and ideas.

Do you have some practical advice about doing business in a slowing economy?

Service, service, service. I'll say it again; service your customers and they will remain loyal. Also, be creative in your marketing efforts.

Is the internet changing things for small businesses? What about social media?

Yes, a business owner must have a website regardless of their product or service. If they want to attract any new customers under the age of 30, they must be found on the internet. That's why we created myABCspace.com for our members. It's a simple, one page website, but it gets them found by new customers. Social media creates the opportunity to truly engage our audience like never before. We communicate and market now in ways that wouldn't have been possible otherwise. We're able to connect with consumers, give advice and even offer inspiration to the small business community.

Idea Cafe is currently running a cash grant campaign for the best small business idea. Do you think such an initiative is useful? What would you say to our participants, by way of encouragement?

Absolutely, we have been looking to offer some cash grants ourselves.

Anything worth having is worth working for!

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