Austin is home to about 26,000 small businesses with fewer than 20 employees, and the city has launched a website geared toward helping residents' locally owned businesses, said Preston Stewart, the project manager from the city's Small Business Development Program.
Stewart said based on the feedback he has gotten from business owners, they really love the website because having an online directory directs people to local stores.
“It opens the discussion of why that's important,” he said.
The SBDP provides support and services for small businesses throughout their life cycles by offering classes, one-on-one counseling and a center with resources. SBDP has been in existence for 10 years.
The idea for a database of locally owned businesses came from a City Council initiative several years ago of having a map and directory of less-visible businesses. Several discussions took place, and Stewart said the best platform was an online map. Initially, he said the SBDP targeted less-visible areas with a high concentration of small businesses, such as North Loop Boulevard, West Lynn Street, Manor Road and East 11th Street.
“We used that as a jumping-off point before we opened it citywide,” he said.
A couple of years ago the SBDP launched Explore Local Austin, but the city migrated the database to a new platform and recently relaunched it as LocallyAustin.org. In the next couple of months, the city plans to launch a mobile app with more features, such as locating what businesses are near a user.
Stewart said business owners are able to claim their listing, or add their business if it is not listed, and add a description, business hours, a photo and links to their website, Facebook page or other social media sites.
About about one-third to half of the small businesses in Austin either do not have or maintain a website, and many larger chain stores appear at the top of Internet searches, he said. The more businesses on the directory, the better, he said.
“It will only be as good as the listings on there,” Stewart said.
Residents who want to support locally owned businesses will also find the tool useful, he said, as well as visitors.
“They want to see the unique, weird side of Austin they hear about,” Stewart said.
The business directory allows users to search for a specific type of business such as “pizza” or “shoes,” or find businesses under categories, which include nightlife, retail and shopping, arts and entertainment, and beauty and spas.
Blair Smith, co-owner of self-serve dog wash business Dirty Dog, said the website is proof of why Austin is one of the top places to start a business. Dirty Dog has five locations in Austin and one in Lakeway.
“[LocallyAustin.org] is a great example of the City of Austin, and specifically the Small Business Development Program, and their support of small businesses in Austin,” she said.
Smith said the site is easy to navigate, and she appreciates the fact that she can add links to Dirty Dog's website and Facebook page. She said she is thankful for the city's support.
“Marketing and advertising obviously is one of the most expensive facets of small business,” she said. “Any support we can get helps.”