Rick Paul calls himself a serial entrepreneur at heart.
After graduating from the University of North Florida, he started and ran a small community newspaper in Jacksonville.
"Being an entrepreneur is a lot of fun. Starting a business is like putting together a picture puzzle, but on the box, there's no picture. You have to put together many different parts with only a rough idea of how they come together, what it is going to look like, and how to make it your own when you are done." Paul said, "But when it comes together, it is great."
After selling his paper and receiving a graduate degree, Paul now works at helping others put together the puzzle of starting a new business.
A business consultant for the UNF's Small Business Development Center or SBDC, Paul's job is to guide Palatka and Putnam County residents through the steps of becoming successful entrepreneurs.
"Our mission statement is to help small businesses start, grow, and succeed because when that occurs, then the business owner is going to hire employees. And when they hire employees, the old saying is it raises the economic tide for everybody. Remember that America wasn't built on Wall Street; it was built on Main Street," said Paul.
For Paul, Palatka is the perfect place for small businesses.
"I think it's safe to say 98% of Palatka's businesses are small businesses, which is fantastic. Small businesses are the bedrock of the American economic engine. You go out on your own to do something that you want to do and be your own boss. But you're not out to get rich. What you're out to do is to earn a reasonable living." said Paul, "And then as business gets better, you hire someone else and grow the business and then someone else, etc. That is the American dream."
But Paul reminds people that starting a business can be challenging.
"There are a lot of things to know and do in starting and owning a business. There are a lot of steps like licensing, incorporation, taxes, real estate, and employee issues that you have to navigate." he said, "Decisions you make before you open your doors can mean success or failure. There are 1000 to 2000 decisions you have to make to set up a business. And what I do is I help guide the person through all those steps."
The SBDC helps guide hopeful new business owners through preliminary steps like writing a business plan, dealing with licensing and regulatory issues, and finding professional legal and financial advice.
And Paul and the SBDC do that at no cost to the hopeful business owner. His services are paid for by the City of Palatka, Putnam County, and the State of Florida.
"Most small business startups have about a 40 to 50% chance of succeeding. But if you have professional help, like through the Small Business Development Center, then your success rate is closer to 85%.," said Paul, "That is why we are here."
"Every business that becomes a viable entity will eventually pay taxes, employ people who pay taxes, provide services to citizens, make the city stronger, and raise the economic tide for everybody. Having a thriving small business community is a win for everyone."
The Small Business Development Center is a national program and has offices in all 50 US states, but to see Paul in Palatka, you must be a Putnam County resident.