A week before Christmas, Kerstin Dohle visited her local Small Business Development Center (SBDC) to gain information about starting a small business. She had been offered an opportunity to buy into a specialty retail clothing store, but the window of opportunity was narrow. She only had a week to do due diligence and raise the financing, and the seller wanted a $5,000 good-faith fee plus remaining inventory at cost.
“I wanted to research the fee and inventory and other aspects of the business before I talked to the seller again,” she said. “I didn’t want my lack of knowledge to show.”
Within a week, Dohle had met with a SBDC director, who arranged an hour-long appointment with a certified public accountant, a half-hour appointment with a local business attorney and a follow-up visit to discuss the details. All consultation was provided at no cost. Even though the business deal fell through, she was satisfied with the end result.
“I never knew these services were available,” she confided. “Getting professional advice made all the difference in making the right decision. Now that I know more about how it all works, I can take my time and consider creating or buying another business.”
Within the last three years, Mississippi Small Business Development Center (MSBDC) counselors have helped create 2,857 new jobs statewide. In 2005 alone, MSBDC-assisted businesses reported more than $880 million in sales.
Last year, MSBDC counselors spent 11,027 hours counseling 2,984 clients and hosted 522 workshops for 1,320 people.
In response to Hurricane Katrina, MSBDC received 1,188 telephone calls for assistance via its tollfree number, made counseling available at 28 locations, which were manned partially by 43 out-of-state certified business counselors. Those counselors serviced 1,006 requests for assistance and guidance for a total of 974 hours.
The Mississippi Business Journal asked MSBDC state director Doug Gurley for more information about the many services offered to budding entrepreneurs and established small business owners by the 25-year-old organization that is accredited by the Association of Small Business Development Centers.
Mississippi Business Journal: What services do you provide for people seeking to launch a business and those with an existing business?
Doug Gurley: The MSBDC network provides a variety of services to more than 10,000 small businesses every year. Through its qualified and certified business counselors, MSBDC provides free management and technical assistance via confidential one-on-one counseling, training and information services to pre-venture (those thinking about going into business), start-up and existing businesses to help them develop, grow, expand and become prosperous.
Resources are available to assist in business plan development, market analysis, capital sources, location, technology transfer, innovation development, federal grant information and other managerial and technical support services. Information is also available at our Web site, www.olemiss.edu/depts/mssbdc, or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by calling (800) 725-7232 (Mississippi only).
MBJ: Tell us more about MSBDC’s role in providing professional consultation services.
DG: Attorneys and CPAs do help with some of our training events. However, we currently do not recommend or suggest that a client use a particular attorney or CPA. That is a client’s privilege to find one that best suits their needs. A most important concept behind the SBDCs is that they have a network of people that are highly trained in various skills in running a business. We are not all experts in every field, but if the client needs help, rest assured it can be found. The best part of all of this is that it’s free.
MBJ: Can you give us a typical step-by-step timeline for those wanting to launch a new business?
DG: The time required to start a new business varies because of several factors. Among these are the type of business, complexity of the venture, experience of the entrepreneur and sources of funding. Accordingly, there is no typical timeline. There is a series of steps nearly all new businesses must take (see checklist), which is part of the First Steps Workshop we offer at all of (our) centers.
While there is no precise timeline, it’s safe to say the entrepreneur will save time and effort and enhance chances for success by using the counseling and training services provided by the MSBDC.
MBJ: Do you help determine the value of an existing business or property that someone might want to purchase?
DG: Determining the value of a privately or closely held business is a difficult and often emotional process. There are, however, sources of data and valuation rules of thumb to which we can refer our clients. In addition, there are private valuation services available for nominal fees. Regardless of information and valuation sources, at the end of the day, the value will be result of negotiation between the seller and buyer.
MBJ: What sort of special services or programs are you offering victims of Katrina? What about help with guiding people through the provisions of the GO Zone Act?
DG: The Mississippi Small Business Development Centers and 43 volunteer counselors from other states were among the first responders to the victims of the hurricane. Working with our resource partners — Association of Small Business Development Centers, Intuit, FedEx, U.S. Small Business Administration, FEMA, Mississippi Development Authority, chambers of commerce and Hancock Bank — we established a series of Business Assistance Centers where over 1,000 small business clients received assistance in preparing applications for physical damage and economic injury disaster loan programs. In addition, our Gulf Coast and other Small Business Development Centers have provided continuing counseling and workshop training programs for new, emerging and recovery businesses.
Among the more needed training programs:
• First Steps: How to Start a New Business
• Procurement: Selling to the Government
• Business Loan Express Loan Program
• Gulf Coast Opportunity Loan Program (GO Loan)
Later this month, our key people in the GO Zone will attend a series of meetings regarding the GO Zone. The information obtained will be made available to our clients through our continuing counseling and training activities. Our MSBDC organization will be there for as long as it takes to rebuild.
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at Lynne.Jeter@gmail.com.