How to succeed in biz by really, really trying

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Published: January 21,2008

There won’t be any P.T. (physical training) or close-order drill (marching) but the upcoming Small Business Boot Camp will provide plenty of challenge.

The 12-week program offered under the tutelage of the state’s northeast region of the Small Business Development Center will immerse 40 would-be entrepreneurs and existing business owners in what it takes to make it in the world of business. And if the regional undertaking is successful, look for it to be repeated in other parts of Mississippi.

The price cannot be beat: Free. Consequently, the 40 slots filled quickly; as of mid-January, at least 20 were on the waiting list.

“We are so happy, we can’t believe it,” reports Frank Wiebe, an SBDC counselor and one of the four presenters, dubbed mentors, at the upcoming series. “This is a new program, a combination of lots of things offered in the past.”

The initial class — all meet on Tuesdays, 6-8 p.m. — will be “Small Business Keys for Success” and will feature an overview of the subsequent 11 sessions. The first four will be held at the boardroom of Community Development Foundation in Tupelo; the second four at New Albany Civic Center; and the final four are to be at Pontotoc Community House.

Wiebe explains the migrating agenda was designed to include participants from outside Tupelo and Lee County, giving them a chance to attend closer to their homes.

Some of the other topics to be explored include “Sources of Funding,” “Understanding Financial Statements,” “Secrets of Advertising” and “Attracting, Selecting & Training People.” The fourth session, scheduled February 12, is “The Business Plan,” which is at the core of the program.

“Most people don’t know how to write a business plan,” Wiebe notes. “We put a lot of emphasis on business and marketing planning.” He explains that the business plans are important to “make you think before you start or expand a business and for the financial institutions” where funding may be sought.

By the end of the session, participants will be expected to have developed and written a viable business plan for their individual undertakings. While they will not be required to detail their quests to their fellow Boot Campers, each of the participants will work with the mentors on the business plans.

Wiebe says some campers will be folks with an idea for a business, while others will be business owners looking to expand their existing operations, markets and/or products.

Besides Wiebe, other SBDC mentors include Don Fischer, Katie Drury and Lynn Sykes. The latter two are SBDC counselors, while Fischer serves as SBDC director at the University of Mississippi.

“We hope (Boot Camp) becomes a prototype that other communities can host,” says Fischer. “It takes a partnership and we have a great group.”

Sponsoring agencies besides SBDC and Community Development Foundation include Minority PULL Alliance, Union County Development Association, Pontotoc Chamber of Commerce, Three Rivers Planning & Development District Inc. and Renasant Center for IDEAs.

Fischer explains that, although Boot Camp is free to participants, there are some expenses incurred to hold it, including promotion of the event, printed handouts and having a physical facility for the weekly sessions. At the end of the program, participants will leave with a 12-section binder they can keep for future referral.

A similar 12-week workshop held by a private business counseling firm, Fischer estimates, would cost at least $1,500 per person.

Fischer explains there are, besides the business plan development, two other important goals of Boot Camp: 1) Develop an “elevator statement”; and 2) Develop a working relationship with an SBDC counselor.

Fischer defines the elevator statement: “What would you say in one minute that explains what you offer and who you are — with impact?” It’s the old “you only get one chance to make a first impression” applied to business.

Fischer and Wiebe agree that developing a relationship with an SBDC counselor can ultimately be profitable, and they have the statistics to back up that statement: “SBDC clients succeed at higher rates than those who don’t,” says Fischer. “Last year, 82 percent of our clients were still in business after a year, while, statistically, 50 percent of small businesses fail in the first year.”

While the U.S. Small Business Administration defines a small business as one with 500 or fewer employees, Fischer says SBDC typically works with enterprises employing one to 50 workers.

Wiebe says participants are expected to attend at least nine of the 12 sessions: “You’ve got to be there if you’re going to get the most out of it.”

Small Business Development Centers maintain nine centers and eight satellite offices throughout Mississippi.

Editor’s note: The Mississippi Business Journal plans to follow the progress of Small Business Boot Camp. Future stories will focus on some of the participants, their goals and how they benefit from Boot Camp.

Contact MBJ contributing writer C. Richard Cotton at rcotton4@earthlink.com .

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