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Launching a business? Success starts with a solid plan

When it comes to launching a successful business, everyone needs to start the same way as anyone else, with a good business plan.

“This is the key as it provides a map the fledgling business can follow,” said John D. Philo, chair of the Gulf Coast chapter the Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE), a volunteer group that provides counseling help through the SBA. “The process is designed to help the person not only understand what they are about to undertake, but to also allow them to answer the questions they must answer to become a success.”

Philo says the most important key to success is passion. If a person does not have a passion for what they propose, it will be less than successful.

“They should also know something about the business they propose to enter and be willing to learn more,” Philo said. “Everything else, i.e., how to do the business plan — there is an outline guide on our Web site at www.scoregulfport.org — marketing strategy, financial skills, etc., can be learned.”

Starting point

The well-developed business plan provides the information any lender will want to see before putting money into a business. After all, Philo said, lenders must have assurance that the loan will be repaid.

“Perhaps the biggest reason for using SCORE counselors is that our service is free, and if our local counselors are unable to answer specific client needs, we have access to about 11,000 counselors around the country,” Philo said. “Since most of us have spent close to 50 years in the business world, you can see we offer over 500,000 years of experience. Our counselors will stay with the client as long as we are needed acting as mentors. SCORE on a national basis reached between 300,000 and 400,000 hundred thousand individuals last year alone. “

It is one thing to start a business, and another to be successful.

“We see an increase in new businesses started by women and minorities, but it is staying in business that is a challenge,” said Betty J. Mixon-Mayo, a business counselor with the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) in Cleveland. ”We see an increase in the want to’s, people with the drive and desire to open their own businesses. But they run into a lot of snags.”

Credit can be a real hindrance to getting into business. Mayo said that is one of the things the SBDC is trying to work on. One effort is providing training in local high schools on how to build a good credit rating.

“We hope that if we train people in high school, they may not make some of the mistakes of their parents,” Mayo said. “They are more ready to be in business. We teach them about what credit is, how bad credit hurts and how good credit helps. If they start out with good credit, if they decide to go into business at some point, they are able to procure the funds they need.”

Few people come into SBDCs and say, “I want to start a business, but I don’t need any money.” Most want to start a business and don’t have any money. Many are under the mistaken impression there are grants to start new businesses.

“There are no grants to start a small business,” Mayo said. “We can help them develop a business plan, but we can’t help them with a grant opportunity.”

Her advice to women and minorities who want to start a business is to contact the SBDCs in their area because services include help developing a business plan, market research and preparing financial information for banks.

“We have vast resources available, and we have counselors throughout the whole state who are more than happy to help,” Mayo said. “They just need to contact us. We can help them as much as possible, and there is no cost to the business owner. A lot of people will help with the business plan, but they usually charge a fee for their services, and we do not. We are funded by the SBA for this purpose to help people get started in a small business.”

Making an impact

The SBDCs partner with local development authorities for events to help women and minorities in business. For example, a Mississippi Development Authority (MDA) workshop hosted by the SBDC for women and minorities will be held March 19-22 in Grenada. Topics include customer service, hospitality, financing, record keeping and money management.

Because there aren’t many large manufacturers in the Delta, the economic impact of successful small businesses is particularly important.

“Our priority at the SBDC is to help those businesses to grow and be successful in business,” Mayor said. “That is the key to the success of many areas, but particularly the Mississippi Delta.”

Minorities and women face different challenges, but also have opportunities for government contracts with a percentage of work set aside for women and minority-certified contractors. MDA works with SBDCs to assist businesses with minority certification.

Mayo said many women and minorities excel in knowing their products and services.

“Where we see the most need for improvement is in the area of managing their business: learning how to manage cash flow, and how to manage business,” she said. “They know their product or service backwards and forwards. But we find sometimes there are opportunities to grow by learning more about the actual management of business. For women and minorities, watch TV and newspapers and look for learning opportunities that come along such as these workshops we do. These workshops are at no cost and provide a wealth of information. It is hands on. We teach them how to set up and manage books, how to file with the State Tax Commission, and all SBDCs will help with minority certification that does help them gain state and federal contracts. Once you get minority certification, that does seem to open doors that might otherwise be a little harder to open.”

The newest SBA Women’s Business Center opened December 2006 at the Crudup-Ward Activity Center in Forest. The center provides services designed for women seeking to start a new business or improve their existing business. Along with traditional one-on-one business and financial counseling, technical assistance services to women, minority and low-wealth entrepreneurs, the program also offers roundtable sessions, workshops in preparing a business proposal and plan, financial and tax matters, management and marketing assistance, government procurement and certification assistance, computer/software and Internet training, legal issues and youth entrepreneur training.

Tremendous interest

Annie (Crudup-Ward) Laurie, president and CEO of Crudup-Ward Activity Center, said they are seeing a tremendous amount of interest from women who want to start a small business.

Laurie said that in addition to asking questions about how to get a business started and how to incorporate, women who are planning to start businesses are interested in hearing other people’s success stories.

“Just to know others did it is enough to give them a good sense that maybe they can, too,” Laurie said. “My advice is if you have that desire, that dream, that energy, that talent, go for it and don’t quit through struggles, trials and tribulations. And seek advice from others who can truly help lead a person along the way especially to help avoid some of the bumps and bruises that others have experienced.”

The center also provides counseling for existing businesses.

“You wouldn’t have ever thought some of these businesses were having this struggle,” Laurie said. “They are relieved to learn that other people have faced similar problems. Everyone struggles. There is no shame in asking for help.”

William Brown, project director of MACE Women’s Business Center in Greenville, agrees that passion is important.

‘… turn your passion into your business’

“My advice is to turn your passion into your business,’ Brown said. “For example, if you really love pottery, that can be a business. But if you love pottery but don’t like cooking, it makes no sense to open a restaurant. Make sure that it is what you love to do and let that be your business. Do the research to see if it can be a possible business.”

The successful businesses he sees are where owners have a drive to succeed.

They have fortitude and want to make a change in their life.
“They don’t let anything stop them from opening that business whether a blemish on credit or a lender who says ‘no’, they will do what it takes to get that business off the ground,” Brown said.

Often women choose to start their own business because they have gone as high as they can in a particular company. There is no way to advance except to start a business.

Brown said it is important to know your credit status to make sure anything negative with your credit rating is straightened out while working on the business plan.

“Seek a credit counselor and make sure your credit is in good standing when you are ready to obtain a business loan,” he advises. “Some people will wait until the very end after they have done their research and business plan. But they go to a lender and can’t get a loan because they haven’t addressed the credit situation. If there is anything negative, go forward and get it cleaned up and off your credit report.”

Mississippi’s SBDCs are listed online at www.olemiss.edu/depts/mssbdc/location.html.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Becky Gillette at bgillette@bellsouth.net.


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