Friday, June 25, 2010

Rommie “Elaine” Ray speaks highly of SC State University’s Small Business Development Center (SBDC). Ray discovered the center in 2001 and has utilized their services since that time. According to Ray, the center helped her to establish God Sent Beauty Salon Plus. She beams when she speaks of the Christian centered salon that sits at 607 John C. Calhoun Drive in Orangeburg, and she is even more exuberant about future plans for her business. “I plan on establishing a relaxation room,” says Ray. “The SBDC is helping me with these plans.” Ray notes that the relaxation room will be strictly for adults who want to get away from the stress and fast pace of everyday life. Taking things a step further, Ray wants God Sent Beauty Salon to be a pivotal part of the community, offering employment to a specific demographic. “Eventually, I would like to offer jobs to single young mothers who need a place to work,” says Ray.

Ray’s salon and her aspirations are possible in part due to her work with the University’s SBDC, an organization established in 1979 as an administrative unit within the College of Business and Applied Professional Sciences. The center has fostered economic growth and development to new and existing businesses such as God Sent Beauty Salon. Covering seven counties to include Allendale, Bamberg, Barnwell, Calhoun, Colleton, Hampton and Orangeburg counties, the SBDC has resulted in the creation of over 1200 new jobs, according to John Goodwin, regional director for the Small Business Development Center. “Clients are also obtaining loans,” says Goodwin. “Over $100 million has been approved in business loans over the last 10 years.”

Goodwin, regional director for the past 5years, is excited about the services that the center offers to those wishing to start a new business, or who wish to foster growth for their existing business. Funded by the Small Business Administration and the Defense of Logistic Agency, the SBDC is able to provide free services to all clients. “We serve approximately 200 clients per year,” notes Goodwin. It’s important that these individuals get this type of service with this caliber of training at no cost. Here, we hold their hands from the time they initially start and we stay with them for whatever time period is necessary.”

Ray is a testament to this, having sought the advice of the SBDC for the past nine years. She says that Goodwin and his two additional consultants, Pamela Free and Sylvia Dunning, have assisted in improving the profitability of her business. “And I am extremely satisfied,” says Ray.

Charles Dowling, owner of Dowling Investigations, LLC located in Orangeburg, S.C., also understands the significance of the SBDC. Established in 1990, the success of Dowling Investigations can be attributed to the assistance the company received. “The Small Business Development Center has contributed to a lot of my success by giving me detailed information and resources to expand my knowledge,” says Dowling.

So, how does the hand holding begin for the Small Business Development Center? Businesses such as God Sent Beauty Salon and Dowling Investigations, LLC don’t just evolve. First, these potential entrepreneurs must understand how much money it takes to open their doors, says Goodwin. “We carry them through a start-up cost worksheet procedure which entails a laundry list of generic things that they need to examine and from there determine any monetary needs,” says Goodwin. The start-up cost or expansion worksheet includes pricing for leasehold improvements such as electrical, plumbing and general repairs; the purchase of fixed assets like furniture, trade equipment, land and more; and miscellaneous and prepaid expenses are also included, consisting of insurance, a business license, legal fees, etc. “Once they complete this worksheet, we can assess the recurring costs they will have after getting into business,” says Goodwin.

Consultants then engage potential business owners about the actual business, acquiring as much information as possible in order to organize a business plan, necessary to obtain the loan. “We actually write the business plan,” says Goodwin. “In fact, we are one of only a few SBDC’s in N.C., S.C. and Ga. to write a business plan.

The hand holding continues with new clients and existing businesses through the various services offered by the SBDC, such as one-on-one technical assistance, marketing, small business accounting, financial planning, turnaround management, procurement opportunities, and business education and training seminars. Dowling utilized some of the many services offered. “They helped me create brochures, shared knowledge on operating a business in S.C., and held continuous seminars,” says Dowling. “We plan anywhere from 13 to 16 seminars per year,” says Goodwin. “Over the years, we have educated and trained over 4,000 participants in various seminars.”

“One thing most businesses don’t do is to take a hard look at their assets, ultimately determining the health of their business,” says Goodwin. Comparable to a doctor’s visit, businesses should continue to check their vital signs. “Just like when you go to the doctor and they come back and tell you whether you are good or bad and if you need to do something about your condition, we want to perform those same routine tests,” says Goodwin. In order to achieve this, the center will purchase software in September that will perform a financial analysis for existing businesses, determining where they need to go, somewhat setting a strategic plan for the business if downsizing should occur. “This health check should be done annually,” states Goodwin. “Clients should be proactive instead of reactive. It’s not enough to get information from their accountant.” They must be able to interpret that information.

While the SBDC’s client base is vast with clientele ranging from 46 percent who are males, 42 percent females, and a 12 percent male-female ownership, or husband and wife partnership, the center wishes to increase their services in certain locations. “We want to expand our services more into the lower counties that we have not been concentrating on too much because we simply haven’t had the personnel to do it,” says Goodwin. He would like to expose individuals in these areas to the services that they offer.

Also, although 80 percent of those who utilize the center are looking for the funds and general assistance to start a new business, they will also want to increase their assistance to existing businesses. “We can help them to grow their business as well,” says Goodwin. The center has one particular big client that is profiting over $50 million annually. The SBDC is also currently working on getting a manufacturing company into the area, a business that would potentially create 50 jobs initially and up to 200 jobs within the next two years.

Cultivating these types of relationships is what the SBDC is all about. Jim Thomas, the outreach manager for the SBDC, works with external sources such as banks, churches, and other community organizations, hoping to create more collaborative efforts.

Establishing a business like Ray and Dowling starts as a mere conception in the minds of many, but bringing it to fruition is only a phone call away. Contact the SBDC today to begin living your dream. Call 803-536-8445 to set your appointment to speak with a consultant. Turnaround time is generally within 24 to 48 hours. It’s time to live your dream!