The Small Business Development Center just might have been the best kept secret in Gulf County, but the secret is quickly getting out.
With 40 offices in Florida alone, the SBDC is a free service aimed to help arm startup businesses with an easy-to-follow process from business plans and finances to assisting existing business with marketing and expansion.
It’s already made its mark on Gulf County.
Chris Laue and his wife, Vickie, hadn’t heard of the SBDC, but after attending a business startup seminar held at the Gulf Coast State College Gulf/Franklin campus, the group was on hand to provide information.
Laue’s family has sold bikes for more than 30 years and one day while driving down Reid Avenue he saw an empty corner building. With little more than a dream he contacted the SBDC and in June 2013 the doors of that very same building opened to the public as St. Joe Velo.
Laue worked with Certified Business Analyst Quen Lamb, the SBDC representative for Gulf, Jackson, Calhoun, Washington and Holmes Counties. Lamb has a background in ownership, management, sales and marketing from years working in the corporate medical business world.
“In the military we have a checklist of everything we need to do,” said Laue. “Everything we received from the SBDC was organized and it wasn’t stressful.”
The goal of the program is to make the process of owning a business straightforward and easy to understand. Lamb said that with a staff of former business owners it allows the SBDC’s clients the path of least resistance, letting them skip the “trial and error” hardships that many business owners face.
“Step one for us is to figure out the business owner’s passion,” said Lamb. “If a person is not passionate, they won’t succeed because of the time and effort it takes.”
The second step is to put together a business plan and step three is organization of the business and exploring all funding options.
Lamb said that in his role, he gets satisfaction watching new businesses open their doors, but he’s equally as passionate about helping established Gulf County businesses keep theirs open.
“Textbook and reality are not the same,” said Lamb. “Our goal every day is to try and help.”
Bill Deeson, owner of Deeson AC and Heating also sought the help of the SBDC in 2013. Rather than seek assistance in starting up, Deeson wanted to figure out how to take his business to the next level. Deeson started his business in 2008 but had dreams of expanding his services and business.
Often times, businesses will plateau after several years in the community and Lamb said it’s his goal to serve those businesses when it comes to increasing sales, reevaluating marketing plans or hiring new employees.
Deeson and Lamb sat down to talk about how to finance an expansion and put together an organizational chart so that the goals were clear and the business remained structured.
“(The SBDC) knows the reasons why many businesses fail,” said Deeson. “They’ll save you from making the same mistakes.”
For those looking to found a business, analysts provide a step-by-step process for current and new owners to follow in order to streamline the process and make it less overwhelming.
Lamb said that while he offers his time and support to those looking to start a business, he doesn’t do the work for them. He provides the tools and knowledge and will act as a cheerleader throughout the process.
Since enlisting the help of Lamb and the SBDC, both Deeson and Laue are in the process of expanding their businesses.
Laue will not only celebrate the one-year anniversary of St. Joe Velo, but the business will soon leave its current location for a larger building. Deeson is in process of expanding his employee headcount.
Lamb said he is surprised more businesses don’t take advantage of the free services. All information shared between the businesses and the SBDC is confidential. He said that while he understands that some business owners don’t like asking for help, it’s better to explore options on how to succeed than go out of business for good.
Laue and Deeson said they both encouraged their fellow local business owners to explore the services offered by the SBDC, and while they often sing the praises of the program, they’re disappointed that more people don’t utilize it.
Deeson said that for an existing business, the SBDC can assist with running a market analysis to help businesses understand their competition and how to set themselves apart.
“For a small town, it’s really something to be aware of,” said Laue. “I think people should know that if you have that business idea that keeps popping into your head; it’s not a crazy idea. It’s viable.”
The SBDC is partially funded by the Small Business Administration and sponsored by Gulf Coast State College.
Lamb also assists military veterans through the Veteran’s Business Outreach Center (VBOC). The program assists military veterans to locate benefits and funding options to help grow or start their businesses. The VBOC at Gulf Coast State College was named VBOC of the Year by the U.S. Small Business Association during National Small Business Week in May. Officials from the college’s VBOC accepted the award in Washington, D.C.
Those interested in learning more about the SBDC and its services can request information online at www.northfloridabiz.com.