Strictly business: Center helps student entrepreneurs
While small businesses make up a large portion of Bend’s economy, what does it really take to get them off the ground?
Business owners and aspiring entrepreneurs can utilize Central Oregon Community College’s Small Business Development Center as a resource year round. The SBDC, located in the Boyle Education Center, offers free business advice and affordable hands-on workshops.
“Our overall goal is to help people start a business,” said Beth Wickham, the director of SBDC.
The SBDC also assists existing businesses who are looking to grow. SBDC advisors work with clients who are aiming to increase capital by offering strategies to reorganize work flows, understand financial management systems and better manage marketing, said Wickham.
There are often unforeseen challenges faced by new business owners.
“An entrepreneur by nature is very optimistic and so there are a lot of bumps in the road,” said Wickham.
New business owners need to be prepared for the unexpected and the SBDC can help prepare for those “what-if” scenarios, according to Wickham.
“It’s also important to start with your eyes open and to get as much planned as possible so that you are planning for success,” said Wickham.
Josh Sims, owner of Repeat Performance, admitted he didn’t really have a business plan.
“I just kind of fell into this, to be honest,” said Sims.
After working as an outdoor guide for 12 years, Sims bought the sporting goods consignment shop in Bend where he worked. He said he was 24 at the time and didn’t have any idea what he was doing. At that point, Sims contacted the college’s SBDC and took advantage of the four free advising sessions offered.
“I was hoping to get involved in a business that I thought could somehow give back locally to the community,” said Sims.
It was during advising sessions at SBDC Sims was directed to specific resources which aided in the planning stages of his venture. He said his advisor also helped as being “someone to bounce stuff off of.”
He learned some valuable lessons early on, noting how helpful a realistic budget and forecast would have been.
Sims cautions aspiring entrepreneurs not to assume they have all the knowledge they will need to start their own business.
“Get a good [Certified Public Accountant] and a good lawyer. A lot of them will talk to you for free because they are hoping that you will then develop a business and then want to hire them for future things,” said Sims.
It is worth having a lawyer go through all leases and contracts, as well as insurance forms, according to Sims. He suggests getting a business accountant, somebody that’s going to be there to give you advice, not just do your taxes.
He also suggests new business owners open up a business savings account to serve as an emergency fund.
“I completely underestimated how much things would cost and I didn’t budget for them,” said Sims.
Financial advice was one of the main things Sims sought from the SBDC. Last year was a tough year financially for Repeat Performance. He said during downtimes, he’s been grateful for his regular customers who not only bring in their business, but also help spread the word. Sims said the majority of his advertising has been through word-of-mouth.
“If we hadn’t had support from our regulars in the community, we probably wouldn’t have made it through the year,” said Sims.
The million dollar question is “what qualifies a business idea as being a success?” according to Wickham.
Though when an individual brings their idea to the SBDC, the idea itself will not be judged. Instead, the SBDC will provide resources to research and explore the business idea. They can help answer questions relating to feasibility, start-up costs, market and demographics.
The ultimate question, however—whether or not your business will be successful—is left up to the individual.
A similar principle is applied when consulting existing businesses said Wickham. The SBDC helps those clients look at a definition of success, not define it for them. Definitions of success differ depending on the individual. For example, one person’s definition may be to work two days a week, whereas others may define success by earning half a million dollars a year.
“As long as [our clients] can identify what their goals are, we’ll help them move toward those goals,” said Wickham.
A new program coming to the SBDC called “Grow Oregon” is a statewide initiative being piloted in Central Oregon, The Rogue Valley and Portland. The program will offer an extensive array of services, specifically toward businesses that will create jobs, said Wickham.
In 2011, COCC’s SBDC helped start 18 businesses, which collectively created 99 new jobs.
“Starting a business is a real viable option that some students may want to look at… It can open lots of different doors,” said Wickham.