Small-business owners are almost always concerned about finances, but they usually have other business challenges that also demand their attention. And they often lack the skills to handle them.
Those owners and their companies can greatly benefit from professional consultants who provide expertise in critical areas of business where owners may be inexperienced.
Those resources can be utilized for free at the Pikes Peak Small Business Development Center, Pikes Peak Library District, the Service Corps of Retired Executives and the Procurement Technical Assistance Center, as well as Peak Startup, the Better Business Bureau and other organizations, such as some local banks that offer useful business tools.
“We want business owners to come to us for help, so they don’t make a lot of mistakes,” said SBDC Executive Director Aikta Marcoulier. “At least we can help them minimize their mistakes.”
The SBDC offers workshops and hosts events — sometimes for a minimal fee — and offers free consulting.
“We have 30 consultants and they’ll help you look strategically at your business,” Marcoulier said. “We have a lot of information online where people can utilize free resources to help their business succeed.”
She said that the SBDC offered 103 workshops in 2016, which assisted 2,266 local business owners, covering startup business planning and issues that can arise any time during a company’s life. Like the SBDC, SCORE also offers workshops and one-on-one assistance.
“I highly suggest any new business owner take our ‘Start Up Track,’” Marcoulier said, “which includes Boot Camp, Business Plan in a Day or Business Model Canvas, Bookkeeping 1, Financing Your Business, and Legal Entity Formation — all the basic needs of a first-time business owner.”
One of the SBDC’s consultants is Robin Roberts, president of Pikes Peak National Bank.
“Business owners are not going to be good at everything. They’re going to be good at what their business is,” said Roberts, who has been an SBDC advisory board member since 2012.
Roberts said business owners should not be shy about getting assistance from professionals who have signed up to help, whether that’s through the SBDC, SCORE or PPLD.
“They all have experts in their field who are volunteering or teaching classes,” she said. “SCORE has retired executives in specific industries that can look at your processes and make suggestions.”
One of SCORE’s mentors is PPLD’s Business Services Librarian Terry Zarsky, who also teaches classes at the library to help business owners. She said many business owners simply “don’t know what they don’t know.”
“PPLD resources cover all aspects of a business, from startup to selling or dissolving a business,” Zarsky said. “Taking the ‘Minding Your Business’ class is a great overview of basic resources available and then doing a one-on-one to see what else is available for specific questions you have is a great second step.”
Marcoulier suggested taking “Minding Your Business” with Zarsky, which she said will help business owners hone market research skills and learn about target demographics.
High-tech tools available
Zarsky said the library also uses experts from the community to present some of its classes, as well as offering hour-long one-on-one sessions. She said PPLD offers 40-50 classes each month.
“Library 21c also has video equipment you can check out for a week and take to your business or nonprofit to create videos for your website, YouTube or webinars or whatever else you can create,” Zarsky said.
Marcoulier said experienced business owners can also benefit from further educational resources.
“For a business that has been in business for a couple of years, normally we see the need for financing for growth or marketing needs,” she said. “Sometimes even a change in entity. We see many existing businesses work hard on their financials by meeting with financial planning consultants, taking financial track courses and also our digital marketing courses.”
Another source for businesses is the Colorado Enterprise Fund. CEF Director of Lending Alan Ramirez said his organization works closely with SBDC, SCORE and the Small Business Administration to support and educate businesses on QuickBooks, marketing, human resources, legal issues and managing staff.
“Part of the issues for businesses can be access to capital, but learning how to operate a business more efficiently is what small businesses need to know to really grow,” Ramirez said. “These services are available to our customers for the life of their loans and are mostly free or low-cost.”
Wells Fargo Bank Vice President Jeff Whipple, who oversees the organization’s Small Business Segment for eight states, said anyone may utilize Wells Fargo’s resources.
“We also do workshops and seminars,” Whipple said. “We partner with the SBDC and various chambers of commerce and we’re actively involved in business expos. People can create their business plan on our website and get help throughout their business’ life cycle. Wells has committed a lot of resources to our small-business space and it’s a great way to educate our customers. You can go online or come in face-to-face and get all the educational help you need without committing to anything.”
Another educational opportunity is available at UCCS, which recently began offering a mini-Master’s in Business Administration program.
Marcoulier said it’s important for the SBDC and other organizations to provide aid for small business owners.
“Getting assistance through workshops or consulting, taught by people that have been entrepreneurs and made the mistakes before, can teach business owners valuable lessons for a fraction of the cost, or no cost at all,” she said. “Small businesses make up over 99 percent of the economy in Colorado and employ the majority of employees in Colorado as well. If we fail at educating our small businesses with the tools they need to be successful, then our small businesses fail.”
Editor’s note: This is the second in a two-part series detailing financial and educational resources available to small-business owners.