Chamber member donated services, secured low-cost materials
Marketing campaign aims to tell
'best kept secret'
Small Business Resource Center Facts
48,000 SQUARE FEET
(33,000 SQUARE FEET OF
Incubation program, training programs, mentoring, financial planning, marketing assistance, future growth strategies, human resources, workshops,
A 12-week class with sessions on introduction and overview to entrepreneurship, planning
and research, management and legal structure, market analysis, marketing implementation, financial overview, managing your money, cash flow projections, understanding your financials, financing your business, the deal making process and your business future.
past 6 years
CUMULATIVE GROSS SALES OF
($19.3 MILLION A YEAR AVERAGE)
CUMULATIVE ANNUAL PAYROLL
($7 MILLION A YEAR AVERAGE)
2008 CLIENTS’ COMBINED REVENUE
SBRC: Taking Care of (Small) Businesses
The Small Business Resource Center is a one-stop
shop for entrepreneurs and existing companies
by David Zaslawsky
Leland Talbert had an idea for a business, but he had no idea how to operate one.
He had no role models to follow. No one in his family had run a business. He did realize that cash flow was important, but that was about the extent of his business knowledge.
Talbert took his business concept and enrolled in the Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce Small Business Resource Center’s 12-week intensive Entrepreneurial University. That’s where Talbert got his business know-how. He was proud of his accomplishment and proud about the business plan he submitted.
“I remember turning in my business plan and felt all nice and happy – a little gleam was on it,” Talbert said.
Those feelings of nice and happy vanished when he saw his business plan a week or two later after Small Business Resource Center (SBRC) staff reviewed it.
“It (business plan) was all marked up with a lot of red strokes on it. I felt like I was back in school. It made me rethink how I was going to approach my business plan.”
He has come a long way since then.
Talbert is president of Transcendence Inc., which provides services, solutions and information technology-based equipment to the government including computers and network printers.
Business has been so good for Talbert, who formed his company in October 2003, that he moved from his original 300-square-foot office space at the SBRC to his current 900-square-foot office.
Meanwhile, his sales have surged from around $250,000 in 2004 to $2.2 million last year.
The SBRC “has been a godsend,” Talbert said. “If I would have done my original plan, I would have been in a very nice office building with no real support and probably would have folded.”
Instead, Talbert and others like him have taken advantage of a host of free or reduced services offered for clients at the SBRC. Some of those services include:
• Affordable space and shared services
• Seminars, workshops
• Low overhead
• Shorter-term leases for rent
• No utility deposits
• Electricity included in most office spaces
• Shared resources
• Administrative support
• Fax and postal services
• Audio-visual equipment
• Copying equipment
• Meeting rooms
• Low-cost telephone and Internet offered on a month-to-month basis
• Free and adequate parking
• On-site security
• 24-hour access to office
Those free or greatly reduced services can reduce a company’s expenses by 20 to 50 percent, said Douglas Jones, executive director of the SBRC and vice president of business services for the Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce.
A small business owner can lease a 215-square-foot office for $225 a month or a 400-square-foot office for $385 a month.
The largest spaces are geared for light industrial and a 1,900-square-foot office costs $851 a month (electricity not included, but all other services and amenities are).
“Where else or what else is there (beside the SBRC)?” asked Andy Martin, president of Square Root Interactive, who entered the SBRC’s incubation program in April 2000. “They are the best place to plant a business seed in town – in the region. We probably would not be as successful today had we not had that experience.”
Square Root Interactive offers Web site design, development and consulting services. The company, which stayed three years in an office at the SBRC, began with just two employees – Martin and Mark Cline, co-founder and vice president.
The company recently added its 13th employee and has seen annual sales jump from about $60,000 in its second year (lost about $60,000 in its first year) to the $1 million to $5 million range the past three years.
“When I first came to SBRC, I moved to a 300-square-foot office, rent was around $225 a month,” Talbert said. “That’s all that you pay here. You don’t have to pay for electricity. You don’t have to pay for trash pick-up. You have access to fax, printer, copiers.
“If you need anything, they have it here. Even if you want to have a secretary to answer your phone, they have that here as well. And that changes the dynamics of running a business. When you have all of that and at the time you are only paying $225 a month – that’s a lot for $225 because you would not normally get that anywhere else.”
That’s the idea – keep a company’s expenses as low as possible during the start-up stage. “It’s below market-rate rent, but it’s not just low-cost office space,” said Steve Goldsby, chief executive officer of Integrated Computer Solutions Inc., which was at the SBRC for two years.
Goldsby talked about the shared resources in the center as well as access to counseling services, other entrepreneurs and start-up companies and outreach programs from universities located at the SBRC.
“If you add all that up, the total is greater than the sum of the parts,” Goldsby said. “If I had to sum it up, they removed a lot of the distractions that would normally slow your growth. I didn’t have to worry about managing a lot of things that didn’t add value to my business. When I was there, (the services) freed up a lot of capital to actually grow my business. It really is a one-stop shop.”
Goldsby began Integrated Computer Solutions, an information security consulting firm, in his house and “when it got to the point that we needed actual office space, I started looking around and tripped over the SBRC. I found out that it was like office space on steroids.”
When he first moved his company to the SBRC, Goldsby had 10 employees and was doing about $1 million in annual revenue. The company’s annual revenue grew to between $4.5 million and $5 million at the SBRC. Now he has about 80 employees and annual revenue just less than $10 million.
The incubation program is just one aspect of the SBRC.
“I would categorize the services as entrepreneurial training, counseling/mentoring and the incubation program,” Jones said.
“As part of our mission for small business development, we’re charged with developing and protecting the creation and preservation of jobs within the small business sector of the economy,” said Lisa McGinty, director of small business programs for the Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce.
“We service the public at-large. We service chamber members, non-members, for-profits, not-for profits.”
Alabama Dumpster Service was having trouble hiring truck drivers and talked to SBRC officials, who contacted H. Councill Trenholm State Technical College. Now Trenholm offers a truck driver training course, which is designed to prepare students to operate vehicles that require a commercial driver’s license. On Trenholm’s Web site it shows that experienced truck drivers can earn from $10 an hour to $20 an hour.
When Dreamland Bar-B-Que was preparing to open at The Alley in downtown Montgomery, the company leased space at the SBRC. They held job interviews there and used the facility’s meeting space for training, Jones said.
Whether someone walks in from outside or it’s one of the current clients, the SBRC will do whatever it can to help solve an issue. There are resource service providers, including the Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE). Clients and non-clients alike have access to Jones, McGinty and Harold Boone, vice president of the Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce’s Minority Business Development. All three teach classes in the EU and that instruction is augmented by SCORE representatives, Small Business Administration representatives, attorneys, marketing professionals and certified public accountants.
But the SBRC resources do not end at its door. If the SBRC staff is unable to answer a question, there are always the 2,000 chamber members who may be able to resolve an issue. That consultation may not be free, but it is readily available.
One of the most important features of the SBRC is the client interaction, which is critical for start-ups. Those company officials bounce ideas off each other and share similar experiences.
“The start-up mind is all over the place,” Martin said. “Seasoned business minds will give you fantastic advice, but what someone who is going through a start-up scenario is really thinking about is smaller scale and a lot more cautionary. A decision that costs $6,000, $8,000 or $10,000 to an established 10-year or 12-year company is perhaps not a big deal, but to a start-up you’re making probably one-third as much as you were working for somebody else. You’re making that much less money and every decision is much more critical.
“We had a couple of product ideas that very honestly never went to market because of the advice we got. A lot of times those are hard decisions because when you are a small business you want to say yes to everything. But sometimes learning to say no or when not to move forward with a product or an idea could be as critical and as advantageous (as saying yes).”
Goldsby said he appreciated being able to walk down a few doors to get answers to questions or advice. “You short-circuit this whole decision-making process and you didn’t have to go to 10 different places in town.”
Talbert said, “When you listen to your peers and hear what they are doing with the federal government and (compare that to) what you’re not doing with the federal government, it allows you to make adjustments to your business and you can also ask questions.”
Jones said the bottom line is helping an entrepreneur start a business that will be successful. “If we have someone interested in coming here who doesn’t have a business plan, we have a workshop and EU to help them devise a business plan. We don’t say, ‘Go home and put together a business plan.’ ”
“We teach them how to do it,” McGinty said.
Daniel Hughes, chairman and chief executive officer of Summit America, LLC, and chairman of the Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce, told a recent board of directors meeting “that the odds of a successful start-up increase by a factor of nine if they begin in something like the Small Business Resource Center.”