The economy is limping along, unemployment is up, and consumers are watching their dollars more carefully than ever. For Karen D’Antico that means one thing — if you’ve ever considered starting your business, now might be the perfect time.
“I think it’s a great time to start a business, it’s just that right now I think people are a little fearful,” she says.
D’Antico, a business development specialist/women’s program representative for the Small Business Association, says that with a variety of SBA guaranteed loans available, as well as expert management advice, there is no shortage of tools for entrepreneurs.
In addition, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act contains a package of higher guarantees, the temporary elimination of loan fees, new SBA programs, secondary market incentives, and enhancements to SBA programs that will help entrepreneurs gain access to credit markets and help begin the economic recovery for the nation’s small business sector, she says.
D’Antico will present “Financing Your Small Business” on Tuesday, November 24, at 7 p.m. at the South Brunswick Public Library from 7 to 8:30 p.m. as part of a SCORE business seminar titled Franchising Your Small Business. To register for this free seminar, call 609-393-0505.
D’Antico graduated from St. Peter’s College in Jersey City with a degree in business before going to work for the Department of Defense. There she worked in government contracting. In 1997 the department was downsized and she moved to the SBA.
“I was a Jersey girl and I chose to stay in New Jersey,” she says.
Alternative to employment. Even with a struggling economy, D’Antico says the sky is the limit for entrepreneurs, with many people seeing it as a viable alternative to trying to re-enter a job market that is nonexistent for some.
“More people are going to Plan B,” she says. “They’re doing a business plan, and that’s where the resources at SBA come in, whether it’s working with SCORE, the Small Business Development Center, or the Women’s Business Center.
Loans that can be used as working capital, on machinery, equipment, furniture and fixtures, land and building purchase, construction and leases, are available through the SBA, as are mentoring and guidance programs.
“The economy is at a stand still, but people are taking advantage of the educational tools that SBA has as far as learning and gathering information,” she says.
Have a plan. The key to getting any SBA loan is a business plan. Without it, applications and businesses typically go nowhere. Meeting with SCORE representatives or visiting Small Business Development Centers can help. Representatives there will assist entrepreneurs with their plans before making their pitch.
“I can’t stress it enough. The business plan is really where it starts,” she says. “They want to see elements of a business plan, an introduction, a marketing pitch, financial management, and operations.”
Counselors at the SBA will assist in strategic planning, writing and implementing your business plan, and finding your role — and your customer base — in the business community.
“When applying for a loan they want to make sure you have the experience and you have something to put into the business,” she says.
In addition, people seeking SBA loans must meet a fairly typical list of requirements in order to qualify — management expertise, proof of operating funds, equity, investment in the business, and collateral. “If you have a house, then you’re going to have to use that,” she says.
Character counts. It’s not all about balance sheets and business plans. Sometimes it’s about the people behind the plans. Often it is this intangible quality that makes the difference between a successful go at a small business and falling flat on your face.
Finding your passion. A common quality among many business owners is often this other intangible quality. D’Antico says that many people will open a business that deals with something important in their lives.
“If somebody is looking to retire, then they’re looking to carry on their business,” she says. “They know it’s 24/7 as far as doing something you love. You’re going to put your heart and soul into it.” She says that people like that often are the first to recognize when and if their journey into business ownership is a success or failure.
Girls’ night out. As one of four children raised by her single mother — who worked for NJ Bell — D’Antico says she takes her cue from her home life. “My mother was a single parent, so I like to think I got my strength from her,” she says. While that might not be the exact reason she thinks women are finding more success as business owners, she says many women often have the skills needed to run a business, whether they know it or not.
“I think women are good multi-taskers. What makes a good man is a good woman,” she says.
And of course, the SBA has resources for women as well through the Office of Women’s Business Ownership, which assists entrepreneurs who are disadvantaged. In fact, demand for services at the centers is growing.
The long haul. The key to helping businesses maintain long term success is knowing your market. D’Antico suggests speaking with the local and state government, learning more about your target audience, and being flexible as time goes by.
“It’s not who you know, it’s who knows you and what the market needs,” she says. “Sometimes when businesses are doing OK, they’re not reaching out to other girls or guys. ”
“SCORE give different ways to market and increase your sales,” she says. “Maybe you should re-look at your business plan. If it’s been two years, refresh it.
Whether you talk to a SCORE counselor or someone from the Small Business Development Center, sometimes there needs to be a paradigm shift.”
In the end though, one key element is essential to anyone looking to start their own business, or grow the one they’re running. “Surround yourself with good people. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and stay focused.” she says.