If you plan to launch a business, having a cohesive plan that is replete with details and specifics is important. But saying the things that bankers and investors like to hear is just as crucial and will determine if you get the cash you need, says small business consultant Beth Filla.
Filla is a training and technical assistance officer at the United Counties Economic Development Corporation (UCEDC), a nonprofit economic development corporation based in Trenton. She will host a workshop, Introduction to Entrepreneurship, at the East Trenton Center at 601 North Clinton Avenue on Tuesday, September 19, at 6 p.m. The free workshop is part of a series of seminars and training workshops hosted by UCEDC. For more information, visit www.ucedc.com.
Filla was raised in Collings-wood, the daughter of an electrical engineer father and stay-at-home mother, the youngest of three self-described “nerdy” girls who enjoyed playing “school” as kids. The early affinity to academia was perhaps the catalyst to Filla’s ongoing work as an educator, businesswoman, and entrepreneur for the past 25 years. Add to the mix her stint as a founder and singer for the Philadelphia-based pop band in the Trolleyvox from 1996 to about 2007 — and lyrics from the classic and popular Chaka Khan/Whitney Houston song, “I’m Every Woman” emerge.
Filla and her husband, Brett Bonfield, executive director of the Princeton Public Library, are often credited for being instrumental in the business boom in Collingswood. The first couple met as students at Rutgers and then encountered one another again in Philadelphia. “We literally ran into each other on the street,” Filla says.
Filla had moved away from her hometown but returned in 2000 after marrying. At that time, “things were just beginning to happen,” in Collingswood, Filla says. Small businesses were popping up and the city began to grow and thrive. “We supported the local community, got to know our neighbors and people in the community,” she says. “We were part of the zeitgeist of Collingswood.”
That pervasive spirit and energy stayed with Filla, who has the habit of fostering the notion of entrepreneurship to nearly everyone she meets. “I try to create an environment where people share their ideas and concerns,” she says.
For example, Filla says it’s common for people to start businesses with high hopes and big dreams. However, nirvana turns to panic when the business starts to hemorrhage cash and fall short in providing a steady and consistent flow of cash. “Without the foundation of information — or even just knowing the language that banks and organizations like UCEDC like to hear — entrepreneurs can be at a substantial disadvantage,” Filla says.
She says verbiage is a pivotal part of the financing process when approaching a funding source such as a bank or community development financial institution (CDFI). Filla says while common terms such as net and gross, assets and liabilities are generally universally understood and accepted terms in business, how they are used during the lending process can determine if your business is funded.
“If things aren’t phrased the way a bank would like to see them, entrepreneurs can be at a substantial disadvantage,” she says. For example, when some small business owners hear that they are being asked to put their house up as collateral in order to obtain funding, they tend to panic and step away from the financing conversation. “They are afraid that if their business fails, someone will take their house and this isn’t really true,” she says. “It means the lender will get paid back if and when the house is sold if the borrower can’t make regular payments.”
Filla says things like implementing strategies and techniques to pare down a business idea to a specific niche base and highlighting financial goals and substantive short and long term goals are all aspects she will examine during the two-hour workshop. “One of the biggest obstacles small business owners face is having a failure to properly plan,” she says.
Filla says when people don’t know how to adequately forecast financial projections; take proper administrative steps; market their business or brand, “they spend more time scrambling to correct problems than doing what they are in business to do,” she says.
Finally, Filla offers these tidbits of advice to aspiring business owners:
• Have an amazing idea that will truly fill a need.
• Have the means to start the business without relying on it as your sole source of income (at least for the beginning).
•Have a good and effective plan in place.
• Know who your market is and what your expenses and likely income will be.
• Have a vision for exactly how you want to operate.
Filla says she wants people to know that they are not alone in their quest for self-employment. “There is a web of support out there for you if you decide to start a business,” she says. “Connect with those people, and take full advantage of the services that are there for you!”