If you own a business, you know that nothing is free. Well, we’re here to tell you that every once in a while, good advice comes at no cost (like this blog series)! The Small Business Development Centers of Maine offer free and extensive business support services to entrepreneurs through their Small Business Development Advisors. To get a better idea of how SBDC can help small businesses, we sat down with David Hill from Chebeague Island who has been an advisor for 16 years, and he offered some tips for getting the most out of your interactions with advisors like him.
Q: What’s it like being the director and advisor for a Small Business Development Center (SBDC)?
A: It’s very rewarding to see people succeed. I help people come to their own conclusions; I’m not going to sit here and tell people they shouldn’t do this or tell them their idea is a great way to make a living. I provide the tools for them to come to their own decision.
Q: What’s the difference between SBDC and an organization like CEI (Coastal Enterprises, Inc.)?
A: CEI is like a parent organization of SBDC. When SBDC was created in Maine, they were managed by various organizations across the state, and CEI covers a region from Brunswick along the coast to Canada and part of north central Maine. We work with a large number of other entry points for businesses, and we often find ourselves referring folks to one organization or another depending on what services they need.
Q: How can small business owners get services from advisors like you?
A: There are many avenues a small business can take. If they go to the bank for a loan, they may be referred to us or SCORE, or other independent business counselors. We also have a website where people can register for free services. Word of mouth is very important; businesses talking to each other to find out where they get help.
“A business plan answers, ‘How do I make my business self-sustaining or more profitable?'”
Q: What’s the most frequently asked question you get?
A: “Where do I get a loan?” Some people come in still thinking about starting a business, while some know what they want to do but need financing, or come in wanting help with incorporation. Other people come in after having run a business for a while. Most everything comes down to business planning, whether to start a business, or get a loan.
Q: What are some of the aspects of business planning covered?
A: All business planning is a way to figure out how to get their business done in the most efficient way possible. Marketing and financial planning are also part of the business plan. It answers, “how do I make my business self-sustaining or more profitable.”
Q: If financing is needed, how do you help business owners get that loan?
A: We work with local banks, lenders such as CEI, etc., and help business owners with loan packaging: assistance with filling out the loan application, checking off everything the loan requires, and sometimes working on credit repair. Basically, doing everything that makes it possible for a person to walk into a bank with all their information and be seriously considered for the loan.
Q: What should business owners be prepared for when coming to advisors like you?
A: They should know their vision for the business; what do they need it to do for them? Sometimes people come in thinking they want to start a business, but discover after talking through the process that they aren’t natural entrepreneurs. There are three types of people: those who are natural entrepreneurs, those who can learn, and those who shouldn’t even be thinking about entrepreneurship. Small business support can help any of these groups think through what’s next.
Q: What do you want business owners to know about small business support?
A: That it’s available. Commonly we hear, “I wish I knew about you guys four years ago when I was getting started.” Small business support can really make their lives easier. Sometimes it’s just acting as a sounding board, as someone who can give a more objective view on things, so business owners can consider all the options for how to move forward. Think about establishing a relationship with an advisor early on, without the need initially, but for future contact when the time comes.
Resources for small business support
Take the time to care for your business:
- The Maine SBDC offers free resources online 24/7.
- Contact Island Institute about the Island & Coastal Business Launchpad.
- Explore other organizations like those mentioned in this edition. Local regional chambers and regional planning commissions also provide information or assistance to small business owners.
Learn more about available resources:
- Loans and grants from the Island & Coastal Innovation Fund support community-oriented businesses and help them start or grow.
- Loans and grants from the Maine Technology Institute help businesses innovate.
- Innovate for Maine matches students and businesses for internships.
What We Do
The Island Institute’s Economic Development program helps entrepreneurs navigate the complexities of starting and growing a business. To learn more about our small business support services, contact Bri Warner.