The Small Business Center at Rowan-Cabarrus Community College is one of the area’s best-kept secrets, but that’s not a distinction its leaders hope to have much longer.
In addition to offering dozens of courses and seminars, the state-funded center also provides free confidential business counseling to current and prospective business owners. It’s a service that Director Barbara Hall and Counselor Maggi Braun encourage more area entrepreneurs to take advantage of.
“It’s really helpful to work with someone outside of your own business because you can get myopic when you’re in the weeds,” Braun said. “But business owners shouldn’t say they can’t afford a consultant, because they can. We’re right here – at no cost.”
Hall explained their role isn’t to determine whether or not something is a good business idea; their role is to gather information and provide feedback to help guide clients’ thinking so they can make their own business decisions. To help complement the one-on-one counseling, the Small Business Resource Center has subscriptions to IBISWorld and ProfitCents – two of the top market research and financial analysis tools.
“They cover everything you need to know about a current business or starting a new business – from industry trends and competition to analytics and demographics,” Hall said. “These tools aren’t available to the general public, so they’re a unique and helpful asset for our counties.”
But first, Hall and Braun have to get business owners in the door so they can start tapping into all those available tools and resources at the center.
“Inertia is the biggest thing we have to overcome. Once we meet new clients, they are grateful for all the things we can do for them, but the first step is the hardest,” Braun said. “It’s difficult to come out of your shell and expose the innards of your business to someone else.”
For some first-time business owners that difficulty comes in the form of writing a business plan – a critical component to starting any new business. “Many people want to be business owners, but when you say ‘business plan’ their eyes glaze over and they run,” Braun said. “They don’t want to write a business plan because they don’t know how to write one.”
That’s where Braun comes in with “stress-free planning” – a schematic she designed to take clients step-by-step through the process of writing a plan. Clients have homework assignments they complete at their own pace and meet with Braun when it fits their schedule – whether it’s once a week or once a month.
One of her favorite small business success stories is Larry Franklin, owner of Xquisite Barber Studio, whom she worked with for two years on creating and implementing a business plan and finding the right location to open his new business.
“About two months ago, he had a grand opening and ribbon cutting for his six-chair barbershop and a number of clients were vying to be his first customer,” Braun said. “It’s a great example of someone who wanted to open a business in our community, then worked hard and used the Small Business Center’s services to help him accomplish it.”