Group provides help for new entrepreneurs

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Des Moines Register

By: Renda Lutz

January 9, 2010

 

Michael Carter Jr. doesn't have to rely on luck, hoping the third time is a charm for opening a business.

This time, he has a well-written business plan, something missing during his previous attempts at business ownership.

 

Carter opened Big Moe's Clothing in November in the former West Side Boxing Club location at 611 Forest Ave. The store opening came after he worked with Iowans for Social and Economic Development to develop a business plan, file as a limited liability corporation and became more educated about business matters.

 

Carter worked one-on-one with Toni Lampley, a trainer at Iowans for Social and Economic Development, and took the eight-week free business planning workshop the nonprofit organization offers.

 

"When I went over to ISED, I saw all they offered - I was impressed," Carter said. "I learned how to write an effective business plan. I met pertinent people to get a loan, and I met other business owners and saw how we could promote our businesses amongst each other."

 

In 2003, Carter opened his first store with business partners. His next attempt was a solo venture.

 

"I had previously gone in to see a business banker, and they asked me for my business plan. I had no idea what they were talking about," Carter said. "With a business plan, I was taken a lot more seriously, and I was treated more professionally."

 

Iowans for Social and Economic Development is located in the United Way Campus at 1111 Ninth St. The organization offers two-day business readiness workshops and the business planning workshop. The group will work one-on-one with anyone interested in pursuing a small-business venture - all for free.

 

Lampley, director of Iowa Women's Enterprise Center, said while Iowans for Social and Economic Development is recognized by the government as a women's business center, the program can assist anyone. The programs are funded primarily through government grants funneled through the U.S. Small Business Administration and matching contributions from the community.

 

"Technical help and counseling is so important to get your business started," Lampley said. "Starting a business is very popular right now, especially with those unemployed, but you want a plan. A business plan is vital."

 

New business owners Marilyn Charlet and Wanda Smith were let go by Wells Fargo in 2009. They had worked in different areas of bankruptcy for the company. Seeing all the people filing for bankruptcy gave Charlet a business idea. She learned about Iowans for Social and Economic Development from Iowa Workforce Development.

 

"Doing the business plan scared me, but doing the research required to write the plan paid off," Charlet said. "Other organizations are taking us seriously and referring clients to us."

 

Helping Hand Bankruptcy Consultants, begun in November, offers a bankruptcy petition preparation service for a flat fee.

 

Lampley teaches the two-day business readiness workshop and facilitates the business planning workshop, which brings in experts from the Small Business Administration, attorneys, accountants, marketing professionals, and lenders.

 

Lampley said the business planning workshop had the largest class ever this fall. New classes kick off later this month, and the program will expand to Warren County soon.

 

"With existing Indianola businesses and Simpson College, it just made sense when they came to us," Lampley said. "They will not have to reinvent for themselves what we already do."

 

Iowans for Social and Economic Development not only helps would-be entrepreneurs, but also existing small-business owners who want to learn more about operating a business or writing a business plan.

 

Pam Patton launched Southern Drawl Catering Services in May 2008, but she admits she did not know much about running her own business. She credits much of her success with working with ISED after she began her business.

 

"One of the things they talked about in class was about how to get federal contracts," Patton said. "Then I was catering an event and someone mentioned I should try to get a contract. I went and did the research. I did a lot of paperwork to get certified and licensed, but now I have work due to federal contracts."

 

She emphasized that her relationship with ISED did not end when the class ended.

 

"I left corporate America in January 2009. I've been catering and am now looking at the next phase - opening a restaurant. I will still work with ISED. They provide technical support anytime."

 

Jackie Blanchard, a Women in Business representative with the Small Business Administration, said there are no statistics on success rates for businesses that work with organizations like ISED.

 

"However, we consider business planning a success even when someone who goes through the process realizes they may not be ready to start their business at this time for one or more reasons," she said. "That same person may start their business six months or a year or more from now after having overcome the reasons made evident through the business planning process."

 

Census data show that 69 percent of new firms in 2000 survived at least two years, and 51 percent survived five or more years, Blanchard said.

 

Lampley said there are other resources available to would-be entrepreneurs:

 

- The SBA has a resource guide for starting a business and can provide some help, but usually encourages entrepreneurs to seek help from organizations like ISED.

 

- Small Business Development Centers help businesses that have been around for some time and businesses with 25-plus employees.

 

- SCORE (Service Corps of Retired Executives) matches entrepreneurs with mentors.

 

- ISED focuses on microenterprise, those businesses with zero to five employees, including individualized help.

 

The one-on-one assistance offered at ISED benefited Robin Frederick, owner of Redefine With Style, an event and wedding planning business in Johnston.

 

"The whole program is fabulous," Frederick said. "It is unbelievable that they do this all for free. They are a great support and they have so many tools and connections to offer. They are so very positive."

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