In a dire economy, there’s no time but now to start your own small business
When the economy took a nosedive a few years back, people started scrambling for ways to find extra money. Jobs were chopped. People lost homes. Wages were deducted. Furloughs enacted. Things weren’t (and still aren’t) cheery. So, like many others who are trying to survive in Surf City, I started contemplating various ways to make a few extra (and necessary) dollars here and there.
“In this new economy there are a lot more people creating their own jobs,” says Teresa Thomae, director of the Central Coast Small Business Development Center (SBDC), which is located on the Cabrillo College campus. There are about 1,100 SBDCs in the United States; one serving every county, offering free of charge counseling and resources to sole-proprietors, people developing new businesses, and established business owners.
“There are people who have been laid off, can’t find work, and think, ‘Maybe this is my shot to own my own business, become a consultant, provide a service, grow a business, create a job for themselves or become an accidental entrepreneur,’” Thomae says.
According to Thomae, Santa Cruz County is 52 percent above the national average for people filling out Schedule C tax forms. This means that there are a lot of locals who are self-employed or supplementing their existing income with a secondary source of money, something like a craft, hobby, web page design and the like.
For several years now, I’ve been among the Schedule C crowd, bringing in a few bucks here and there with two side jobs: freelance writing and on-camera acting. But I haven’t been making quite enough extra income to flesh out my bank account in these rocky economic times. So, in early 2011, I decided to take action and figure out how to build up my two side businesses into more lucrative and sustainable ventures.
But, being a stereotypical artist who is sometimes intimidated by stacks of bureaucracy and paperwork, I procrastinated. And procrastinated, and procrastinated. In fact, by mid-2011, I was still sitting on a lot of ideas for how to build my small businesses, but I had no idea how to execute those concepts—namely, how does one create a small business? What goes into it? Do I need a business license? What forms do I fill out? And so on.
In the midst of all this mumbo jumbo going on in my brain, I crossed paths with a former colleague who’s well plugged into the resources that Santa Cruz has to offer. And although I’ve been a local journalist for 12 years, I was shocked and pleased by what he told me: There’s an organization called the SBDC in town that offers small businesses and start ups with free business counseling, seminars, resources, and more. It sounded like the answer to helping me get on my way.
I visited the website, centralcoastsbdc.org, pored over the information and requested a packet of resources. Just days later I received a thick envelope with details on how to write a business plan and much more. Still intimidated, I stuffed the packet into my desk and tried to ignore it. A few months went by and I pulled it out again and finally requested free business counseling services via the center’s website. Shortly thereafter, I met up with Thomae, who gave me the scoop on the SBDC and also set me up to meet with a small business counselor, Keith Holtaway.
Thomae also loaded me up with a stack of useful resources like a brochure on the Small Business Brown Bag Series—monthly free classes held at the Santa Cruz Library on topics like, “Selling on eBay—Tips and Tools,” “Tax Tips,” “Spruce Up Your Store—Retail Rejuvenation,” “Trademarks, Copyrights, and Patents—the Basics,” and others. Another brochure revealed $30 seminars offered by the SBDC that teach people how to create a business plan, marketing and bookkeeping basics, and a tutorial on using Quickbooks. And on top of that, she provided me with license and permit information, guidelines on crafting a business plan, and general information on starting a business in Santa Cruz County.
Soon, I met Holtaway, the co-founder of Pizza My Heart restaurants. When Holtaway sold the beloved local pizza business in 1997 he took the expertise he gained from years of running a small business and funneled it into becoming a consultant to small business owners and starts-ups. In 2001, he started working for the SBDC providing a wealth of counseling to companies like Bike Dojo, Lolly Tree Toys and Nut Kreations (among many others). In his years with the SBDC, Holtaway has worked with about 500 clients and has instructed them on developing engaging and pro-active business plans, securing funding, launching their businesses, and general business maintenance. Besides the expert knowledge that he provides to clients, Holtaway is a warm-hearted advocate for people turning their dreams of creating small businesses into hard-earned realities.
During our first meeting, we did a get-to-know-you session in which Holtaway evaluated where I was at with my experience and goals. Being that I have 12 years of professional writing experience and 10 years of professional on-camera credits, it was really a matter of focus, guidance, and direction to get me on the path to increasing my income and establishing solid, reliable, strong freelance services.
In our follow-up meetings, Holtaway offered advice and feedback on my business plan and helped whittle it down to a one-page, captivating read; he guided me in creating strategies and objectives for my freelance ventures, helped establish a timetable for realizing my goals and re-established my pay rate structure. He also provided a wealth of answers to my myriad questions about the process of establishing my two businesses. The irony is that as I finally began to seriously concentrate on establishing side businesses to supplement my income, some opportunities began to open up. I believe these things wouldn’t have happened without the clear guidance and direction of the SBDC, Thomae, and Holtaway.
“I love talking to people and helping them achieve what they want to achieve,” Holtaway says.
He is one of 20 business advisors contracted by the local SBDC, which operates on a staff of just two people. While typically each SBDC is funded in part by its governing state, California is the only state in the nation that doesn’t fund its SBDC program, says Thomae. As part of her job, she has to raise one dollar for every dollar received from the federal government to keep the SBDC afloat. Our local SBDC services about 400 clients a year in Santa Cruz County and the coastal portions of Monterey County.
In addition to the wealth of business counseling and resources provided to clients, the SBDC also runs the WorkForce Investment Board-funded program, “Keep Your Employees,” which helps businesses retain their employees. If a local business is suffering financially and sees no other way to get out from the pinch other than releasing employees, consultants from the WorkForce Investment Board will come in and offer free and confidential consulting to employers to help the business make other cuts and not lose workers.
This winter, the SBDC will offer the Business of Art series of workshops for artists in Santa Cruz County. Seminars will be on the last Saturday of February, March, April and May and will cover topics such as pricing artwork, marketing artwork, using social media and more.
For a sole-proprietor like myself, a start-up business owner or an established business that needs some oomph, there is an answer to the madness and confusion that’s involved in the business of creating a business—it’s the SBDC. And it’s free.
For more information, visit centralcoastsbdc.org.