Visit SBA’s coaches
By: Dr. Kelly Hunt
Slam-Dunk! That’s how I assessed my business plan of selling sports equipment to school teams.
I was in my 20s, combining my love for watching high-school basketball with a zest for interacting with people. It truly was a game-winning feeling being in control of my own destiny. So many entrepreneurs have taken that same risk; not just thinking outside the box, but finding a better way to rebuild the box. Besides an idea, what else is required for success on the court?
Ray Vargo, director, at the University of Pittsburgh Small Business Development Center (SBDC), funded in part by my agency, the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), offered assistance. Ray and his team, works with more than 600 entrepreneurs each year helping them decide if their small business game-plan really is feasible.
Much like my affection of scholastic sports, Vargo stresses passion, and caution.
“Of course passion in what one does is important,” he explained. “But, does it solve issues and are you grateful and excited about resolving that problem; and, finally, is there a financial reward tied to that enthusiasm?”
For me, there was. I made money – I was under contract with a major sporting goods company to sell their equipment. And, I can proudly state I outfitted Colorado high schools with basketball shoes, bags, uniforms and warm-up suits.
Vargo also points out commitment. “To be successful, entrepreneurs always are making sacrifices and networking,” he added. “You have to find those new customers and that takes a toll on both time and finances.”
He’s right. I had my business before the internet, and I spent hours finding new clients by cold calling athletic directors. Even though it was a part-time venture, it cut into my leisure time.
Vargo not only listens to numerous business plans, he’s also owned a small bookkeeping service and admits there are pros and cons to entrepreneurship. “It’s lucrative and there’s that flexibility of finding new customers without a corporate watchdog,” he said. “But, there also exists the constant uncertainty of income coupled with an extreme time commitment.”
So, how does his team offer assistance?
“An SBDC can provide an objective perspective of a business opportunity,” Vargo explained. “It really behooves an aspiring entrepreneur to sit down with us. We take a non-financial and non-emotional look and evaluate the business in terms of marketing, finance, management and overall business operations.”
He even offered advice to mitigate both financial and time management risks. “Start small in stages if you can, such as part time,” he added. “Try to find a similar business, not a competitor and outside of your geographic location, and talk to the owners. Ask them the obstacles and hurdles they had to overcome and how long it took.”
His advice is spot on. With SBA’s website overflowing with sample business plans, local workshops and links to free, confidential one-on-one assistance from our resource partners, it’s easier than ever to open that small business you’ve been dreaming about.
But before you up your game, get some advice from a coach at your nearest SBDC, SCORE chapter or women’s business center.
Dr. Hunt’s business column appears quarterly. For more information or to suggest a topic, contact the SBA Pittsburgh District Office at: firstname.lastname@example.org