Resources are available
to help start a business
There would be tons of online business start-up resources, if Web sites bore actual weight. Thousands of sites are on the Internet with volumes of knowledge.
Jane Sawyer, Hawaii assistant district director of the U.S. Small Business Administration, advises Web-surfing entrepreneurial hopefuls "to go with the names you know and can trust," Sawyer said.
The SBA site, for example, is at www.sba.gov/hi and the Service Corps of Retired Executives is at www.hawaiiscore.org.
SCORE offers free counseling appointments with seasoned business professionals who have been-there-done-that-gotten-the-golden-parachute. "It's like having your own dedicated mentor," Chairman D.J. Halcro said.
Using a Web site's search engine can be a useful tool in looking up start-up financing or business opportunities.
"You have to give yourself a little bit of time to get familiar with the site and the layers of the onion," Sawyer said. The most reliable online sources will offer a researcher connections to other good resources, she said.
SCORE's Web site provides access to the organization's national network of more than 10,000 counselors with varied business experience. Through its "Ask SCORE" link, anyone can seek answers and advice.
"The Cyber Counselor will contact them with an answer within 48 hours," Halcro said.
The state has fought long years to combat its image of being hostile to business, but one would never suspect controversy looking at the Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism Web site. It is among those offering numerous links to public- and private-sector Web sites for aspiring proprietors.
There is also strong federal support for businesses including those owned by minorities, Halcro said.
"When you ask many Hawaii companies if they are registered as a minority business, they say no, (but) are they a minority-owned business? Yes. Certification is a tool they often overlook and there are many benefits to being a minority-owned business when dealing with the government."
Sample business plans are readily available online, such as the 20 on the SBA Web site, through SCORE or other organizations, that can serve as templates for a business planner's needs.
"I think it's also very good to balance what you're working with on the Web, with a business consultant," said Sawyer.
A person at the start of a learning curve often doesn't know enough to know which questions to ask. There are 80 interactive classes on the SBA Web site, some in different languages, that are available around the clock for those who have not yet quit their day jobs.
"Some people will find a couple of different organizations to get the help simultaneously or at different times during their business cycle," said Sawyer.
Kick-starting the process
"I think the starting point for any of it is to ... commit to paper what the business is about, start the business plan and see where you need the different contacts as you go along," she said. SCORE often assigns a two- to three-person team to evaluate a business model and provide counsel.
Then there's the money part. "There will be a time when you're going to have to look for financing, beyond the $2,000 from the Bank of Mom and Dad, or Uncle Harry," Sawyer said.
The cost of money
Loans are obviously not free, but the cost of each varies. The SBA's Community Express Program is among what Sawyer called the organization's more innovative financing plans. It provides smaller loans through local banks. While the range is from $5,000 to $250,000, "most are smaller loans directed to low- to moderate-income groups, areas or minorities -- folks in rural areas. We're looking at what is going to drive the economy and get small businesses going. Many of them are small, home-based businesses."
"On the flip side, our 504 loan program is just in real demand right now," Sawyer said. "That's our fixed-asset, larger loan." It is designed for established businesses with good credit looking to expand, buy new equipment or remodel, for instance.
Some of these loans go into the millions, Sawyer said.
"In the SBA financing program, there is a continuum that factors in both your business experience and the time you've been in business, company assets, available collateral, and all along the way they're looking at your credit history," Sawyer said. "The higher the risk, the more you're going to pay. If your credit is not bright and shiny ..."
Alternative financing is available through several sources, including the Hawaii Community Loan Fund at www.hclf.org.
The bottom line
Small businesses face common challenges at the outset and once launched. Owners find themselves "trying to run all aspects of the business themselves, rather than managing," Halcro said. Many don't have an experienced person to establish and maintain a proper bookkeeping system, or have sales and marketing plans and they may encounter human resources and licensing difficulties.
"There are a number of fixes that we advise our clients about," said Halcro. "We also let them know that there are few easy fixes. Owning a business is 24/7 and the owner needs to know this is part of owning a business."
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