Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Finding Financing for Your Business: Part I

In days past a handshake with your banker was all that it took to obtain financing to start a business or to obtain a loan for your existing business. In today’s environment it can be very challenging to obtain any loan. But there will likely come a time when you need additional capital. Keeping that in mind, the following is a list of ideas that may work for you and your business.

1. Get a Bank Loan
Because lending standards have tightened you will need a business plan and projected revenues and expenses for your new business and at least an executive summary and current financials if you have an existing business. Many lenders will use the SBA program to guarantee your loan and reduce the risk for the lender which will increase your chances of securing a loan.

2. Ask Family and Friends
There is no harm in asking; and family and friends may want to help. Make sure you treat this as business, show them a formal business plan and explain how you intend to pay them back. You need to tell them about the risks involved, how you will pay them back and secure the loan with a note. After all your family will always be there.

3. Check your 401 k
You may be able to tap into your 401 k without penalty. You will need to set up a corporation and someone with experience to set this up such as an attorney or CPA.

4. Credit Cards
You can use a credit card but this can be risky business. Pay the minimum monthly and it can take you years to pay this off. However used responsibly it can get you out of a jam.

5. Investors
There are investors out there and they look for certain types of business. They will want you to know your business. They too will want a business plan, financial information and market analysis.

The options listed above are the historical go-to methods for obtaining capital for your business. Next week, part two of this article will explore other ideas for finding money to grow or start your business. See you then!

Marge Cirillo has entrepreneurial experience that includes owning and operating three highly successful restaurants and catering service for eight years. After selling the restaurants she went to work for the SBA Disaster Team as a loan specialist. She has also worked for Certified Development Companies as an underwriter and marketer of the SBA 504 Loan program. Before joining the SBDC Marge was an Assistant Vice President at a community bank specializing in SBA lending. She now serves as the SBDC liaison in St. Johns County.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Lighting Analytics

Interesting development: Certain old fluorescent light bulbs are no longer being produced.  Our client, Jim Anderson, is helping companies update their fixtures and lights to meet the new standards.  But even better, these updates are a money saving opportunity based on the low operating costs of LED lights.  Check his LED Lighting website.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Developing a Winning Brand Strategy

A company’s brand epitomizes the business and communicates to the public what and who the business is. It is all about the image of the business and the impression you want to make on your customers.  A good logo is just the beginning of branding and is the base for your identity package (business cards, letterhead, signage, website, etc).  The key to visual collateral is it needs to be well-designed with the target audience in mind.  In addition to your look, your words are important to your marketing.  Slogans, messaging and language should match your culture and personality.

So how do you put it all together? With a successful brand strategy of course. But that can be a tricky undertaking. To help you get started, here are a few tips to building a branding strategy for your business.

Tips to Build a Successful Brand Strategy
1.       Define your brand – What do you offer and what specific customer need does your brand fill?

2.        Be unique – What can your brand do or offer that your competitors do not? Establish the unique value proposition (UVP) for your brand. 

3.       Develop your name, logo and tagline – This creative aspect is the key to unlock your brand image in the consumer’s mind. 

4.       Stand for something – What does your company stand for? Examples include: fun, environmentally friendly, service to others, etc. 

5.       Be consistent – Develop a style guide to ensure creative consistency and be very consistent in messages conveyed about the brand across all mediums. 

6.       Build long-term relationships with your customers – Deliver consistently on your brand promise to ensure both repeat customer business, referrals and brand evangelists.
7.       Measure effectiveness -- Who knows your brand, what do they think, are they loyal and who are they? Customer surveys and focus groups can provide invaluable information.  Also, be sure to continually check and track online engagement metrics such as mentions, shares, subscribers, etc.

Putting the strategy together is the first step actually implementing the plan take time, patience and perseverance. But you can do it, and your business will be the better for it.  Questions? Make an appointment with any of our business consultants.  They are here to help and happy to do it.

Tracy Nazzaro works from the FSBDC office in Nassau County. She has a knack for focusing on the organization and management of new and developing businesses. She has successfully initiated business expansion efforts that included detailed financial and operating assessments. Most recently, Nazzaro was Vice President of Aldebaran Partners and worked as an advisor to a diverse range of businesses. Nazzaro is a graduate of the University of South Florida. She has a Bachelor of Arts degree in speech communication and business administration. 

Friday, July 11, 2014

Car Accident Recovery

Ever gotten in a car crash and started fretting about the resale value of your car?  Leticia Slade had just this problem and decided to fight back.  Leticia founded Car Accident Recovery, in hopes of helping others get the money they deserve from insurance companies through a diminished value claim.

"When you get in an accident, the insurance company is supposed to make things right.  But they don't account for the lost value to your vehicle due to the use of used or after market parts, paint differences, and of course Carfax and Autocheck reports.  We give you the tools to collect on the lost value."

Car Accident Recovery is a women owned business, and hails Jacksonville as its home.  It's great to see businesses like this popping up on the First Coast.

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

New FSBDC office in Suwannee County

The Florida Small Business Development Center at the University of North Florida (FSBDC at UNF) is pleased to announce the opening of a new full-service FSBDC office in Suwannee County. 
Located in the Suwannee County Chamber of Commerce in Live Oak, the new FSBDC office will provide one-on-one consulting, training and information to help business owners make sound decisions and to assist potential owners in getting started on the right foot.
Mark Yarick has been hired as a consultant to work with businesses in Suwannee and surrounding counties. Mark's professional experience includes work in the automotive field with hands-on management and production supervision as well as warranty and customer service. He has been a small business owner since 2002 and holds an undergraduate degree from St. Leo University. Mark will lead the FSBDC efforts in growing opportunities in Agribusiness.
To make an appointment at the new FSBDC located at 212 North Ohio Ave. in Live Oak, call (386) 362-1782.

Thursday, July 03, 2014

Husband and Wife In Business Together By Design

Marion Cook has always enjoyed interior design and space planning and her husband, Paul, has enjoyed building things.   Having been married for 21 years, they worked well together on projects. Paul’s work in construction management required frequent travel around the country and took him further into the paperwork associated with government contracting than he wanted to go. He wanted to get back to building things on a smaller scale, reduce the travel and establish a business that could sustain their family, as well as providing a way to fully employ each of their gifts and talents working together.  Kitchen and bath projects are typically more complicated than other types of remodeling.  The Cooks gravitated toward the challenge and found that those projects offered a good balance of complexity, artistic expression, customer interaction and engineering that matched their strengths. 

Paul and Marion first visited the FSBDC at UNF in January 2012. They attended several workshops covering topics such as business planning, taxes, marketing and QuickBooks.  They also met FSBDC consultant Cathy Hagan who helped them develop a business plan, including cash-flow projections. 

The Cabinet Shoppe officially opened its showroom in April 2013.  It is a family-owned business that provides custom designs, quality cabinetry, and expert installation for residential and commercial clients.  They specialize in helping people find what they love – in design, function and finish.  There are a myriad of possible styles on the market today, and the company’s design team is skilled at creating designs that best match clients’ tastes, while achieving the best functionality of a given space.  In addition to design services, The Cabinet Shoppe offers high-quality, American-made cabinetry and accessories from select manufacturers and local builders, ranging from stock to full custom.  To ensure clients’ long term investment is preserved, they partner with select installers who each have many years’ experience in cabinet-making and finish carpentry.  Fantastic cabinets will be all for naught with a poor installation! 

Marion Cook has a degree in interior design and is the lead kitchen and bath designer.  She works with clients in developing well-functioning, beautiful designs that capture the look and feel that the client desires.  Marion is skilled in creating beautiful spaces with traditional, blended or modern themes.  Prior to founding The Cabinet Shoppe, she worked with interior design firms in Ponte Vedra and Jacksonville Beach, as well as independently for 14 years. She is currently a board member of the Jacksonville chapter of the National Kitchen and Bath Association (NKBA).

Paul Cook manages the purchasing and installation phases of projects and works closely with both clients and subcontractors.  Prior to joining The Cabinet Shoppe, Paul managed large commercial construction projects with Sauer, Inc. for 5 years.  He originally came to Jacksonville with the Navy and served as a Lieutenant.   He has a degree in Construction Management from UNF and a degree in Physics from the Naval Academy.  He is a licensed contractor and a LEED Accredited Professional.  One of Paul's passions is woodworking, and he builds custom kitchen hoods, islands and cabinetry for select projects. 

Starting The Cabinet Shoppe has presented some challenges for Paul and Marion.  Juggling the responsibilities of running the business while keeping up with the hectic schedule of three children has made life interesting.  They equally share the housework and childcare responsibilities by alternating routines each week – never a dull moment!
Another challenge was learning all the intricacies of starting and running a business, especially in the area of government compliance.   The Cooks attended several workshops offered by the FSBDC at UNF to help them navigate these waters. 
Launching this type of business requires a significant up-front investment that may take years to recoup.  It has been the one of the most difficult tasks the Cooks have ever tackled.   “The challenge has strengthened our faith in God without a doubt!” said Paul.

Despite these challenges, Marion and Paul are passionate about The Cabinet Shoppe and are having fun.  They enjoy working with customers who appreciate the value of high-quality products.  “Treasure worth searching for” is their tag line, helping people find beautiful things for their home.  They get to work with very talented artisans in a variety of specialties.  But the most fun comes from working together, expressing their artistic sides in creative ways that results in a design that exceeds the client’s expectations.

Building The Cabinet Shoppe brand has been a great opportunity for Paul and Marion to combine their creative ideas and business experiences and shape this new entity. As individuals, they have unique backgrounds and think differently about how certain things should be done.   Working through such issues has been rewarding and inspiring, especially as they see the results their labors starting to bear fruit!

Monday, June 23, 2014

The Key to Business Success? Understanding the Numbers!

Regardless of whether you've been in business for years or just starting up, having accurate financial statements - and understanding what the numbers are telling you - is a must for sustained growth and success.  
Accurate financials are essential for determining any of the following:
  • Financing readiness.  Any serious commercial lender or potential investor will demand a credible set of financial statements.
  • Opportunity readiness.  Knowing how to best prepare to take on a substantial amount of new work, a new contract or a new project.
  • The types of credit terms the business can afford to offer.
  • Whether it’s time to adjust your pricing.
  • What targets might be realistic in reducing the costs of doing business.
  • How the business stacks up against its peers in its industry.
  • Which services, products - or customers - are the most profitable, and which ones the business should let go of.
  • Whether additional offerings might lead to better profit margins.
  • How prepared the business is for emergency financial needs, such as unexpected repairs.
  • Whether receivables are lagging and require attention.
  • Which financial numbers in YOUR business are the most important for you to stay on top of on a regular basis.

Your business is an investment.  You cannot afford not to know how that investment is doing financially on an ongoing basis. It is without question that having an ongoing - and not just a year-end - relationship with an accountant who can help maintain the accuracy of your books and generate your firm’s financial statements on a monthly or quarterly basis can pay for itself in terms of increasing a business owner’s ability to make smart and timely business decisions.

For small businesses, accuracy in maintaining the following financial statements is of critical importance:
  • Profit & loss statement.  If sufficient detail can be captured in the firm’s record-keeping system to determine profitability by separate service or product lines, or even by customer, so much the better.
  • Balance sheet.  Understanding the business’ assets, liabilities and owners’ equity.
  • Statement of cash flows.  As the saying goes, “Cash is King.”  A statement of cash flows provides clarity in understanding how cash comes into the business and how the business pays its expenses and debts.

I also recommend cash flow projections to estimate whether money will be available to pay for business operations when needed and for advance planning for potential cash shortfalls.

Need help with getting the most out of your business’ financial records?  Our business consultants at the FSBDC at UNF are here to help.  Just find our location nearest to you at www.sbdc.unf.edu.

Paul Arrington worked at the U.S. Small Business Administration for over 20 years and worked his way to become District Counsel in the SBA Jacksonville District Office.  In 2006, Paul became the Procurement Technical Assistance Center Manager at the Jacksonville Regional Chamber of Commerce where he helped businesses get contracts with governmental agencies.  Paul joined the SBDC at UNF in 2008 to become a Cconsultant and Director of Micro Enterprise Development. 

Friday, June 13, 2014

What is Financial Bench-marking?

Financial Bench-marking is the process of determining the financial performance of a company within a specific industry and how it compares to other similar companies within the given industry.   Bench-marking is also a management tool which allows the evaluation of the strengths and weaknesses of a company in order to develop effective strategic financial and process planning. It is a good idea to consider bench-marks to better understand the some key factors that have an affect on your business. But what bench-marks should you start with?

Useful financial benchmarks include:
  • gross, operating and net profit margins
  • sales and profitability trends
  • inventory, accounts receivable and accounts payable turnover
  • salary and compensation data
  • revenue per employee
  • cost per employee
  • marketing expense as a percent of revenue
  • revenue to fixed assets ratio

To conduct accurate bench-marking you will need to determine the company’s NAICS Code (North American Industry Classification System). This code is very specific to the business model and it can be readily found on the U.S. Census Bureau web site.

The following are some free sources for gathering your bench-marking data:
  • The Florida Small Business Development Center Network (FSBDC)
  • Trade / Industry Associations
  • Internal Revenue Service Corporate Source Book
  • Annual Reports of Public Companies
  • Bureau of Labor Statistics Labor Productivity and Costs
  • US Census Business Expense Survey
  • US Census Annual Survey of Manufacturers

If you would like further information on how financial bench-marking can help your business, please call the FSBDC at 352-622-8763. Our consultants are here to assist in your business development goals.

Peter Rivera joined the SBDC Team as a consultant in 2010 with 15+ years of business management experience. He has a wide range of previous experience in industries,  including Media Management, Manufacturing, Retail and Architectural Design. He assists SBDC clients in all stages of business: Pre-Venture, Start-Up, Micro-Business and Small-Medium Enterprise.  Peter specializes in: Business Development, Financial Analysis & Management, Sales Strategies and Media Management and works out of the Ocala Office.

Thursday, June 05, 2014

FSBDC at UNF Employee Excellence!

The Small Business Development Center at the University of North Florida recently recognized individuals for performance excellence in support of entrepreneurs growing small businesses in northeast Florida. The following awards were given to SBDC at UNF employees:

Consultant of the Year: Marge Cirillo

Marge runs a one-person consulting/training/information center in St. Johns County, yet she works very closely as a valuable team member with FSBDC consultants in Jacksonville, Palatka, Nassau County and Ocala.  She consistently looks for ways to assist clients with team consulting and is always willing to volunteer to assist another consultant.  She has continued to develop her expertise in capital access and has a wide reaching network of lenders to assist FSBDC clients. Marge exceeded her goals for consulting hours, logging the second highest number of consulting hours in 2013.  She exceeded her goal for number of clients, had the highest number of business starts and one of the highest number of jobs created by clients in 2013.  She also submitted the most success stories in 2013.   

Employee of the Year: Ali Stephens

Ali started her employment with the FSBDC at UNF in 2006 as a part-time student assistant.  She continued to work part-time through her master’s program and, upon completion of her studies, was hired full-time by the FSBDC at UNF in Nov. 2010 as an administrative assistant.  Ali was promoted to training coordinator in Nov. 2013.  Ali takes initiative and gets things done.  She has a can-do attitude and is a great team player.  Her cheerful and collaborative work ethic is infectious and enables a smooth and issue-free office atmosphere.  The result is successful SBDC events.  Ali exceeded her performance goals in 2013, documenting 101% of training hour goals, 114% of direct service goals, and 108% of outreach goals.  Ali assumed primary responsibility for the annual nonprofit conference and took a strong supporting role in assisting with other special events like It’s HER Business and Small Business Week.  In addition, Ali serves as the SBRN coordinator in Jacksonville.

Congratulations!  It is our pleasure to work with these ladies!