An event at La Verne SBDC (Photo - University of La Verne).

      An event at La Verne SBDC (Photo – University of La Verne).

      Everyone remembers their first kiss, their first car, or their first job. When I think back about these things, I close my eyes and take a deep breath. I also do that thinking about my first professional.

      By Kassandra Aguilera

      It was at the Small Business Development Center (SBDC), a government- and grant-funded organization that provides a free service for people who want to start or grow their own small business. This is where emerging entrepreneurs can receive businesses advice regardless of their new (or developed) business. Consultants, who are considered black belts in business, are — in my opinion — available to offer advice and guidance for the low price of free-fifty-free!

      It may sound too good to be true, but it’s real. When I worked there, the number-one question I would always get was, How can this be free? What’s the catch?” And my answer was always the same. The reason the consulting services are free is due to the U.S. government seeing the importance of providing advice to small business owners. Small businesses are the backbone of the U.S. economy and help create jobs and advance the community.  Therefore, the government created a branch called the Small Business Administration, and that’s what the SBDC falls under.  The Small Business Development Center became the boots on the ground, taking care of the day-to-day activities while the Small Business Administration was the decision-maker, helping guide business owners to become successful in their endeavors.

      As a small business owner, there are so many questions and obstacles that can discourage you from starting or continuing. The SBDC consultants help in a variety of fields such as marketing, acquisitions, government contracts, business plans, small-business loans, and more.  The University of La Verne SBDC, where I worked, has three consultants: Alex Vasquez, who focuses on marketing strategy and website development; Rene Cota, who focuses on government contracts and small-business certifications; and Malcolm Geffen, who focuses on business starts and business acquisitions in order to run a successful business.

      Attending an event at La Verne SBDC (Photo - University of La Verne).

      Attending an event at La Verne SBDC (Photo – University of La Verne).

      Benefits and frustrations

      While working for the SBDC for two years, I saw the benefits that make clients rave, but I also saw some of their frustrations.

      To start off, it’s free. You are already paying for it with your tax dollars so get your money’s worth. Next, you build a relationship with your consultant and can schedule an appointment when you need to meet with them again. Lastly, they are your biggest supporters.  If you are passionate and determined to start and grow a business, they will do everything they can to help you get where you need to go, and if they don’t have the resources to help you, they reach out to their local partners to find the resources you need.

      The SBDC also offers low-cost, sometimes free, workshops to learn about different aspects of business and the tools and tips that experienced speakers would share. At the center, where I worked, consultants spoke on social media changes for marketing, essential small-business government regulations, and Facebook and Google online presence creation.

      But don’t expect SBDC consultants to do the work for you.  Alex Vasquez, owner of DigiSavy and a digital consultant, says that “a lot of the clients would walk in and expect me to build and fix all the problems for them,” but that’s not what the SBDC is about. Consultants do their best to help you but can only give you the tools to do it for yourself.

      Kassandra Aguilera at an event helmed by La Verne SBDC (Photo - University of La Verne).

      Kassandra Aguilera at an event helmed by La Verne SBDC (Photo – University of La Verne).

      Successes and downfalls

      The best thing about working there was having previous clients come back in and tell us about their business journey. Both the successes and the downfalls were interesting to me and showed me how unique each business is. It’s inspiring to see everyone with the dream of starting and owning their own business. There were clients coming in and out of the office, always seeking more knowledge on how to get better, moving their schedules around to make sure that the consulting time was beneficial for their growth. Seeing some of the most successful small businesses come in for a consultation shocked me at first, because I thought they already had it figured out. In reality, it showed me that not everyone is going to know what to do, and that even the most experienced people ask for opinions and guidance.

      Looking back, I learned a lot at the SBDC, and it shaped how I look at businesses/life.

      1. You can’t know everything, and you aren’t expected to.
      2. Don’t be afraid to ask for help; you aren’t bugging the staff.
      3. Follow your passions, and make of your company what you want.
      4. You have to work hard for your dreams; no one else can do it for you.
      5. Business is all about credits and debits; you get what you put in (usually).

      If you’re a small-business owner or thinking of starting a business, meet with your local SBDC consultant and see how they can help guide you.  You shouldn’t be alone in this process. There are people who will help you when you need a hand.

      Kassandra Aguilera is a recent graduate of the University of La Verne with a B.S. in Business Administration. She inspires to help businesses grow and develop through marketing and public relations. Kassandra is currently working as the Marketing Coordinator at DigiSavvy.

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