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Penn State Small Business Development Center is a Resource for Success

by on September 25, 2012 6:41 AM

Many people dream of owning their own business. The Penn State Small Business Development Center has been helping entrepreneurs to make that dream a reality for 15 years.

Established in 1997, the Penn State SBDC offers low cost business seminars and free one-on-one consulting to prospective and established business owners. The seminar topics include starting a business, writing a business plan, cash flow, taxes, bookkeeping, marketing and social media strategies.

“Over the years we have worked with nearly 2000 different businesses,” said Linda Feltman, senior business consultant and SBDC seminar instructor. “We have helped just under 300 new businesses start and assisted 50 people in purchasing an existing business.”

“Entrepreneurs tend to believe they know it all and can do it all,” she said. “They need to learn how to reach out and get help.”

In one on one counseling sessions with aspiring and established business owners, Feltman draws from her own experience with starting and running small businesses, and also from what she's learned from those she has counseled. She said the SBDC will not offer an opinion on whether a business idea is likely to succeed, but will assess the business plan to identify problems and recommend solutions.

This year, Pennsylvania's eighteen Small Business Development Centers are offering their introductory seminar, The First Step of Starting a Business, at no cost. This was made possible by special funding from the Small Business Jobs Act and additional sponsorship from SPE Federal Credit Union, Susquehanna Bank, SF& Company and The Learning Factory.

The First Step of Starting a Business is a three hour seminar, offered monthly, that gives an overview of how to create a successful business. The class also helps prospective business owners assess the feasibility of their business concept.

In the First Step seminar on Sept. 10, Feltman presented reasons why some businesses fail, and the importance of avoiding common pitfalls, such as underpricing products or services, inadequate start-up funding and inadequate liability insurance. She discussed the advantages and disadvantages of different business structures: sole proprietorships, partnerships, C and S corporations, and the new Limited Liability Companies, which include attributes of partnerships and corporations.

Feltman emphasized the importance of writing a detailed, well thought out business plan and explained what to include. She said the business owner should write their own business plan, and use the plan to guide the business.

Seminar attendees received a booklet that included the information covered in class, and useful resources such as a business start-up checklist, a sample business plan outline, and helpful websites.

The Sept. 10 seminar was sponsored by SPE Federal Credit Union. Michael Scott, SPE's small business lender, attended the seminar and offered his perspective on funding small businesses. He discussed what lenders look for in business plans and credit scores.

Feltman and Scott recommended working with local or regional companies for insurance and banking. Scott said: “Small local banks and credit unions are more interested in your business.”

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