Back when in-person meetings were a thing, I co-ran a local writers’ group. After a couple of years of success in teaching others to write, the other group facilitator and I started an editing business. At the beginning stages, this involved putting up a website and asking, “Now what?”
Mary, one of the nonfiction writers in our group, suggested a route she took: setting up an appointment with the local Small Business Development Center (SBDC). This is a free service housed within SUNY Buffalo, a university not far from home. Since we had zero better ideas—and almost less start-up cash after putting up the website—we were happy for any advice.
According to their website, the Buffalo State SBDC’s mission, in part, says they “provide…management and technical assistance to start-up and existing small businesses throughout Erie County and the Niagara Frontier.” By combining support from the university itself, the private sector, and government agencies, this creates a perfect storm of resources that allows the college to assist small businesses with financial, marketing, technical, and organizational stumbling blocks. They’re also funded through a cooperative agreement with the national U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), which enables the local entities to supply a plethora of valuable services at no cost to the small business owner(s).
Gregory, my business partner, set up an appointment with a lovely business advisor named Marilyn. As the initial appointment was in the middle of the workday and I was unable to get the time off, Gregory came home with a stack of information, worksheets for us to go over, and the directive: “Marilyn wants to meet with both of us next time.”
One of the items we reviewed prior to our next appointment was a start-up checklist, which included:
- Decide legal structure and file necessary paperwork
- Get a Federal Employer ID Number (EIN)
- Review Federal and State tax obligations
- Set up a state sales tax vendor registration (if selling tangible products)
- Apply for state licenses and permits, if applicable
- Open a business bank account
On top of all these daunting tasks, there were decisions to be made regarding: employees, should there be any; building a team to include a tax advisor or CPA, attorney, and business insurance broker; and setting up a system of communications to announce the business’s launch.
Phew! Any wonder I wanted to take down the website immediately and forget we ever had this idea? And this was before we even looked at the 11-page “Guide for Your Business Plan” Marilyn included in the stack.
We booked the second appointment for a time later in the day, and I asked my manager if I could flex my schedule. I had to bargain for this instead of taking precious time off—something that Marilyn later said would really bother her, to have to “ask permission.” This only lit another fire under us to make the business work.
Turns out Marilyn was right to insist both business partners be present at subsequent meetings. I am a copious note-taker and wrote down nearly everything she said for later digestion. Gregory thought of questions that I hadn’t, and vice-versa. One of the first things she did after her meeting with Gregory was to look at our website. Her take on it? The homepage didn’t explain clearly enough what services we offered. As a non-writer, her fresh eyes and business savvy fleshed this out—along with offering other suggestions as how our business could be found—and led us to ideas we would not have had on our own.
In addition to the meetings with Marilyn, we were able to attend extra events, some of which incurred a cost to non-SBDC members. Examples of these: free business law advice sessions throughout the Buffalo area and a half-day “Survive and Thrive: Essentials for Starting Your Own Business” workshop at a local art gallery.
Marilyn’s wealth of knowledge and her vast list of connections were just the boost we needed to get rolling. Despite our editing business being different than the typical brick and mortar ventures she was used to, she was eager to take up the challenge to help us, and we continued to meet with her once a month until we were ready to let go of her hand.
You can find your SBDC location at https://www.sba.gov/ by searching the “Local Assistance” tab. During COVID-19, many locations are offering remote sessions.
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Kimberly Mintz has been a freelance writer and editor for more than 30 years. Co-founder of The Writing Lodge (https://writinglodge.com/), her work has appeared on multiple travel, food, and women’s interest websites, and now on Medium (https://firstname.lastname@example.org). Catch up with the Lodge on Twitter @WritingLodge or by visiting The Writing Lodge on Facebook.