Happy New Year, and welcome back (if you had a chance to get away for the holidays)!
In 2022, we enjoyed sharing with you some of our network’s specialized and niche areas of expertise. To kick off this new year, we would like to refresh your memory on some of the core competencies and standard services you can find in any of our centers. These topics provide the foundational components of building a business, the “frequently asked questions,” and steps that ensure our clients have what they need to be successful in owning and operating their small business for the long term.
The business advising services provided by any ND SBDC location in our state are always customized to meet the client’s needs. We like to say, we meet them where they are – if they are coming in with a “napkin-idea,” a basic DIY business plan, a passion for something but little business acumen, or if they are already a business owner seeing success, or experiencing challenges – it does not matter, we will work on what they need at each visit.
Based on the data we collect from advising sessions and our statewide needs assessment study, the two most frequently requested areas of assistance are in developing a business plan and financial work/projections (loan packaging, capital access, etc).
Despite what others might think about their importance, business plans are still as relevant and necessary in today’s world as ever. The level of detail sometimes fluctuates, but for traditional financing and venture capital – the funder wants to know if the business owner has a plan. As many of you reading this also recognize, the business plan is just as beneficial as an internal document since it is the blueprint for how the business will function and succeed. Each section or component of the plan reflects a vital piece of the business whole. We are also seeing new topics being needed in the business plan, including cybersecurity plans and initial exit plans. It is important for business owners to have an experienced ND SBDC Business Advisor looking at their business plan to ask the “what if” questions and point them in the right direction when information is missing or details feel lacking or unrealistic.
Financial topics (analysis, preparing projections, and identifying capital sources) are the bread and butter of the ND SBDC. We have proprietary software to help clients through this phase of business development, which gets heavy use from both our pre-venture clients and our existing business clients. Seeking start-up capital, looking to expand, or just needing an annual financial check up to confirm that the business is operating efficiently and heading towards meeting financial goals are many reasons we use this tool from our toolbox. This service takes the most time, the output is very detailed, and using the ND SBDC for this service ensures that the financials are regionally relevant, funding program specific, and that initial due diligence on the assumptions has been completed. Our advisors are well-versed and very familiar with federal, state, and regional/local funding programs, what programs work well together, and what clients could be eligible for (or not, in some cases). Having well-prepared financials saves the lender time and gives the client confidence in how their business will move forward and be profitable. Please note that the ND SBDC does not provide underwriting services, nor do we have business funding.
Who likes doing market research? WE DO! All ND SBDC offices have access to several top-notch industry and market research databases because this is a very important part of concept development. For a business to be viable, the owner needs to consider up-to-date market data to know if they have a customer, if there is room in the market for their new business, and to understand realistic margins, costs, and profits. This information isn’t just for new business ventures either, it is just as important for an existing business to know where they stand in the current market and if they are on track with benchmarks for their industry, that’s why we encourage current business owners to stop in each year for a “check-up.”
Other very necessary and frequently demanded services that we provide consistently across the state include business registration and other start-up logistics, marketing guidance, setting up budgeting and bookkeeping systems (QuickBooks Pro training), buying or selling a business, an e-commerce platform (ShopND), Cybersecurity assessment and toolkit, intellectual property processes, employee/HR matters, exporting assistance (SBA-certified), exit and succession planning, business expansions, strategic planning, and turn-around work.
I encourage you to check out the About Us page to find the advisor closest to you and their specific areas of expertise and credentials. Clients are not limited to only their local Center Director or Business Advisor for services. If you or someone who could benefit from our services have a specific question for one of our experts, please connect to the appropriate individual, no matter where they are located!
Tiffany Ford, State Director
And all the Staff of the ND Small Business Development Centers