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Free advice pays off for small businesses

By JACINDA HOWARD

The Mirror

As a way of strengthening the local business community and stimulating economic growth, the Highline Small Business Development Center offers free advice and resources to business owners.

“It’s kind of the American dream to own your own business,” said Maryann Budlong, Highline SBDC business advisor.

The Highline SBDC, 33320 1st Way S., has offered its services to small and medium-sized businesses in southwest King County since June 2006. At the Highline SBDC, full-time Certified Business Advisor Zev Siegl and part-time business advisor Maryann Budlong provide their services to owners and managers who live or operate in Federal Way.

The advisors assist clients in several ways. They help them create and improve marketing strategies and business plans, make financial projections and apply for loans. They also provide confidential advice on effective ways to analyze financial data, expand, stabilize, sell, buy and manage a business.

Besides the one-on-one counseling, the advisors also teach classes such as the Small Business Success Series at Highline Community College, Budlong said.

“I love working with small businesses,” Budlong said. “To me, it’s a puzzle.”

SBDC clients benefit by seeking help at the center because the services are free. In addition, Siegl and Budlong have first-hand experience in owning and operating a business. Both have undergone a six-month certification process as well, Budlong said.

Also, if they are not able to answer a client’s questions, they have a wide network of resources they can refer the client to, Budlong said.

The center’s clientele is diverse. Some customers are the sole operators of their businesses. Others are owners of million-dollar businesses that export their materials.

The word small has a different definition for each industry, Budlong said. Some clients are inventors, and some have just bought an already established business.

Bruce Johnson of Federal Way used to drive a petroleum truck for Chevron. He injured his back while performing his work.

The experience inspired him to create a product that would help prevent other drivers from incurring similar injuries.

He opened Western Washington Safety Consultants Inc. in 2004. This is his first attempt at owning and operating his own establishment.

His business profited in its first few years. However, Johnson knew it could be more efficient and successful.

“I didn’t have a good concept when it came to marketing,” Johnson said.

Johnson contacted the Highline SBDC in November 2006. Since that time, Johnson has met with Budlong for a couple of hours every other week, he said.

She has assisted him in creating a marketing and a business plan. She has also helped him analyze his finances and build a budget.

After seeking the SBDC’s services, Johnson now realizes his innovation is worth more than what he previously charged for it.

“I was practically giving my product away,” he said.

Auburn resident and Federal Way business owner Karen Giller owns and operates Signatures Custom Logo Candies, which produces customized candy wrappers. The company has existed since 1989.

Giller was hired as an employee in 1990. In January 2006, she bought the company. Like Johnson, this is Giller’s first attempt at owning and operating a business. When she purchased Signatures Customer Logo Candies, the company was struggling to succeed, she said.

“I was running the business the past year or so almost at a loss,” she said.

Giller began meeting with Budlong for financial and management advice in October 2006.

Budlong has helped her understand the administrative side of running a business as well as profit margins.

The cost of supplies to produce the company’s products increases annually, so Budlong plans to provide Giller with information that will assist her in deciding when a price increase is needed, Giller said.

Johnson and Giller are just two examples of business owners the Highline SBDC has helped. Since January 2007, the program has assisted 18 businesses in the area.

There is no way to define a typical small-business owner, Budlong said. Each person has his or her own concerns, questions and problems. The center and its advisors are there to help the client address these.

Generally, clients will come to the SBDC seeking help or advice in one or a few particular areas of business, and realize there are other areas that need to be addressed as well.

Often, small-business owners get ahead of themselves, Budlong said. They want to serve everyone and offer everything.

“They leap before they look,” Budlong said.

The Highline SBDC knows this though, that’s why they offer their services to those who need them, regardless of how many people it takes to operate the business or the products it offers.

Contact Jacinda Howard: jhoward@fedwaymirror.com or (253) 925-5565.

Learn more

To learn more about the Highline Small Business Development Center or to schedule an appointment with a business advisor, call (253) 943-4002 or e-mail Maryann Budlong at

mbudlong@highline.edu.

SBDC program at a glance

The Highline SBDC is a branch of the Washington Small Business Development Centers, a partnership between the U.S. Small Business Administration, Washington state universities and community colleges and economic development organizations. The WSBDC has 23 locations in the state.

Funding for the Highline SBDC comes from the city of Federal Way and King County. The city and county are willing to invest in the Highline SBDC because they want to see small businesses prosper, said Maryann Budlong, SBDC business development specialist. When small businesses prosper, the city grows and the community becomes more vibrant, which attracts more people to the area, she said.

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