BERLIN — The Small Business Development Center at Salisbury University has been among the better kept secrets of the business community for some time. Although many people are familiar with the fact that it is a program of some sort, fewer understand the breadth and depth of the non-profit’s services for both startups and established businesses alike.
But now that the SBDC has established a strong presence in Berlin, it is likely their services will find even more clients among both the staple companies and those businesses that will begin to and continue filling the retail and offices space in the area.
Although the SBDC remains silent at all times on who their clients are and what they do for them, local businessman and Burley Oak Brewery owner Bryan Brushmiller credits them almost completely with his early success.
While much of the legwork was his own, he said they opened doors and helped him make connections he never could have on his own. He was able to get the expertise of an entire industry through the conduit of the SBDC, which made it easier for him to focus on the aspects of the brewery business with which he was already familiar.
Although Brushmiller is one of the more vocal of their local clients, the number of Berlin area business who have been seeking guidance from the SBDC has increased significantly in recent years, which is what prompted the group to consider setting up shop in town.
John Hickman, the regional director for the SBDC, has a particular problem that many other consulting companies don’t which is their commitment to their client’s privacy. Although they are willing and able to meet proprietors in their stores or homes, centralizing, he said, was just a way to better serve their clients.
“We wanted to increase our presence in the are for some time,” Hickman said. “So we started talking with Michael Day.”
Day, the Director of Business and Economic Development for Berlin was as happy to assist as he was grateful for the assistance.
As the main contact for local businesses that are either operating or considering operating in Berlin, Day is in constant need of resources to better help businesses. The more effective he can be at his job, the better able the Town will be to attract and retain quality businesses.
“It’s a real great resource for me,” Day said of the SBDC. “It’s almost like having another department.”
Hickman said that with Day’s help the SBDC was able to approach the Mayor and Council about having use of the Mayor’s Conference Room.
“The Mayor and Council were very supportive,” Hickman said.
Although the room is available for their use each Tuesday, for now, the SBDC limits their visits to the second and fourth Tuesday of the month.
Although it is not a requirement Day always strongly suggests that entrepreneurs get as much expert advice as possible as they go through the process of configuring their business and that expert advice often comes from Lois Haggerty, Business Councilor for the SBDC.
Haggerty has decades of practical experience as well as experience as a consultant. Part confidante, part taskmaster — again, according to Brushmiller — Haggerty specializes as much in knowing what to say as knowing when to stay quiet.
For a business owner, or a potential business owner, it is sometimes difficult to find someone to bounce ideas off of or to help get the right business plan underway. Haggerty plays that part and much more.
“[More established] clients might come in for strategic planning or help,” she said. “Very small business might just need a sounding board.”
Since the service is free and open-ended, it is no wonder it has become such a significant resource for so many small businesses.
According to Hickman, about half of their clients are established businesses and among those more than half need short term help to solve “acute” problems. Things such as seeking funding for expansion or preparing a business plan for growth. The opposite is sometimes true as small businesses seek guidance about how to better focus on their target market which sometimes requires constriction.
In addition to financial advice, the SBDC provides nearly every other consultant service possible. Their success is measured in the use their clients get from their help. Haggerty said that sometimes people will work with them for months and discover that the best thing to do is not open the kind of business they were considering opening. While this is sometimes a disappointment it is also a relief compared to the potential losses they might have suffered.
All SBDC services are free but meetings require appointments which can be made through the SBDC Website — http://www.salisbury.edu/sbdc — or by calling 410-548-4419.