Trend sat down recently with Sandi Brock, program director of the Southeast Women's Business Center, to get the latest advice of Chattanooga's business world.
Q. Sandi, what should women know about the resources available to them?
A. Many resources for entrepreneurial support are available in our area - the Southeast Women's Business Center (SEWBC), Tennessee Small Business Development Center, Women in Business Forum, Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce and the Business Development Center, National Association of Women Business Owners, and Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development. These resources work continually to provide individual assistance as well as special events targeting women business owners.
Q. What are two of the most pressing issues women in business are facing and how can they handle it?
A. Financial assistance and access to capital. At the SEWBC, we get many requests for free grant money to start businesses. In truth, free grant programs don't exist - that we're aware of. What we can offer to current and prospective business owners is access to usable information on financing and working capital as well as access to several types of Small Business Administration loan guarantee programs and internal funds from our agency. We can also provide referrals to other agencies in our area that specialize in programs we don't offer.
It's important to explore all of your options before making a decision on financing. Resources to consider include:
- personal savings
- private lending institutions
- venture capital firms
When going to meet with a potential financier, be sure to have prepared a thorough business plan that details projections of income, expenses, and cash flow; personal tax returns (past three years); business acumen, your qualifications and ability to run the business; and signed personal financial statements.
Q. What advice can you offer women regarding marketing and promotion of business?
A. Attend free or low-cost marketing classes and seminars offered through local resources. If none are available, contact the SEWBC, Business Development Center, or Tennessee Small Business Development Center to arrange an appointment for individual marketing counsel. Also ask for direct referrals to marketing professionals if you need additional assistance. Don't be afraid to get creative, and keep your eye out for what other companies are doing successfully. Marketing doesn't have to cost big bucks.
Q. What roadblocks or troublesome areas of the business world should women be aware of?
A. Unrealistic expectations - being woman-owned doesn't guarantee preferential treatment as a minority business. Businesses owned by women must still meet the same criteria as other businesses. However, by obtaining certifications through private and/or government agencies, businesses that are owned 51 percent or greater by a woman can have an advantage in securing government contracting opportunities.
Q. How can affiliation with the Chamber and organizations such as SEWBC benefit businesswomen?
A. True networking is an effective and low-cost marketing tool, easily cultivated through participating in various events. It also gives you the opportunity to know and work with businesses in your area.