If you are a local entreprenuer looking for free advice on how to start or grow your company, here’s an idea: Make an appointment with the Snohomish County Small Business Development Center.
Jennifer Shelton is one of the Washington State Business Development Center’s 30 statewide business advisors, and her territory includes Edmonds, Lynnwood and Mountlake Terrace. Local business owners who have worked with Shelton can’t say enough about the services that the center provides, almost all of which are free of charge.
“This is one of the best small business resources available,” said Julie Nealey, who owns Stella & Floyds Pet Care in Edmonds.
The Small Business Development Center operates through Washington State University, Western Washington University, several of the state’s community and technical colleges, and selected economic development agencies. Since advising services are funded through the U.S. Small Business Administration as well as participating colleges and agencies, they are provided to businesses at no cost. (Minimal fees may apply for specialized training, outside services or materials.)
In addition, strict conflict-of-interest policies prohibit advisors from benefiting from the advice they provide. Shelton, who holds an MBA from Western Washington University, also has certifications in sales and marketing and professional coaching. Business owners say her help has been a valued part of their success.
“Jennifer exposed us to essential tools for business building, such as business plans and business goal mapping,” said Alaa Al-Jelaihawi, co-owner of Edmonds-based Dave’s Towing and Transport along with his father Aref Al-Jelaihawi and brother Safaa. “She got us thinking about what we want for the future and how we can get there, in addition to pinning down what we actually do and what our mission is.”
Karissa Breshear, CEO of Gourmet Latte, which has three Lynnwood locations, said that the Small Business Development Center worked with her to formulate her company mission/vision statement and also assisted in developing her organizational operations.
“They helped me become more organized not only with my own vendors by making sure I’m getting the most for my dollar, but also the best of who and what’s out there,” said Breshear, who founded Gourmet Latte after being laid off from Boeing 21 years ago. Since opening her first coffee stand in Lynnwood in 1995, Breshear’s business has grown to include 134 employees and 16 locations, with two more planned by the end of 2016.
“It was surprising how much writing down what our business was about helped us to see it clearly,” added Alaa Al-Jelaihawi of Dave’s Towing and Transport. “We work day and night and are experts at what we do, but to actually see it written out in words gave us another perspective.”
With Shelton’s help, the Al-Jelaihawi family developed a plan to hire employees for their car hauling business, which transports used vehicles for dealerships and auctions in Western Washington. They also prepared a balance sheet for the first time, and built a company website — davestransport.com — Al-Jelaihawi said.
Another business that has benefited from the Small Business Development Center’s expertise is The Workshop, a health and fitness studio that is expanding to a larger location at Edmonds’ Salish Crossing this summer.
The Workshop is the brainchild of two women — Kim Engelke of Edmonds’ Pilates in The Village, and Katie Kahumoku of Mountlake Terrace’s True Form Day Spa — who decided to combine their separate businesses and talents into one location on the Edmonds waterfront. Scheduled to open July 16, The Workshop will be offering classical Pilates instruction and training, crossfit with a focus on adaptive athletics, group fitness classes, and massage and skin care services.
According to Engelke, the Small Business Development Center assisted the company with its financial analysis for easier review by banks, and helped edit and fine tune The Workshop’s business plan to improve the potential for loan offerings.
“I am a firm believer that no one knows everything there is to know about business,” Engelke said. “It is always beneficial to talk with specialists for help.”
Julie Nealey described how Shelton helped her “prioritize, create realistic goals based on my concrete financial data and helped with the completion of my business plan.” Working in conjunction with Washington State University business students, Shelton compiled an 18-page document that included comprehensive data and demographics of all pet owners in the surrounding area, Nealey said.
Jennifer Shelton offered the following advice to those who are thinking about seeking the center’s help:
- Ideally you should either have a business or a solid business idea you are pursuing, or a business you would like to buy.
- Before meeting with your advisor, be thinking about what you want to gain from your meeting. What questions do you have? What would you like assistance with?
- Consider what drew you to the business you are in or considering? What are your business and quality-of-life goals?
To set up an appointment, you can contact Shelton by phone at 425-640-1435 or by email at email@example.com.
— By Teresa Wippel