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Small biz: Overflow at small-business workshop a sign of the times

Marcia McGilley called it a “sign of the times” when 37 people crowded into the Castle Rock library on March 4 for her two-hour “Business Startup Basics” workshop. Twenty-three had signed up in advance for the night session, so extra seats had to be brought in.

“Last year we averaged nine to 12 people,” McGilley said as she instructed attendees to scoot closer together to sit three to a table instead of two. “We have more people than we have seats right now.”

McGilley, the director of the South Metro Denver Small Business Development Center that hosts the workshops, gave three fairly obvious reasons for increased attendance.

“Businesses that are doing well look at the economy and are afraid,” she said. “They come in for help before something happens. The second group are business owners who are hemorrhaging or seeing the writing on the wall. They come in for us to help save them if we can. Then there are people who have been laid off or fear getting laid off, and they start looking at doing their own thing.”

The South Metro Small Business Development Center is a cooperative venture between the U.S. Small Business Administration and the state of Colorado. It provides education and free consulting to businesses in Arapahoe, Douglas and South Jefferson counties. Information on SBDC workshop schedules and locations is available at www.SmallBusiness Denver.com.

Over the years McGilley has launched five businesses herself ranging from motivational speaking, to a company called “Murder for Hire” for which the business partners wrote and performed their own murder mysteries, to a marketing consulting firm.

“I think most of the Small Business Development Center directors and consultants either currently do or have owned businesses,” McGilley said. She pointed out that her center often refers clients to SCORE – the Service Corp. of Retired Executives, also a resource partner of the SBA – and vice versa. “They’re retired and they tend to have had 25 to 35 years in a business. Our people tend to be serial entrepreneurs. Therefore, people get different things from each.”

The South Denver Metro area is one of the most affluent regions in Colorado, and McGilley says startup business activity has been brisk: 813 new businesses in Arapahoe County, 327 in Douglas County and 646 in Jefferson County last year.
Not all businesses make it, of course. And McGilley says the 17 SBDCs around the state sometimes must help businesses close their doors, though none have come to her with that need yet this year.

“I tell them, ‘You came into this with good intentions and compassion for what you do. You need to close your business with the same intention,’” McGilley says. “Because if you just disappear in the middle of the night and don’t tell your landlord and don’t tell your banker, they’re going to find you. And that isn’t the way business is done.”

Among the center’s recent successes is Ryan Fetzer, who drafted a business plan with help from South Metro center adviser Jayne Reiter and in July 2007 launched Midwest Rockfall, a company that stabilizes rock slopes that pose a hazard to motorists or residents below.

“We got help from a lot of different directions,” says Fetzer, 31. “I went to the SBDC when I was trying to get a line of credit. In turn we had to get the business plan together.”

Last year, Midwest Rockfall’s first full year, the company did $1.7 million worth of business, about triple what Fetzer had projected. As of March 10 this year, the company had $2.4 million worth of business under contract, with three crews working in Pennsylvania, Idaho and Washington. His company recently won a job at Rocky Mountain National Park that he figures will employ about 25 this summer.

McGilley, who describes herself as a “business midwife” – “I help people birth their businesses and go through the growing pains” – says the most common pitfall of fledgling entrepreneurs is that they want to do too much, too soon.
“All entrepreneurs are extremely passionate about what they do,” she says. “And they want to do it as fast as they can. We have to say, ‘Keep your passion but slow the pace down.’ That means write a business plan, get that cash flow going and figure out who your target market is. Pulling in the reins on how fast their passion wants to move them is the No. 1 thing I see.”

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Mike Taylor

Mike Taylor is the editor of ColoradoBiz magazine. Email him at mtaylor@cobizmag.com.

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