Friday, December 18, 2009

Preparing for a Disaster

In Southwest Washington, we are approaching the time of the year when flooding may be a common occurrence in some areas. We have already experienced several flood warnings in some areas. The Cowlitz-Wahkiakum Council of Governments is currently working on a plan that will provide local businesses with tools that will help businesses plan for potential disaster. You will be hearing more about that program in the months ahead.

Meantime, it would be advisable to plan for possible flooding, particularly if your business is located in a vulnerable area. Even if it isn’t, flooding in your community could significantly impact your viability as a business. According to the Washington State Office of Emergency Management 40% of small businesses that close, due to a disaster event, never re-open. Coupled with current economic conditions, this number could escalate dramatically if a natural disaster were to occur in the near future. In addition, the Office of Emergency Management also notes that ‘85% of the critical infrastructure in the U.S. is owned by private industry’.

You can mitigate your chances of survival, as a business, by using many of the tools that are already available to you through the Office of Emergency Management. The business portal for disaster preparedness can be accessed at the following website:

You can download many documents, including sample disaster announcements, from FEMA’s website at: . In addition, many of the templates can be filled out on-line. Other resources that are available to you include your local County Department of Emergency Management and the Small Business Development Center.

At this time of the year, flooding is probably the disaster scenario that comes quickly to mind. However, disasters can occur at any time and can include earthquakes, fires, information technology disruptions and any number of other disasters that may have huge implications for your business. Don’t wait until disaster strikes. Instead, reduce your risks by planning for survival. If you need assistance staying on task in this area, utilize the services of your local Small Business Development Center to help you strategically plan for your business in this area. Services are available at no cost to business owners and sometimes it helps if you have someone helping you take the necessary steps to reduce risks for your business. Call 360-442-2946 if you would like to access services.

Thursday, November 5, 2009


In the business community, business owners are continually looking for well qualified people. Since so many people have recently lost their jobs, it seems like there should be a way that the unemployed can identify which businesses are hiring so that the business owner and the unemployed worker can find one another. In this article, my goal is to provide resources for the unemployed. I realize that this is not the primary reason that a Small Business Development Center exists. I also realize that there are well qualified people working with the unemployed to provide as many resources as possible. However, Small Business Development Centers are in a unique position. As Business Advisors, we may be aware of opportunities that exist that the general public may not understand.

Since Stimulus dollars are being used to support many public projects, one might want to find out who is doing business in the public arena. For example, businesses that want to do business with the federal or state government must be registered in specific databases. Following is a list of those databases:

Federal Level:
Washington State:
County Level: Do a search for the Small Works Roster in the County of interest

Any business that describes itself as an 8(a) certified company, a HUBZone certified company, SDB certified company, or woman-owned company, may get priority on some contacts. Keep in mind that businesses on these databases do not need to be construction-related businesses. Government contracting officers will also use these lists to identify sources for materials and services. Many businesses wrongfully assume that there is no reason to pursue the above-mentioned certifications because they may not be in the construction business. Government databases are not created simply for the construction trades. Business owners who may be reading this article and would like to know more about doing business with the government, can access no-cost advising services through the Small Business Development Center by contacting the SBDC at 360-442-2946. Any business in Cowlitz or Wahkiakum County could, potentially by HUBZone certified!

While there is no guarantee that a business that is listed on the government databases is hiring, they may be hiring in the future if they are successful in marketing to the government. As a job searcher, you may have better success finding businesses that are in the hiring mode by searching for businesses who are attempting to do business with the government.

If you have been active in a trade association, at any point in your career, search the career listings on the trade association website. In addition, check out the state website for Washington State higher education jobs at:

Finally, do not forget that local businesses may have job listings on the Lower Columbia College job listing site at:

Networking has always been one of the best ways to tap into job opportunities. In addition, if you have not been on the job market recently, hone your interviewing skills and develop a strong resume by using the services of your local WorkSource Office (711 Vine Street, Kelso, WA). You may also want to ask your WorkSource Advisor about the Self Employment Assistance Program if you have been considering business ownership.

If you are thinking about starting your own business, plan to attend the free start-up business class that is offered the last Thursday of every month on the Lower Columbia College campus. November’s class will be held one week prior, due to the Thanksgiving Holiday. Call the SBDC for more details.

Article written by Susan Hoosier, Certified Business Advisor and Certified Economic Development Professional, with the Washington Small Business Development Center in Longview, WA. Susan has owned and operated three businesses and managed a revolving loan fund for a Midwestern Regional Development Commission.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Grants for Businesses

Calls have increased lately for people who want to know more about grants for starting a business or funding a business expansion. I find it increasingly difficult to convince people that their chances of accessing grant dollars are extremely slim (to none) as more and more information is provided to the public about Stimulus Funds. Everyone seems to think that Stimulus Funds will automatically provide 'free' funding for business start-ups and expansions.

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I would like to clarify a few points:

1) Business development grants are typically given to economic development agencies who are charged with dispensing funds through a revolving loan fund program. Although the economic development agency receives the funds in the form of a grant (and may be called a 'business development grant), the funds are disbursed in the form of a loan with typical loan payback requirements to the business applicant. There are usually job creation goals and other parameters associated with the loan. It is always wise to check on the eligibility components of a revolving loan fund before assuming that your business might qualify. Keep in mind that these funds are a loan to the business, not a grant!

2) Other types of business grants might be in the form of a municipal program where a specific municipality has applied for funds that are made available to local retail establishments to improve store-fronts or encourage other building improvements. It is typically a requirement that the business prove that they are economically viable.

3) Energy grants might be available to some businesses for specific energy-related programs. Again, the business may need to prove that they are economically viable.

4) The government may provide grant opportunities to businesses that are providing a valuable product or service that is vital to the public good. For example, if a business produces a product that will be beneficial to the war effort, the government may provide some grant funds to assist with additional research and development. When the government provides grant funding, in most cases the business needs to understand that -
  • The business may be required to match the funds. For example, if the business wants to request a $100,000 grant, the business will need to put $100,000 into the total project costs.
  • The business must show that they are financially stable and will be required to provide internal financial information to prove that they are a viable business.
  • The grant may have a component that requires that the business partner collaborate with an institution of higher learning to complete the research and development.
  • Lastly, there are numerous reports and parameters that need to be met, depending on the grant requirements.

5) In the past, the government has provided grants for child care facilities. However, grants of this nature are few and far between now that more child care facilities have been established nationwide.

Suffice it to say, anytime that the government makes a grant, it comes with eligibility requirements and, if one wants to take the time to read a Request for Proposal (RFP) one will find those eligibility requirements are clearly stated.

No matter what you read on the internet no one can guarantee that you will get a grant! There are countless 'entrepreneurial' folks who will be happy to sell you a book and sign you up for technical assistance and the cost may be as little as $39.95 up to $2,000+. Believe me, I have had clients who have purchased books and paid $2,000 for what they thought was a guaranteed grant only to find out that they were sold a bill of goods.

All government grant opportunities are posted publicly and can be accessed at no charge on official government websites. Let me emphasize here that it is the official government website that you want to research. Be wary of websites that want personal information and that have an appearance of being an official governmental website.

On the Federal level, the official site is:

For the State of Washington the official site is:

There are also many technical assistance providers who will promise that they can get you a government contract. Government contracts, contrary to popular belief, are not awarded in that fashion. If you want to know more about contracting with the government, see your local Small Business Development Center for no-cost advising services.

If you are seeking funding for your business, contact your local SBDC. Business advising services are available at no charge to business owners and eligible start-up operations. The Washington State SBDC website is located at:

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Do You Hate Business Finance?

Not every business has the luxury of hiring its own CFO to monitor the financial health of the business. And, if you are like most business owners, you did not get into business because you love business finance. On the contrary, you probably had a passion for other aspects of your business and business finance was seen as a necessary part of business operations. Over the years that I have worked with business clients, I have had clients who were extremely diligent about monitoring their financial information and I have had other clients who rarely looked at their financial information. It is not unusual for many business owners to expect their accountant to monitor the business’ financial condition.

Is it possible that business owners that monitor their financial information are the 20% that survive and the ones that do not monitor their information are the ones that get included in the 80% of all businesses that fail within the first 5 to 7 years? That’s probably too simplistic since some business owners manage to succeed in spite of themselves and it does not necessarily mean that they have a grasp on the financial condition of the business.

If business finance does not ‘ring your bell’ how can you get a grasp on the basics so that you know more about your financial condition? Here are a few basic tips:

  • When a lender asks for your ‘financial statements’ they are asking for both the Balance Sheet and the Income Statement (Profit and Loss). If you provide only one of the statements, you are giving away the fact that you do not understand the relationship between these two financial documents.
  • The Income Statement tells you how you did last year.
  • The Balance Sheet tells you how you’ve done in the past.
  • The two statements combined, tells the ‘story’ of the business.
  • If you spread three years’ worth of financial statements, side by side, on a worksheet, it will be easy for you to see trends in your business that you would not otherwise notice.
  • The ‘Net Income’ shown at the bottom of your Income Statement is not what you have in the bank! However, it does get carried over to the Balance Sheet and it is added to or subtracted from your Retained Earnings depending on whether you post a profit or a loss.
  • Consistent negative retained earnings, on your Balance Sheet, reflect impending insolvency. It also means that you have either posted consistent losses or you have drained the business of all profits. Either way, it is not a good thing! You cannot grow a business without retained profits.
  • Just because you are profitable doesn’t mean you will survive. You will need cash to survive. For this reason, if nothing else learn how to project your cash needs, long before you need the cash.
  • If your accountant or bookkeeper prepares your financial statements, it will be imperative that you provide your month-end information to them as quickly as possible so that they, in turn, can provide the financial statements on a timely basis. Take the time to look at the financial statements. If you don’t understand your them but you would like to be more knowledgeable, ask for help from your accountant or call and schedule a meeting with the Small Business Development Center.

A business owner may feel embarrassed about not understanding the business financial statements. However, the only thing a business owner should be embarrassed about is not asking for help. When you are playing the part of chief, cook and bottle washer for your business, it is difficult to add the CFO responsibilities to your job description. But help is available and it is as close as a phone call away. If you want to access some basic training on business finance, call the Longview Small Business Development Center (SBDC) at 360-353-3428 or use the link in the sidebar for the Washington Small Business Development Centers to find the SBDC that serves your area.