This Saturday I went to the Small Business Fair at the Oregon Convention Center. After a hearty breakfast of basted eggs over English muffins with melted fontina and bacon and loads and loads of coffee I was prepared to tackle four hours of lecture and a room of booths.
I had been really busting my ass to get a bunch of work done, costing, marketing and have whatever we had done in our business plan printed out including a non-disclosure agreement. What that meant was that I had to carry around a heavy satchel, my purse, a cloth job fair bag with stacks of brochures in it. In other words I could have left the binder at home.
The booths consisted of tax advisors, banks or credit unions, community colleges, worker hiring and protection, or consultants. That’s about it. I can pretty much say that the most useful booths were the Fire Department (humina humina) who reminded us to give them a call and they’d check out a building for us before we bought a fire trap, and the silk screening guy who can do any and all forms of paraphernalia with yet to be determined logo.
Maybe my perceived usefulness of the fair came from the hope that there would be someone I could sit down with for ten minutes and show our plan, talk to them and ask about the next steps. Everyone was too busy handing out brochures or trying to get your address so they could put you on their mailing list. It was more sales oriented then a Sysco food show. I’m sure there is some good info in all the little pamphlets I accumulated. I’ll probably spend a year trying to get my name off of junk mail lists.
The first lecture was at 10:15 am and out of everything I wanted to see that day, this was at the top, How to Get Money for Your Business. It was also the most depressing. Here are the high points.
1. You don’t need a business plan.
Let me stop here for a minute and say WTF???? What the hell have I been busting my ass for; everyone says I need a business plan, I TEACH that you need a business plan. Well people evidentially things have changed just a bit. Banks, who really are the people you make your business plan for, unless it’s just for yourself and your companies path, could care less if you have a good idea. They want to know if you have collateral. That’s it. No collateral, no loan. And of course since you don’t ever want to put up personal collateral you have to have something under the business name. He suggested buying a $200 piece of foreclosed property in Clackamas.
If you think this guy is a wacko, this story was repeated over and over by lectures, except the joker who did the Keynote address, but I’ll talk about him later. You don’t need a business plan. Do you have expertise? Do you have passion? Do you have collateral? Bingo you can be in business for less than $15,000.
I had a hard time swallowing that number considering all the equipment we are going to need is going to be about that. I asked him about undercapitalization and having enough money banked to make your business run without profit for a year. His answer was in relation to how much your family could live on and stock that….. that wasn’t what I meant, but I probably didn’t ask it right.
2. Don’t get money from friends, family, grants, loans or credit cards, (this is a small sample of the list of 10 or so places you shouldn’t get money from either).
Ummm…… Crap. That pretty much shoots down every idea I had to get money to start a business. Besides that I guess my option is to win the lottery. Friends and family will hate you if you take their money and the business fails (I was banking on success), grants don’t exist for start-ups maybe if you are non-profit but even then, not likely, don’t go into debt over your business.
Ummmm….Crap, so the adage that you need money to make money is true. His philosophy was to sell a service and generate cash flow immediately and work off that cash flow. My question is how I do that if I don’t have a location or equipment to generate my cash flow. I could work out of competitions locations but that’s not going to be very nice when I open up shop and take all the business I’ve been developing at their location. Needless to say I was a little discouraged by this and trying to brainstorm brilliant ways to get money other than the ones he listed.
3. Get on everyone’s list
If you are listed with the state, county, federal, credit companies, web pages, national bank accounts, better business bureau, and other companies that list businesses, you are more likely to look legitimate and more likely to get a loan if you absolutely have to have one.
I guess that’s our next step. Get on everyone’s list. That is a good idea, which we really have started so it’s not a ton that we have to do. We probably need to open another bank account even if it’s just savings at a national bank just so we have them on our list. I also plan on buying a lottery ticket today.
The second speaker was a teacher for Clackamas Community College that also consults for $200 an hour (at least), and has successfully helped over 1500 small business get started with only 2 failures. I think it was 1500, it was a big number. He started with shooting down the statistic that we all thought that about 62% of all small businesses fail. But noted that if I business moved from a sole proprietorship to an LLC then technically that sole proprietorship failed. He said more than 85% of small business succeed, he said this last year he had two business close and that’s a first for him in 15 years.
He gave 10 things you needed to know before you go into business, he was defiantly a good speaker, obviously had been doing it for awhile. And he had some good points, but said again same as the first guy, you don’t need a business plan.
Third speaker, The Key Note Speaker, who was a Zell brother, of Zell Brothers Jewelry and had been, according to him, giving speeches about sells for 25 years. He was not good. He wasn’t organized he was all over the place, his points were obtuse, and he lost all credibility when he said you don’t need a webpage.
Seriously dude? Seventy percent of people look up a retail stores, including restaurants, on the web before going. I don’t think you can even survive today without having some kind of web presence. I still get irritated when I try to find out something about a location and they don’t have their own web page and I’m certainly less likely to go their if I can’t see anything about their business.
I can’t believe he was the key note, he must have been sponsoring the event or something, because the two other speakers that I saw, and there were four lectures going on at each time slot, were better than this guy. He was painful and we were sitting too far away from the door to escape.
The last one we went to was about marketing. Good figure, he suggested a web page. He had some excellent points and was entertaining, but also all over the place and not very organized on the points he wanted to talk about. I did get some good ideas from him though.
We had to fill out several evaluations of both the speaker and the fair itself and I noted that it would be nice to have people you could actually talk to about your business that you want to open and some consulting even on a minimal level. I wish I had taken off after the first two lectures, and received notes on the last. I took a page of my own brainstorming about my own business (during the crappy key note) and that was useful.
I think there was a love tap upside the head and we might have to approach some funding differently, but I’d rather know ahead of time then find out by messing up. This week, stop messing around with most of the business plan and get some solid marketing ideas. Get our name on every list imaginable, and buy land in Clackamas.