Officials provide tips for small business

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Steps for people interested in starting a small business

1. Attend First Steps seminar, held the third Wednesday of each month

2. Visit with a SCORE counselor to complete the feasibility study

3. Check your personal credit score

4. Establish a timetable to open business

5. Complete a marketing and sales plan

6. Research everything: suppliers, equipment, shipping, etc.

7. Secure permits, licenses and name/corporate identity

8. Pursue a loan

9. Secure the lease for space

10. Acquire inventory, equipment and employees

11. Love your customers

Source: Randy Rudasics, Small Business Resource Center and SCORE

Tips for existing small businesses during a slow economy

- Check your operational expenses on a regular basis. If you analyze your profitability once a month, you may want to do it weekly or biweekly. Review your business plan more often.

- Monitor energy consumption at your business, tracking and cutting wasteful usage.

- Plan your driving route, and avoid rush hour. Take care of several errands on one trip. Schedule appointments in the late morning or early afternoon, when traffic is lightest.

- Realize that express shipments for next morning delivery are costly. Consider next afternoon or two- or three-day service.

- Review vendor relationships at least annually. These include Internet services, phone, wireless, DSL, shipping, legal, printing and other day-to-day expenses. Prices and package deals change, and you may be overpaying.

Source: National SCORE office

— The slowing economy hasn't kept potential small-business owners from trickling into the Small Business Resource Center, Director Randy Rudasics said last week.

The center, at Colorado Mountain College's Alpine Campus, has seen attendance drop slightly at its small-business classes, Rudasics said.

"I'm still seeing folks come through with visions and dreams that want to put them on paper," he said.

Rudasics and bank officials offered a glimpse of issues within the small-business scene as well as some advice. Because of real estate concerns and caution on the part of lenders, loans might be more difficult to get, he said.

"That's affecting people's ability to finance spec homes as well as finance new business ventures," Rudasics said. "There are still some being done, but you've got to have dotted the I's and crossed the T's, and you need plenty of liquidity in your portfolio."

Lore Tracht, assistant vice president in commercial lending at First National Bank of Steamboat Springs, said she has seen slightly fewer people seeking loans for small businesses recently. Her bank hasn't dramatically changed its business lending practices because of the real estate shake-up, she said.

"If they have good equity in a home, we're still willing to take that as collateral," Tracht said. "We have not backed off that at this time."

Dean Vogelaar, president of the Steamboat branch of Mountain Valley Bank, said a person seeking a loan was better off with real estate collateral than none at all.

"I think there's a great deal of scrutiny on the whole lending industry, regardless of how you fit into it, particularly for those of us lenders who are regulated, as banks are," Vogelaar said. "There's always a concern in a lender's portfolio about what his breakdown is."

Vogelaar said that when his bank considers giving a business loan, regardless of the current state of the economy, it looks at whether the business is likely to survive in a downturn.

"Anybody who's getting into a small business just needs to make sure they're properly capitalized, that they have some reserves, that they have some resources to carry their business plan," he said. "The worst thing is they can get in and be undercapitalized and can't withstand a short little tough stretch, and they go under."

Those issues intensify in a seasonal economy, Vogelaar said. Businesses must prepare for Steamboat's shoulder seasons, he said. Rudasics said potential small-business owners should stay aware of the business climate.

"Everyone should watch trends in the marketplace," Rudasics said. "Is this a good time to start as a Realtor or an appraiser? You might want to wait a year or two."

He was optimistic, however, and said people should push forward if they have a winning concept.

"Good ideas survive poor economies, and great service also does," he said.

- To reach Blythe Terrell, call 871-4234

or e-mail bterrell@steamboatpilot.com

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