What a difference a recovery makes! As I reflect on my wonderful work here at the Women’s Business Development Center helping people building businesses at all stages, I’ve been thinking about the changes I have experienced over three Januarys.
I came to the WBDC right before the big free fall of the Great Recession in late ’08. Clients I saw in January ’09 had often just been let go from their jobs, and feeling desperate, they were exploring business development because it was an alternative way to make money. They were extremely anxious, fearful and motivated but not focused on what they could bring to the market place. They often were grasping for “what was working” and trying to do something in that arena. Most had never owned a business before, most did not understand that they needed clients/customers and money to start a business in addition to a business concept.
We supported these women and men. We saw many enroll in our business development programs to further explore the feasibility of their idea. Some made the wise decision to abandon their ideas without having dumped their life savings into a poorly performing business. Some made a business work by starting small, building alliances and honing their business ownership and forecasting skills.
In January ’10 women were coming in at a different place in their business development journey. More had a solid idea of what they wanted to do and were testing their concept for its relevance and potential for growth in a still wobbly, yet more hopeful, economy. There were far less tears this year and much more determination, willingness to listen and learn about business development skills and knowledge that would help them take calculated risks. More established businesses came in for strategic planning, looking for ways to cut expenses and identify markets more effectively. At the WBDC we responded with more support for established businesses, including targeted workshops for WBE’s (Women’s Business Enterprises), more specific access to government contracting information and supportive business plan critiques.
This January, I see even more hopeful signs. More women who are new to business are ready to develop business plans and are even bringing in drafts for review. I am seeing more established businesses with newly revised business plans seeking feedback to strengthen their strategies. Some are preparing to build capacity through seeking micro and bank loans. With them, we talk about specific action plans for clearly articulating their mission, vision for 1-5 years, goals, specific marketing plans and financial forecasts. The WBDC, thanks to the IL Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, has more resources for them – a new micro-loan program for those already in business who need access to capital to grow.
So in three years, what I hear about economic trends at the macro level resounds for me as a responder to business owners seeking help. I am seeing recovery for small business, in small steps. How does recovery look from where you are?
Meg Herman is Director of Entrepreneurial Services at the WBDC.