The Small Business Help Desk provides direct support for small businesses
The COVID-19 pandemic was a wake-up call not only for the protection of public health globally but for the business community as well. While responding to distress calls from numerous local small businesses at the height of the coronavirus pandemic, it became apparent that many owners and entrepreneurs needed an array of resources and support, then and going forward.
Enter the Small Business Help Desk, a service of the Flint & Genesee Economic Alliance. Though borne of the economic devastation fueled by the public health emergency, the Help Desk is now a fixture in nurturing the growth and diversification of Flint & Genesee’s small business community.
Tracy Joseph, the Economic Alliance’s business financing manager, administers the desk, whose services range from providing technical assistance and coaching to helping to secure financing through various programs.
Of the nearly 200 small business owners and entrepreneurs assisted since its launch in February, Joseph said four questions tend to be most popular with clients.
“I want to start a business, where do I begin?
Joseph: This is where we discuss all the details on what type of business, experience in the industry, the individual’s story and how they came to wanting to start a business. Does the entrepreneur have a business plan? The business plan will help keep things on track. It is used by most lending institutions and grant programs.
Does the entrepreneur have a plan for the business entity type? S-Corp, C-Corp, LLC, DBA. We have a grant to help pay for a new LLC currently.
Referrals are given for the Michigan Small Business Development Center, Innovative Incubator with the University of Michigan-Flint and VetBiz, if they are a Veteran. Or the person could be sent to 100K Ideas, if it’s idea-based. All partners are free of charge.
“I am a business owner and I need to apply for some working capital. Where do I go?”
Joseph: Do you have your business plan updated with accurate financial projections? Have you applied to your bank? Do you work with an accountant currently?
If the client does not have a current business plan, the referrals are the same as above. If they have applied to a bank and there was a denial, or a “not now”, we discuss other options. That could be our trusted secondary lenders, CDFIs (Community Development Financial Institutions) or EDC (Economic Development Corp.) at the city or county. A breakdown of the programs is given and how they work for those that are not bankable.
If they are not working with an accountant and would like one, a local match is made, usually based on locality. We can also offer Quick Book trainings and free trainings for financials with the SBDC or UM-Flint.
“I am looking for a new location.”
Joseph: Is the client looking to buy or lease? What is the client looking for and does he or she currently have a lease?
Once the criteria are identified, we send the Michigan Site selection link to the client via email. We also check to see if any other clients are looking for tenants and check with team members to see if they are aware of any spaces available.
We can also look up the property for them to make sure the landlord is current on taxes, water bills and any other public information available.
“I am looking for a grant for my business.”
Joseph: What industry? Where are you located? How much are you looking for and for what reason?
Detailed information is given on any available programs, links are sent via email if programs are available.
If there are no grants available, we leave the opening for them to call and check back anytime or send an email to me for updates. We also discuss the possibility of a KIVA loan, zero-percent loan up to $15,000 as well as other available programs.
“We always set up an action plan with steps and put the entrepreneurs in the right place,” said Joseph. “An individual’s story weighs heavily on which partner they are referred to and how the plan of action will be framed. Once the initial contact is made, a resource email is sent for the client to review and have questions for the in-person, virtual meeting.
“This past year has been challenging with the programs and grants that have been available,” Joseph continued. “But if we don’t have an immediate answer, we’ll make referrals and work to find the right resource who will.”
For more information about the Small Business Help Desk, contact Tracy Joseph at firstname.lastname@example.org or (810) 309-3271. You may also schedule a Zoom meeting by visiting flintandgenesee.org/small-business-help-desk/.