2013-04-17 / Business News

Helping the little guy

Agencies provide support for small businesses
BY ATHENA PONUSHIS


Michelle Reed-Spitzer got help from the Naples chapter of SCORE for navigating the bumps of small business. 
COURTESY PHOTO Michelle Reed-Spitzer got help from the Naples chapter of SCORE for navigating the bumps of small business. COURTESY PHOTO MICHELLE REED-SPITZER STARTED TO clean houses to make some extra money while she was in college. As a business management student at Hodges University, then International College, Ms. Reed-Spitzer had the fortune of taking Dr. Gene Landrum’s class.

An original co-founder of the Chuck E. Cheese franchise, Dr. Landrum gave his students an assignment to write up their own business plan. Michelle’s Classy Cleaning was born. She had $300 to pay for her liability insurance, buy a mop, a bucket and a book: “Speed Cleaning 101.”

When Ms. Reed-Spitzer told her mother she wanted to clean houses, her mother told her she was crazy, reminding her daughter that she had the world’s messiest bedroom as a teenager.

Ms. Reed-Spitzer persevered. Four years later, MaidPro invited Ms. Reed- Spitzer to join its franchise. Considering the size of her clientele, it only cost her $1 to join the company. Her Southwest


Michelle Reed-Spitzer’s cleaning business has expanded throughout Southwest Florida. 
COURTESY PHOTO Michelle Reed-Spitzer’s cleaning business has expanded throughout Southwest Florida. COURTESY PHOTO Florida business quickly grew to become the No. 1 revenue-producing MaidPro territory in the nation. Then the recession hit.

“I just remember thinking, ‘Oh, my God. What are we going to do?’” Ms. Reed-Spitzer says. “People were cutting back on their expenses and one of the first places they started cutting was their cleaning.”

Ms. Reed-Spitzer consulted the Naples chapter of SCORE, a nationwide nonprofit association dedicated to educating entrepreneurs and helping small businesses start, grow and succeed. A number of such resources exist in Southwest Florida, helping small business owners launch, expand and weather the storms of uncertainty. Ms. Reed-Spitzer encourages small business owners to take advantage of these services.

“In those moments when you don’t know where to go or what to do with your business, these resources offer peace of mind and a hand to hold,” Ms. Reed-Spitzer says. “I was very fortunate to tap into the resources of SCORE, their knowledge and their expertise. If I hadn’t, I probably would not have survived the recession.”

SCORE advisors helped Ms. Reed- Spritzer resize and restructure her business. Currently, she’s the second largest revenue-producing MaidPro office, though she says she’s quickly closing in on the gap to reclaim her No. 1 spot. Her Naples-based business has branches in Fort Myers and Marco Island. She plans to expand north to Sarasota.

SCORE provides free consulting services on an array of topics including writing business plans, advertising and marketing strategies, negotiating leases, trademark registrations and navigating the licensing and regulatory issues of local government. SCORE counselors are comprised of active and retired businessmen and women.

“We probably made just about every mistake in the world,” says Denny Brooke, one of 65 Naples SCORE counselors.

Mr. Brooke spent his adult life working in the retail. Before he retired, he was a co-founder and senior operations executive of a wholesale club in Indiana that was later acquired by the Walmart Corp.

“One of the biggest problems our businesses face today is financing,” he says. “It can be very difficult to qualify for financing. We help businesses accomplish that feat, if possible.”

Jim Getz, chapter chair of the Port Charlotte SCORE, would like to remind small business owners that SCORE services are free and confidential.

“Our mentors have real life experience. We relate to our clients in a very personal way,” he says. “It’s not like they’re going to a paid consultant. Our only agenda is to help them. We do our best to help them, not because we’re getting paid, but because we like them, we relate to them.”

Mr. Getz owned two businesses in his working life. First he owned a Pontiac car dealership. Later he owned a manufacturing sales representative firm, where his sales reached an excess of $160 million a year.

“As I look back, it would have saved me a lot of heartache if I had gone to a SCORE mentor,” he says of his path to success.

Another community-based resource helping small business owners start or grow is the Florida Gulf Coast University Small Business Development Center. The SBDC helped create 31 new businesses and 27 new jobs in 2012, contributing to the $2,200,200 of generated capital totaled in the organization’s “Regional Impact” report.

“We’re the best secret around for small business owners,” says Trish Leonard, SBDC marketing director. “When business owners don’t know where to go, what to do or how to start, they come to us.”

The SBDC employs 15 certified business analysts to serve the five-county area of Lee, Charlotte, Collier, Glades and Hendry counties.

“We are here to help small business owners. We are a resource for them. They are not alone,” Ms. Leonard says. “We’ve seen it all. We’ve heard it all. They should never be embarrassed to bring up an idea or a thought, we are here to help.”

SBDC services are also offered at no cost and kept confidential.

“We do not want small business owners to discourage themselves,” Ms. Leonard says. “We want them to follow their dream and let us help them.”

Ms. Leonard acknowledges not all small business owners are born entrepreneurs. “Some are forced,” she says. “Sometimes there are extenuating circumstances, like the economic downfall of 2008, which makes us, myself included, need to reinvent ourselves.”

She says the SBDC and other resources like SCORE lend the education, counseling and training workshops needed for such reinvention. ¦

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