Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey in business development but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Lori Allen, of Maine SBDC at AVCOG, located in Auburn, ME, USA.
What's your business, and who are your customers?
The Maine SBDC program helps build and strengthen small businesses through free and confidential business advising, training, and educational resources. Certified business advisors provide guidance on topics such as business feasibility, business plan development, capital acquisition, financial management, marketing and sales, e-commerce, customer service, personnel management, small business strategic planning, and more.
The Maine SBDC is a program of the U.S. Small Business Administration, the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development, and the University of Southern Maine. Accredited by America's Small Business Development Centers, the Maine SBDC operates a network of service centers in partnerships with the Androscoggin Valley Council of Governments, CEI, and Northern Maine Development Commission. Our experienced advisors are certified by the New England Professional Development Group (NEPD).
For 40 years, the Maine SBDC has provided individualized business assistance to tens of thousands of clients. Even more, individuals have received management training through Maine SBDC-conducted seminars, workshops, and courses. And even more, have been served through our Maine SBDC online workshops.
Tell us about yourself
I initially earned a Master of Public Administration degree and thought I would be a town manager. After graduate school, I began working in rural community development. It quickly became clear to me that without a strong small business presence, our vision for our communities would never come to fruition. I began working in downtown revitalization, supporting Maine'sMaine's downtown business districts and helping small business owners.
I later moved on to direct a Women'sWomen's Business Center (another SBA technical assistance provider), where I taught classes for start-ups and also provided one-on-one advising. In that role, I also delivered programs for the New England Veterans Business Outreach Center, which helps veterans and their spouses with their entrepreneurship goals.
I love that I am always learning, and I never have the same day twice - I can spend my morning making financial projections for a client looking to purchase an existing business, and I can spend my afternoon brainstorming ideas with a start-up client.
Yoga studios, micro-breweries, hardware stores, campgrounds, construction, landscaping -- we cover it all! What motivates me the most, though, is helping people achieve their dreams while simultaneously creating jobs and helping their communities thrive. It'sIt's a great feeling to know I am making a difference!
What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?
As a small business advisor, I feel like getting myself AND my clients through 2020-2021 were my biggest accomplishment! At the height of the pandemic, we were incredibly busy helping our clients navigate the alphabet soup of assistance programs (EIDL, PPP, etc.), as well as managing COVID-related shut-downs and health and safety requirements. There was so much uncertainty, and clients were understandably upset and worried about the future of their business. It was a very, very difficult time for everyone.
What's one of the hardest things that come with being a business owner?
In my experience working with entrepreneurs, I think one of the hardest things to do is ask for help. Often owners are so busy that it's easy to ignore problems and just hope they go away or think, "If I just work harder, everything will be okay!" If you are struggling with something in your business, chances are excellent that an SBDC advisor has seen that problem before and can help you with it.
What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?
- Take advantage of the Small Business Development Center in your area! (You can find a list of all of the SBA technical assistance providers at www.sba.gov).
- Write a business plan, even if you don't need financing. This will help you set realistic expectations and obtainable goals for yourself and your business. There are only 24 hours a day, and you actually do need to sleep! And your business is not going to grab 50% of the market share the first year out of the gate. As the saying goes, if you fail to plan, you plan to fail.
- Don't make yourself crazy by having a presence on every social media platform. Figure out which one your target market uses the most and focus on that one.
Is there anything else you'd like to share?
We have many recorded webinars on a wide range of topics available on our YouTube page.
Where can people find you and your business?
If you like what you've read here and have your own story as a solo or small business entrepreneur that you'd like to share, then please answer these interview questions. We'd love to feature your journey on these pages.
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