Lone Star College Small Business Development Center series lends helping hand to Cy-Fair businesses

William Arsn

Before businesses wave the white flag to surrender to the pandemic, the Small Business Development Center at Lone Star College is offering invaluable assistance to help keep the doors open.

Dedicated to businesses who are struggling with how to pivot and find solutions, they are not alone and have a willing resource in the SBDC partnership with the CyFair Houston Chamber of Commerce series that begins on Wednesdays in October.

“It is imperative for a small business to understand and respond to business issues caused by the pandemic,” said Miguel Lopez, LSC-SBDC executive director in a press release. “In this first seminar of the series, a panel of CyFair business owners will share how they altered their business models to thrive in this new environment.”

The series will be moderated by Paula Harvey, vice president of the CyFair Houston Chamber of Commerce.

Much the same as the very businesses they provide guidance to, the SBDC offices were closed down in March because of the executive orders handed down by the governor and county judge, but Lopez said they never quit working. Instead, their call volume increased exponentially.

“There’s a minimal process to become a client of the SBDC, but many times we bypassed it for expediency’s sake to answer as many questions as we could. There was so much uncertainty,” he said. While that fear has subsided some and the call volume decreased, they are still in the weeds taking clients and assisting as many as possible.

Following the shutdown, new protocols had to be established and work-from-home schedules had to be maintained.

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“We’re fortunate that we have laptops issued by Lone Star College and we all have Wi-Fi so we’re still able to see clients in a secure setting online,” Lopez said.

At the beginning of the pandemic, they spent a large amount of time explaining the PPP policy to business owners, including the process, and helping them work through the system crashes. They also pointed them to their lending institutions and continue a relationship with them as they navigated the treacherous waters of government assistance.

“We’re still seeing clients and there’s a noticeable uptick related to the shutdown of the economy,” he said.

Some clients have been furloughed or lost their jobs during the pandemic and are trying their entrepreneurial spirit to create jobs in a tough economy.

“It’s part of our Americana fabric—grow up, buy a home, have a family, own a business,” he said.

It might seem contrary to the economic climate to begin a business, but the Center has already seen 360 new clients during this fiscal year. FY 2019 showed a marked increase with 364 and yet they will eclipse that with an ailing economy this year.

“We have been without a full-time advisor for almost a half year, and yet we are still seeing more clients than ever,” he said praising his team’s efforts.

Texas has four regions for the SBDC. Lone Star College belongs to the Gulf Coast Network region which happens to be headquartered at the University of Houston. There are 14 centers across the Gulf Coast.

“We are a group of advisors whose mission is to work with business owners and entrepreneurs to help them start, grow, and expand their business,” Lopez explained.

“We offer our services and our meetings online and virtually, especially right now to be safe with COVID-19 and the social distancing requirements. It’s still the same process of a one-on-one, confidential, no cost, business advising session,” he said.

The time is well-spent with the advisors who have extensive knowledge in an array of topics relating to business issues that arise in everyday operations.

“Whether it’s creating or tweaking their business plan, their processes, marketing strategies, we can assist them in all,” he said.

They do not write the business plan, but they can offer insight, how-tos, the whys, and templates for the client to use.

“We’ll sit down and review the plan and then offer some suggestions to tweak it to where it needs to be,” the executive director said.

One of the perks for working with the SBDC is the tools and programs to access information that can aid a business owner with research and advisement.

“One of those is demographics,” he said.

They can help identify the competition, work on price points for products, and much more.

“We also want the clients to know how to research that information for themselves as well,” Lopez said.

With all the information gathered and suggested to the client, Lopez closes the meeting with this final thought.

“You don’t have to do anything I recommend or suggest. You’re the business owner,” he said.

Lopez says they develop a relationship with the owner and a certain level of trust begins to develop between the owner and advisors as they hammer out important details.

“We have those candid and sometimes crucial conversations about their business,” he said. The results are not always easy, and some advice is a tough pill to swallow.

“We remind our clients that we’re not attorneys or CPA’s. When they get to that critical point of their business, we’re there to encourage them,” he said.

Lopez said he hoped they already had sought both legal representation and an accountant early on in their business and didn’t wait till they were in trouble or near the end of the business’ life.

One role the SBDC doesn’t play is financial institution.

“We work with clients to make sure they’re loan ready or assist them to get loan ready. We have great relationships with loan bankers and SBA bankers,” he said.

There is funding available for small businesses that are positioned properly.

Lopez hopes area businesses will listen in to the seminar and gain important information.

“It’s a great partnership for us and for the business members of the Chamber,” he said.

They host two workshops per year, one in the fall and another in the spring.

The first virtual event begins at 8:15 a.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 7. There is no cost to attend and registration is at https://cyfairhoustonchamber.chambermaster.com/eventregistration/register/35185.

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