Getting down to business

Lor­etta Vasso de­tails what she has learned from own­ing a busi­ness. JENNY SWI­GODA / TIMES PHOTO

Some­times, it really is about who you know.

Any­one start­ing a busi­ness real­izes that quickly. It’s al­most a grot­esque un­der­state­ment that there’s a lot to do. Maybe nobody’s go­ing to help you do it all, but there might be someone who can give you a little of that “been there, done that” ad­vice.

Talk­ing to oth­er busi­ness own­ers, or to people who provide ser­vices to busi­nesses, is the whole idea of net­work­ing.

On Aug. 16, that’s what al­most 30 wo­men did dur­ing a ses­sion at Com­munity Col­lege of Phil­adelphia’s North­east Re­gion­al Cen­ter that was ar­ranged by the Pro­fes­sion­al Wo­men’s Busi­ness Net­work, un­der the aus­pices of the col­lege’s Cen­ter for Small Busi­ness Edu­ca­tion, Growth & Train­ing.

Join­ing the en­tre­pren­eurs were the people who could ad­vise them on the re­sources that are avail­able, and also share some of their ex­per­i­ences.

And goofs.

Talk­ing about start­ing a busi­ness in a com­fort­able and in­form­al set­ting with people who already are in busi­ness lets the new en­tre­pren­eur know about prob­lems that can be avoided, said Ngozi Bell, re­gion­al ad­voc­ate for the U.S. Small Busi­ness Ad­min­is­tra­tion.

“In this group, you meet people who have opened — and closed — busi­nesses,” she said. “You don’t have to make the same mis­takes.”

There are plenty of ways to go wrong. Just skip some of the steps ne­ces­sary for suc­cess.

Plan­ning is im­port­ant, Bell said, as is real­iz­ing you might know what you want to do and how to do it, but there might be a lot of oth­er things you don’t know. “Some­times, you really don’t know what you’re walk­ing in­to. Plan­ning is cru­cial,” she said. “Start simply, but write it down.”

As you do that, you’ll start to have ques­tions about com­pet­i­tion, loc­a­tion, fin­ances and risk.

Net­work­ing lets you in on the as­pects you might not know well.

Fin­an­cing is one.

“A lot of busi­nesses are go­ing un­der be­cause they don’t have the work­ing cap­it­al,” said Theresa Guld­in, as­sist­ant vice pres­id­ent at VIST Bank on Ver­ree Road.

Get­ting the money to open and stay open in­volves provid­ing lenders with lots of in­form­a­tion on your busi­ness plan, your ex­per­i­ence and your em­ploy­ees’ ex­per­i­ence, Guld­in said.

“It’s not that simple to walk in a bank and get a loan,” she ad­ded.

Bor­row­ing in­volves risk be­cause lenders want col­lat­er­al for loans, Guld­in said.

That could in­volve risk­ing per­son­al prop­erty, she said, but “if you’re that strong, use your house” to raise the money you need.

Jac­queline Bask­erville risked her 401(k) plan to start her busi­ness, she said, but in­stead of start­ing a new en­ter­prise, she in­cor­por­ated her­self and bought a fran­chise for Tu­tor Doc­tor, a tu­tor­ing ser­vice.

Buy­ing a fran­chise got her in­to a pre-es­tab­lished busi­ness whose op­er­at­ors provided her with train­ing and ad­vice. She star­ted her busi­ness in May.

“I can call the pres­id­ent of the com­pany for help,” she said.

But at last week’s net­work­ing ses­sion, which fo­cused on “work­ing your dream,” Bask­erville met an­oth­er busi­ness­wo­man who answered some of her book­keep­ing ques­tions.

Bask­erville’s ad­vice? Per­son­al­ize your ser­vice. Her tu­tors go in­to people’s homes, she said, so she must build strong re­la­tion­ships with her cli­ents. “The per­son­al touch goes a long way,” she said.

There are oth­er re­la­tion­ships that must be es­tab­lished, Bell said. Busi­nesses that provide yours with ser­vices or ma­ter­i­als are in­ter­ested — and in­ves­ted — in your suc­cess, she said.

“Some people feel they don’t need any­body,” Guld­in said. “I need every­body!”

Those oth­er busi­nesses with a stake in your suc­cess can of­fer ser­vices and ad­vice or refer you to oth­ers who can help, Guld­in said.

For ex­ample, the SBA of­fers plenty of help for en­tre­pren­eurs, Bell said. Lots of busi­nesses are sub­ject to reg­u­la­tions — fed­er­al, state and loc­al — and the SBA has in­form­a­tion on those rules.

Busi­ness own­ers have to find out about the reg­u­la­tions that con­cern them be­cause ig­nor­ance of those rules can get them closed down, she said.

Some new en­tre­pren­eurs don’t un­der­stand the amount of work — and the hours — in­volved in start­ing a busi­ness.

Bask­erville is pos­it­ive about that. She said she once had a job that re­quired her to work a lot of over­time. Her at­ti­tude was that, if she was go­ing to work so hard, she might be bet­ter off work­ing for her­self.

One of the chal­lenges Bask­erville sees ahead is man­aging her busi­ness’ growth.

“I think of ex­pand­ing. I will need more people,” she said.

Find­ing sol­id em­ploy­ees is a very big deal for busi­ness own­ers, Bell said.

They also have to be treated well enough and paid well enough that they’ll feel in­ves­ted in the busi­ness them­selves.

Part of a busi­ness plan in­cludes cop­ing with hard times. And some people don’t know how to deal with dif­fi­cult eco­nom­ic real­it­ies, said Guld­in.

“Some people use hard times as an ex­cuse,” she said.

Bask­erville star­ted her busi­ness in a down­turn, she said, and is work­ing to make it a suc­cess.

“I re­fused to par­ti­cip­ate in the re­ces­sion,” she said. ••

Re­port­er John Loftus can be reached at 215-354-3110 or

Plugged in …

Phil­adelphia res­id­ent Phyl­lis Smith foun­ded the Pro­fes­sion­al Wo­men’s Busi­ness Net­work al­most three years ago and has ex­pan­ded throughout the re­gion.

It’s about “wo­men help­ing wo­men,” she said last week. “It’s a pas­sion I have to help oth­er wo­men. Our meet­ings are unique. We get people to share tips” on how they cope with run­ning their busi­nesses.

There is no charge for meet­ings, and the group is not fin­an­cially sup­por­ted by any­one, she said. Smith is pre­par­ing to ap­ply for non-profit status.

Last week’s meet­ing at the Com­munity Col­lege of Phil­adelphia’s North­east cam­pus on Town­send Road was the first for PWBN’s newly formed North­east group. 

For more in­form­a­tion, vis­it or e-mail pwbn@com­ ••

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