- The Washington Times - Monday, June 29, 2009

Chris Kendrick, whose organic salad dressings marketed under the Dad’s Gourmet brand had once gained and lost the shelves of high-end grocery store Whole Foods, was looking for advice on the best way to pursue a relaunch of his product.

The biggest obstacle, he said, was “raising the $500,000 to $600,000 of investment capital necessary to establish our product in the major markets, as our list of potential investors has shortened in these particularly difficult economic times.”

For Mr. Kendrick, president of Dad’s Gourmet, based in Poolesville, and many others like him, today’s economy poses difficulties for those seeking a bank loan or commitment of start-up cash.

So he jumped at the chance to participate in a program being offered by American Express OPEN, the small-business division of American Express Co., and SCORE, Counselors to America’s Small Business, a nonprofit organization that aims to provide small-business owners with free counseling advice and tips for success that was meeting at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in the District. Since 2007, the two have been giving free counseling events across the country.

The counselors are local volunteers with backgrounds in business and business management and are assigned to a small-business owner for each 30-minute session.

When Mr. Kendrick first sat down with SCORE counselor Bill Ginn for his free 30-minute counseling session, ensuring his business’ success was the first thing on his mind. Dad’s Gourmet, a small local business, was having trouble.

It was clear the company needed a business plan that would include both the upfront investment necessary in creating the product as well as the recurring cost associated with running a business.

Mr. Kendrick, who recently stopped the production of his salad dressings because of quality problems with the manufacturer, is now preparing for a meeting with Whole Foods buyers to convince them, again, to carry his product.

However, before such a meeting can take place, Mr. Kendrick must be sure that he has enough start-up cash to ensure his survival in the grocery business until his products can amass a profit.

Mr. Kendrick has already invested his own funds in the business, but Mr. Ginn addressed the importance of obtaining additional funding from investors in order to maintain the necessary capital for participating in trade shows, traveling to distant buyers, and any other costs that may come from marketing a product.

Mr. Kendrick has calculated the numbers and created spreadsheets with anticipated costs, including those of ingredients, production and sales. Such detailed calculations are necessary to attract potential investors who, especially in this economy, will not even consider investing if there is a chance of failure.

For other small-business owners who attended this event, social networking was one of the most attractive aspects, allowing the small businesses to tout their products simply through word-of-mouth.

Gail Turner-Brown of Bowie also faces the challenge of running a business in today’s economy, although Ms. Turner-Brown’s small-business venture is a Web site designed to network a product and a buyer. Still in the early stages of her Web site’s launch, Ms. Turner-Brown now sets out to structure her business in a way that will be most beneficial to its visitors by attracting other small businesses to advertise on her site.

Ms. Turner-Brown’s site, sbntvlive.com (“Small Business Network TV”) sets out primarily to provide a platform for individuals to talk about and promote their business. For example, if an individual wants to market himself as a golf instructor, he will be able to sign up for a 30-second video clip to endorse his product on the site.

Any visitor of the site, therefore, will be able to search the listed businesses, watch the video, and contact the business owner if interested in the product.

SCORE counselors Michael Perch and Steve Edelman gave Ms. Turner-Brown advice similar to that of Mr. Ginn’s to Mr. Kendrick: Solidify a business plan in order to present it to a potential investor.

It seemed as if this particular advice was given frequently, and most counselors cited today’s economy as the reason banks are now tighter with their credit policies, thus making it more difficult for start-up businesses to survive.

Ms. Turner-Brown explained her reasons for attending the event based upon three main factors: “the chance to network with other small-business owners who may be interested in using my product, the critiques and advice given from other professionals, and simply the fact that this event is free — so why not?”

If her business idea can spread quickly enough and generate interest among both businesses that want to advertise and potential clients seeking services, Ms. Turner-Brown hopes to officially launch her site by late August.

Lorna Virgili, president of the National Hispanic Communications Group, as well as an attendee of the OPEN and SCORE event, said that she “attended the event because, as a small-business owner, these are challenging times to find business.”

The National Hispanic Communications Group (nhcgmedia.com) is a media-communications and public-relations firm headquartered in Silver Spring.

This venue, she explained, was one where she and other small-business owners like her could find more practice and more innovative ways to market her business and plan for any upcoming recession needs.

Ultimately, the most important thing she learned was that the biggest success comes down to word of mouth, a marketing tool about which people sometimes forget. It is also important to network and connect with other small-business owners to exchange advice.

Ms. Virgili said that “instead of looking long-term in these challenging economic times, it is important to look short-term to determine what is working and what is not working for the business.”

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