Virtually every U.S. state & territory offers help and coaching to business owners through Small Business Development Centers (SBDCs). While the offerings vary slightly by state, SBDCs are grant-funded organizations that offer no-cost, one-on-one coaching for business owners and potential business owners. The funding for the centers is primarily provided from the Small Business Administration (SBA), the individual state, and local municipalities. SBDCs exist to help small businesses start and grow in a healthy way. When a community is full of thriving businesses, there are more jobs created, more tax revenue generated, and an overall higher quality of life.
Each center typically has a staff of business advisers that have a wide variety of knowledge. Advisers assist clients with a range of topics: writing a business plan, understanding and preparing financials, strategic planning, and on-going accountability, to name a few. Business advisers come from various backgrounds but most have owned their own business at some point and/or have a deep knowledge base in business, accounting, marketing, or commercial banking.
To find your local SBDC, www.americassbdc.org provides a search tool by state and zip code. Canada has a similar program. More information can be found at www.communityfutures.ca Once you’ve found the closest office, give them a call to set-up your first one-on-one appointment. The center will ask you to fill out a form that provides your contact information and a bit about your business. All SBDCs are asked to track information about their clients’ businesses in order to show value to their communities.
Your first meeting will be a “fact finding mission” for your adviser. They will ask a lot of questions about your business or business idea and offer the opportunity for you to ask any pressing questions you may have. Sessions are sometimes very information driven. Other times they will function as a sounding board for brainstorming meetings. Be prepared . . . most of the time, you will leave with homework. Business advisers function as coaches and teachers. They want to see you succeed and thrive, but they won’t (and shouldn’t) do the work for you. However, meetings with your adviser can be catered to the needs of you and your business. While SBDCs typically offer workshops on prominent topics, the one-on-one meetings aren’t usually based on a set curriculum.
Some of the most popular topics are:
Writing a Business Plan—All business owners should write a formal plan for their business prior to starting and review/revise it on a regular basis. Initially the business plan helps the owner to think through and have responses to all aspects of ownership and operations. Once the business is established, the plan functions as a working document that ensures the business stays on track with its goals.
Understanding and Preparing Financials—The majority of business owners enjoy the “widget” of their business and would rather not spend time looking at a bunch of numbers on a spreadsheet or report. However, at the end of the day, the point of a business it to make a profit. It’s difficult to know whether or not your business is profitable or running in the red if you don’t have a solid tracking system for your bookkeeping. You need to be able to understand how to read reports like a Profit & Loss Statement, Balance Sheet, and Cash Flow Statement.
Preparing for a Commercial Bank Loan—The paperwork required for a commercial loan is more in-depth than applying for a home loan. This can feel overwhelming for a business owner. SBDC advisers are skilled in helping you put together the required documentation to give you the best chance at a loan approval. Many times, the adviser has built relationships with area bankers and can help match you with a lending institution that would be more apt to approve your loan. Also, SBDCs are aware of any type of community or economic development lending programs that might be available in your area.
Strategic Planning—It is normal to experience periods of feeling stuck and not sure where to go next in order to grow your business. A business adviser can lead you through a strategic planning session that will help determine where you want your business to be in three years and then work backwards to determine the tasks you need to start with in order to achieve the ultimate goal.
On-Going Accountability—Sometimes the best thing for a business owner is to have someone holding them to task on areas of their business where they are dragging their feet. A business adviser will be that extra set of eyes and the one asking, “Did you complete your homework?”
The Small Business Development Center can be a wonderful resource to help you further your business at no cost to you. Whether you are new to running a business or you have been an owner for years, the SBDC business advisers would love to help you take your business to the next level, whatever that may be.
Kari McGilvra has been a Business Advisor with the Indiana Small Business Development Center in New Albany, Indiana since August 2015. She has also been a small business owner for over a decade.
Ann Steeves, of Gorgeous Fabrics, gave an outstanding presentation to the New England Chapter on April 22. Her lecture was entitled "Pressing Techniques for Professional Results." With her characteristic thoroughness, clarity, and humor she covered the purposes of pressing, differences between pressing and ironing, and demonstration of a vast array of pressing tools. The meeting, which was open to non-members, drew guests as well as members of the chapter to our frequent meeting location, Fabric Place Basement in Natick, MA. In addition to Ann's presentation there was time for visiting, refreshments, and, of course, fabric shopping.
Ann has published multiple articles in Threads magazine, most recently "Pressing Matters," in issue 126. She has also created and produced an informational video on pressing that can be viewed on YouTube.
MSDP/MAS would like to extend congratulations to our 2017 scholarship winner, Linda Miller of Jacksonville, FL. Linda has been awarded a scholarship towards MAS Certification. Here is Linda’s winning essay:
My Goal: Master Alterations Specialist By Linda G. Miller
"Fashion is very important. It is life-enhancing and, like everything that gives pleasure it is worth doing well." --Vivienne Westwood
There is one major thing that my dad taught me. He said, "If you are going to do anything, make sure you do it well." This life statement is the motivation behind my desire to be a Master Alterations Specialist. I want to offer customers the best craftsmanship in Jacksonville, add credibility to my sewing business, and engage in a robust business planning process.
By the time I reached junior high school my home economics teacher had inspired me to sew by saying, "You need to sew because you sew straight." I asked for a sewing machine for Christmas and received a Kenmore Model 1040. I kept that machine through high school and was able to create clothing comparable to ready-to-wear.
I learned to sew by using Simplicity patterns. The instructions were confusing for me at first until my father interpreted them for me. He often said, "If it's in a book, then you can do it too!" He proved it by sewing Vogue Patterns and even sewed for a local celebrity, Pops Staples. With my father's guidance, I was able to make a fashion statement too by making nearly all of my clothes.
A formal sewing education was not something Dad encouraged. Instead, I earned a business degree at DePaul University which did not necessarily prepare me for the rigors of being a soloprenuer. I started Custom Alterations in 2008 as a home-based business. Alterations done from home was the easiest option to begin my business since hemming pants and skirts is very common. Also, this type of business gave me the flexibility needed to bring in extra income while raising our two adopted children (one with special needs). About four years later, with my personal savings, I opened a small shop in Fernandina Beach, Florida. My shop had a decent amount of loyal customers, but it was minimally profitable due to my inexperience in the business planning process. Recently, I closed the shop in Fernandina Beach to move to Jacksonville, Florida.
According to SCORE, a business needs to operate for at least five years before it can be successful, and it takes 10,000 hours of sewing to become an excellent seamstress according to an expert local tailor I interviewed. These facts encouraged my strong desire to begin again in a new location, and to do it RIGHT! I need to follow and understand the business planning process.
I need the scholarship to complete the certification modules for the Master Alterations Specialist program. The program and certification will further develop my business acumen, lend credibility and expertise to my business, and allow me to be a champion of the Association of Sewing & Design Professionals. Becoming a Master in my field is a necessary enhancement that communicates to my future customers that they are hiring a highly-skilled professional and an experienced expert seamstress.
Making garments fit great can enhance individual lives and like Vivienne Westwood said in the above statement, "it is worth doing well." Please give me the opportunity to learn from the best!
April was a very educational month for the Heartland Chapter! Instead of a traditional meeting, we were provided with a business class. Mike Frewer, the husband of one of our chapter members (Dianne Frewer of A Fitting Creation), kindly offered to give a business lecture to our chapter, and we eagerly agreed. Mike has years of business experience as the Senior VP and VP of Emerging Technologies of Thermo King Midwest, as well as helping Diane for years as an advisor to her sewing business. Mike provided a very professional presentation complete with PowerPoint, giant notepad, and a delicious home cooked meal (a man of many talents!).
Our discussion included topics such as why businesses fail, non-disclosure agreements, connecting with millennials, creating a succession plan for your business, and aligning your marketing with your individual marketplace. Each of us in attendance even dug into our own records and contributed to the presentation with our individual statistics on these topics, which made the class even more individualized and instructive. Mike’s presentation was not only extremely informative, but it created a safe space for open discussion between our chapter members about some of the minutia of our businesses. From how many repeat customers we each had to tales of employee troubles, as well as how to keep track of alteration project times on QuickBooks. We all ended the day with plenty to think about, both big business to-dos and the helpful day-to-day hacks.
It may seem surprising, but not all organizations, associations, and businesses have a written code of ethics. If a code of ethics is even considered, it is generally intuited as part of the “culture.” While an organization’s culture can have a highly developed sense of ethics without a formal document, more often than not, an unwritten code is viewed “more like guidelines” (From Pirates of the Caribbean). Sometimes it is even worse: “It’s not wrong if you don’t get caught” or “Easier to seek forgiveness than permission.” Then there are the organizations that have a written code of ethics but it sits on a shelf or on someone’s computer and has very little impact on the organization’s culture.
A while back, to ensure that neither of the above scenarios applied to ASDP, the then-board decided to write various newsletter articles about our code of ethics and what it means. I drew Article 2.6.
2.6 Members shall act with fiscal responsibility in the best interest of their clients and shall maintain sound business relationships with suppliers and contractors to ensure the best possible outcome for the client.
What does this mean? It means that members pay their bills, taxes, insurance, etc. in a timely manner and keep any contractual obligations. In doing this, clients benefit when members are able to receive supplies and subcontract needed work to meet client deadlines and/or project requirements. Imagine not being able to purchase that perfect fabric because of a past due bill or an “Insufficient Funds” reputation! Or you needing to explain your eviction because you didn’t/couldn’t pay the rent? Or there was some disaster and the client’s project was destroyed and you couldn’t financially reimburse them because you didn’t carry sufficient insurance?
Additionally, members keep good financial records and pay all related taxes and fees. While some clients might prefer to work “under the table” this is not in their best interest. Basically, it is stealing from the larger community in which we all live and work. While it is good business practice to pay as little as legally possible in taxes or other fees, it is dishonest and lacking integrity to “work under the table.”
The business is located in the historic downtown district of Gresham, Oregon, a suburb of Portland. About 12 years ago on June 30th, my husband, having retired, had his last day at work. On July 1 of that same year, he helped me move the business out of the house. Since then I have been in four locations. This one is the best! It is about 6-8 minutes from home by car or 35-40 minutes walking. I am on the second floor of the building. Consequently, my hours can be very flexible as I am not tied to “retail” hours.
Like the name says, fine dressmaking and bridal couture. I don’t do alterations unless it is bridal or special occasion although that may change. Additionally, I am doing more teaching. Currently, I have a couple of repeat clients keeping me busy with jackets and very nice t-shirts.
I suppose my favorite part is my huge cutting surface, which is 5’ x 8’. The only drawback to this table is for especially large projects I have to climb onto the table to finish cutting a piece. A close second is my fitting room. It is nice having a dedicated area for fittings. When the business was at home, fittings were generally in the working studio area using a mirror hung on the back of a door. It worked but still …..
I work alone although I’ve often considered sharing the space.
In each of my locations, I’ve had to consider what needs to happen and what will be happening where. With the help of my husband, we drew a scale diagram of the space and to scale pieces of machinery and furniture. Once I had everything the way I liked/wanted it, Jim helped me move things into place. The price of my cheap labor was complying with his wishes to “move it only once.”
Good question! I should ask them. Still, from the reactions I occasionally get I suppose it might be “Oh, this is what you do!” meaning “it’s a business.” The other comment I hear is “You have a lot of machines.”
I’m not sure about “unique” but I know many who covet my lighting. First, the artificial lighting is pretty good in itself. Additionally, the sewing area has four west facing windows. In the mid to late afternoon, I have to drop the blinds but that is a minor inconvenience for such great light.
Business Promotion by Denise Severson, Wisconsin
About 3-4 months ago, I happened to see a post on Facebook from Janesville’s (WI) Rotary Botanical Gardens looking for local businesses or private individuals/groups to sponsor a giant fish for display in the gardens during the summer season. They provided the fish; the sponsor had to decorate it any way you want. Designs needed to be weather resistant since they'll be outside. Another local business had agreed to seal/clear-coated the fish.
The fish is 1/2-inch thick plywood, and came with one coat of primer. It’s pretty large, about 3-1/2 feet wide x 3 feet tall. I added another primer coat, and 2 coats of the blue exterior house paint. My first thought was to use giant sequins for the embellishment, since somewhere I heard sequins were originally inspired by fish scales. But all the sequin vendors said the large sequins are pretty much all plastic, and would not hold up to summer sun, wind, rain, humidity, or heat. Then I posted a question about it on the ASDP discuss list, and included some of my ideas. I decided to use faux flowers because they are fabric, are quite colorful, and usually can withstand the elements reasonably well.
I found the tiger lily flowers at Hobby Lobby (and they were 50% off which certainly worked for me). The flowers were deconstructed and soaked to remove a lot of the sizing and starch in order for them to get as flat as possible. After drying they were steam pressed. They were applied to the prepared fish with water-proof glues and Heat-n-Bond Ultra Hold, the heavy duty kind that is guaranteed to be machine washable and dryable.
Rotary Botanical Garden is a huge garden in Janesville which draws in thousands of visitors every year, especially in the summer. The name of the business sponsor is displayed with the fish and also will be included on the garden’s website. The fish are scheduled to go on display Mother's Day Weekend and will be on display until September 8th, 2017. On the 8th, there will be a fundraiser event at RGB for the benefit of the gardens, and the fish will be included in the auction.
Decorating a fish was a business promotion. The sponsorship cost me a whopping $35; supplies to decorate, about $60. Pretty reasonable for thousands of people to see your name and creativity on display, plus it goes to support a great resource in my local community.
The April/May 2017 interval here in Colorado included Clara Dittli’s three six-hour sessions entitled Couture Blouse Building Blocks, a field trip, and a business presentation.
During the first of Clara’s three sessions we used couture techniques to mark the pattern on the fabric and cut it out. Because Clara had given us our patterns in advance, some of us had made muslins to test the fit and others decided to start with the muslin and practice all the techniques on the muslin. For homework, we followed Clara’s instructions for stabilizing the facing and making the fabric loops.
Our second session covered several more topics. We spent much of our time practicing Clara’s techniques for installing the fabric loops for various sized buttons. We also learned how to properly face, trim, and press a jewel neckline, and how to easily prepare the sleeve and garment hems.
Blind hems and how to properly install a set-in sleeve were the primary focus of the final session. We used Clara’s techniques and practiced easing a set-in sleeve (without gathering stitches) for different fabrics for a perfect fit. Clara also showed us how to hold the fabric so it wouldn’t crease while doing the hand hemming stitches. At the end, Clara helped us improve how we held the fabric in our laps so we wouldn’t tire so easily.
Our field trip was a return to the Avenir Museum in Ft. Collins, CO, followed by a visit to the Zipper Lady. The museum, which is part of the University, has a huge collection of textiles. Although the museum is small (5 rooms), the exhibits are changed regularly to show the wide variety of garments. During this visit we saw turn-of-the-last-century garments from the time when people often held semi-formal garden parties. Another exhibit displayed the evolution of wedding dresses from the 1860’s through the 1940’s. The final exhibit displayed garments from a student challenge in which the students produced garments using recycled materials. Some garments used playing cards, bubble wrap, or even plastic construction fence material. One striking dress was a flapper-style, steam-punk inspired dress decorated with beer tabs.
At the Zipper Lady’s warehouse we heard many fascinating stories from owner Alicia Werner. She told us about specialized zippers that are made to survive the high heat needed to kill bedbugs, zippers that keep fish in their section of a pond, and water-proof zippers for scuba gear. We also toured the well-organized warehouse and saw thousands of zippers of all colors, sizes, and styles.
And at our regular meeting in May, our guest speaker gave us a new perspective on getting started on a business plan. Marcia McGilley, from the Colorado Small Business Development Center (SBDC) presented the Business Model Canvas. We looked at the who, what, where, why, how, and with whom aspects of our businesses. This involved asking ourselves many questions. Who are the customers? Why do we want a relationship with them and where can we reach them? What are our special contributions? How do we create what we offer and with whom can we partner? All this led to our income streams, how to weather changes in economic conditions, and the need for plans to shift focus when necessary to maintain income.
The next goal for the board of the ASDP Foundation is to come up with a case for support. To start us off in the right direction towards this goal, we polled the board members to see why they felt the Foundation was important. You may find their individual answers interesting:
I think the Foundation is an important adjunct to ASDP. ASDP, by its nature as a trade association, is quite member-centric with services, benefits, and educational programs designed to support members in their sewing and design related businesses. The Foundation's reach will eventually be wider, as we become able to aid people starting out in business. It's helpful to have an entity that can accept tax-deductible donations, as this is often enough of an incentive to sway someone to donate.
I like the thought that the Foundation can reach out to both members and non-members of ASDP by sponsoring a speaker at the ASDP conference. Inviting the public will help generate interest in sewing and design, while also increasing awareness about ASDP. I think that's a better return on investment than giving student scholarships to conference and not gaining long-term members as a result. It would be great if we had enough money to give out grants to small business start-ups, award design school scholarships, etc. Hopefully one day we will, but for now we must start small and aim for the maximum bang for our buck.
I also think it's important for the Foundation to build relationships with businesses in the industry. With ASDP, this often consists of looking for conference sponsorships, which again yield publicity in front of a relatively limited number of people. I hope we find that the sewing and design industry is willing to support our mission of education and assistance for anyone who needs it, not just for ASDP members.
I have had the good fortune of receiving an education through grants and special funding. Therefore, I am eager to ensure others can receive any bit of assistance. Although I did not pursue a sewing career early in life, it has always been one of my dreams. In the spirit of giving back I really want to assist others getting a start regardless of their age or circumstance.
The importance of the foundation to me are first to support the education necessary for the new technologies being introduced into the fabric and design fields. Second to help develop the skills needed to manufacture garments and sewn goods locally.
Throughout my undergraduate and graduate studies, I was always appreciative of every scholarship I received no matter how small. Being able to give back in terms of time and service is the right thing to do as a small payback for my successes. Serving on the Foundation board is particularly special in that I can work with generous and empowering individuals who share a passion for sewing and design.
My answer to why I think the Foundation is important would be that helping others in the sewing and design profession get a "leg up" via scholarship or grants matters greatly to me.
When I was the president of ASDP I answered at least one call a month from a person hoping that the MSDP program was a place they could receive training to start their own business. Each time I had to tell them that while our focus was on education and support for individuals in sewing related business, they had to be able to pay for our conferences and memberships. We had no money available to help those in need gain skills and build a business. As a former social worker, this broke my heart and I vowed that when I had more time I would work towards establishing a funding source that could provide opportunities for people who were not as fortunate as I was.
A charitable foundation is a large task, but all the board members have held leadership positions for the ASDP National Board and some have served in chapter leadership as well. We all agree that there is little, if any, charitable funding for sewing-related causes and it will elevate our association to add this non-profit arm. We hope to keep sewing and sewing professionals thriving as we move toward the future. It also gives members opportunities to honor sewing friends who have passed with their tax-deductible contributions and honorary scholarships.
You can see by the answers given that the Board has strong feelings on the importance of the Foundation. We will be reporting more in the future regarding the case for support, which will help the Foundation board refine the Mission and Vision statements in more detail. These two documents address our interests in fair pay and education for sewing pros, grants to support eligible sewing entrepreneurs, educators, and student scholarships. This in turn will help us further our cause as we begin to expand our reach to industry-related companies, leaders, and other interested parties in our efforts to increase funding. Contributions to the foundation are always optional and the board will continue to offer a variety of ways for interested parties to contribute their ideas, time, and dollars.
February was a busy month for the Colorado chapter. First, a group of us went to the Denver Art Museum to see an exhibit of Japanese textiles and the Star Wars costume exhibit. The Japanese exhibit, entitled Shockwave: Japanese Fashion Design, 1980s-90s was very beautiful and creative. Included designers were Issey Miyake and Rei Kawakubo (Comme des Garcons). The Star Wars and the Power of Costume Exhibit was incredible. The exhibit included a design studio showing the process of design, but the stars of the show were the finished garments with unbelievable detail work. Both exhibits were exceptional and very educational. The following week was our annual Sewing Retreat in the mountains north of Denver. We were treated to excellent food and plenty of space to sew for as long as we wished each day. Each participant brought her own projects and machines, and several members brought pressing equipment to share. Projects included pants and shirts, quilting, a quilt-like basket, repair work, children’s clothes, stuffed animals, and even a small billfold. We anticipate returning again next year, as we have for many years. In March our presentation was by member Carol Phillips was about making and using Moulage, which is like a sloper, but closer fitting. So close, in fact that it has no ease. Hence the name Moulage, which is French for “casing” (as in sausage). Carol demonstrated the difference in fit by modeling her custom Moulage and her sloper. March also brought the annual Rocky Mountain Sewing Expo to Denver (http://quiltcraftsew.com), and we again had a booth to exhibit samples of the work done by the Colorado Chapter of the ASDP. We met with many curious sewers; some were interested in connecting with a sewing professional and others were interested in our group and what they might learn if they attended some of our meetings or special classes. (It also gave us a chance to display the beautiful ASDP Chapter of the Year Award that we won for our work in 2016.)
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