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Andrew Bowen (AB): Good morning, good afternoon, or good evening—whatever time of day you’re tuning in, we’re so glad you’re listening to today’s edition of CBR’s B2U podcast, bringing business directly to you, presented by CBRBiz.com. As always, our goal is to connect you to the information you need to start and run a successful business.
You’ve heard the saying, “It takes money to make money.” But how do you know if your business idea will even make money?
To answer this question and more, we are happy to welcome Renee Hode from CPCC to the show. Renee is the Executive Director of the Small Business Center at CPCC and is an absolute expert in the world of business administration.
Welcome, Renee. Thank you for being here. Can you tell our guests a little about yourself and what you do over at CPCC’s Small Business Center?
Renee Hode (RH): Sure! I’m delighted to be here. In terms of what I do—I’m the Executive Director of CPCC’s Small Business Center. For those who aren’t familiar, the Small Business Center is a local community resource that helps individuals who want to start or grow a business. We provide free business counseling, free training and some comprehensive courses as well.
I’ve been with the Small Business Center for 10 years, and it’s been a wonderful experience in being able to help people realize their dreams and turn them into businesses.
AB: That’s great! So have you been the Executive Director for 10 years, or did you start by helping people more on the lower level and grow into it?
RH: I did grow into the position. I started 10 years ago as an assistant in the actual department, and then I grew throughout the years into a developer, where I was actually tasked with putting together the content in the training programs for those who were looking to start and grow a business. And then I moved on to become the Director and Executive Director. I also serve as a Regional Director of the entire Small Business Center network for the southwest region.
AB: So the small business network—does it include other things? Outside of CPCC, what kind of other groups does it include?
RH: Absolutely! The small business network is comprised of 58 Small Business Centers that are across the community college system. Every community college has a Small Business Center, so it’s just a 30 minute drive for any individual to get access to the resources that I discussed–the training and counseling services.
AB: 10 years of experience—how many businesses do you guys see every year?
RH: Every year, with the culmination of services that we offer, it’s not unheard of to have more than 2,000 business owners that come out to seek advisement.
AB: That’s pretty incredible! 2,000 businesses. Since I do data for a living, I imagine not every one of these 2,000 come in knowing exactly what it is they need or don’t need, right?
RH: Oh, absolutely! They come in really in that exploratory stage where they’re thinking about starting, and we’re here to help walk them through that process.
AB: I know one of the first questions a lot of people ask when they’re looking to start a business is this: How do I know if my idea will make money?
RH: You’re absolutely right. That’s a terrific question, and that’s one that we see on a regular basis when clients come into the Small Business Center. Where we like to start with that is to look at what the idea is—is it a product or service idea?—and then look at what makes some of those products fail and others succeed. What we’ve found over the years of working with clients is that products or services that are based on a solution to a problem are something that’s in demand. One thing we do is we sit down with a client, and we assess Is there a need for their product in the marketplace?, and if there is a need, Will the consumer pay for it? Can they produce that product or service at a price point that is affordable for a customer?
AB: That’s awesome! You said you sit down with them. How long does it usually take when they first call and say, “Hey, I need some help”? Is it a pretty quick process?
RH: When they first call in and say they need help, depending upon what they’re looking at doing and where they’re going, we may advise them for some training, or we may have them come out for a one-on-one, face-to-face counseling session. But we’ll go through an assessment and talk through their idea as we’re doing now. You know, how can they make money off of their idea? And we start looking at it. We’ve talked about looking at it from Is it in demand? and looking at Does it solve a problem? But the next step is really looking at the competition as well. Does this already exist in the marketplace?
We’ll look at it from that analysis point, and we’ll say, “Okay, let’s do a one-pager.” And we’ll look at their top competitors and make a chart to see if they can do it faster, better, quicker, at a lower price point—we will determine what you can beat the competition on, so you can figure out what the competitive advantage is.
AB: So in making that “one-pager,” and kind of looking at the competitors, is that something you’ll help the business through?
RH: Yes, it is! Yes, it is—absolutely. It’s important to know from both sides—the customer side as well as the competition—to see how they can be strategically placed in the marketplace to succeed. One of the most important steps that we do is we advise them to go right out, and go through the process of customer discovery. That’s really when they go out, and they start identifying who their customers are. They actually talk to them, whether that be face-to-face focus groups, surveys, analysis. They really need to test their idea with the marketplace and show the market what it is they’re hoping to do, whether it be a product or service, and gather and solicit the feedback. That’s what’s going to help them to see if they can make money off of that idea. It’ll certainly lead them to make changes along the way because right now they come in with a concept, so it’s turning that concept into something that will be viable long-term. Talking to the customer is certainly a huge aspect.
AB: Basically people come in and ask if they’re going to make any money, and you help them through: Is it a product or service that solves a problem? Can it be produced at a reasonable rate that people will pay? Who will pay it, and who is the competition that you’re up against?
RH: Those are the starting things, and we’ll walk them through that process. And we do have training that couples along with that, where we go over, say, the customer discovery process, or how to best put together questions for a focus group, and things along those lines.
AB: Do you have subject matter experts in each of these, or is someone assigned one person that helps them through the entire process?
RH: Well, we do like to keep one point person that shepherds them through, which would be their main counselor. If they’re assigned to a particular counselor on our team, that will be their lead, who they will always touch base with. But as far as other content experts, we do have several on our team that are also specialists in terms of counseling but also training. They will be referred to work with some of those other experts, but at the end of the day, they still go right back to their point person here, who’s leading and shepherding them through the whole process.
AB: That’s fantastic! Well, that’s all the time we have for today. Renee, thank you so much for speaking with us. I know this has been as beneficial for our listeners as it has been for me. And, listeners, if you want to learn more about starting your business and CPCC, be sure to visit www.CBRBiz.com, or follow us on Twitter @CBRBiz.
Stay tuned for Part 2 of our conversation with Renee, where we will be diving even deeper into the world of business funding.
Thanks for tuning in to CBR’s B2U podcast, bringing business directly to you, presented by CBRBiz.com. Until next time, we mean business!