It’s been a busy year for Doug Tarble. As the coordinator of the Small Business Center (SBC) at Cape Fear Community College, Tarble’s phone has been ringing more than ever. Many of those calls come from aspiring business owners who want to turn an idea into a profitable company.
The SBC, located on Third St. in downtown Wilmington, provides a variety of free services to help existing businesses succeed and help get new businesses off the ground.
One of the primary services offered by the center is free one-on-one counseling for small business owners and aspiring entrepreneurs.
Tarble said that over the past three years, traffic to the center has been fairly consistent, ranging from 120-150 per year. However, in the last three months, the activity has gone even higher. Now he’s seeing 20 different people per month, who are specifically interested in starting a small business.
He sees all people from all walks of life – from retired executives who want to start a consulting business, to someone who is unemployed but has an enthusiastic business idea.
As a personal business coach, Tarble offers straight talk to give clients a reality check to let them know that what they might think is a “new great idea” is already being sold by someone else, or that securing financing maybe extremely difficult in today’s economy. A reality check can be disappointing to clients, but will keep them from failing, Tarble stated.
“I don’t want to see someone invest their life savings into a business without them knowing about the competition and the risks,” Tarble said.
The discussions are confidential. Tarble said that the first thing that gets covered is a person’s background, their business idea and what they want to do.
After an initial meeting, Tarble always follows up to see if they are ready to move on to the next step, including setting up a business plan, financing and registering a business with the state.
Tarble said that the sagging economy has made it more difficult for small businesses to start if they need funding from outside sources. Most of the people he’s worked with recently are funding their business themselves through credit cards, savings, and home equity funds.
A lot of those people want to convert hobbies into side businesses to supplement their income.
One recent example include Sandi Adams, a local woman who wanted to turn her love of sand sculpting into a business. Her company, SandiCastles, is now open for business to create memorable sand sculptures for beach weddings, family reunions, festivals, and promotional events. Another recent example is Kathy Rayle, who made a tastier, organic version of baklava in her kitchen and wanted to expand it into a business. Her company, Bakla-Vavoom, now sells her product in several area stores.
Tarble said that no matter the product or service being offered, there are two major keys to making a business successful.
“You have to be able to sell yourself and your product with great enthusiasm. You also have to have a product or service that someone is willing to pay you for,” Tarble said.
In addition to business coaching, the SBC also offers a wide variety of free business-related seminars. For more information visit www.cfcc.edu/sbc or call (910) 362-7216.