SPRINGFIELD, Vt. — Business and finance specialists from state and federal agencies gave Springfield region veterans a free educational crash course for starting a business Thursday. During the four hour event, professionals provided a wealth of information on how to effectively plan and finance a business, as well as the gamut of resources to help American veterans transition into entrepreneurship.
The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) of Vermont has held this course for veterans each year on Vermont Veterans Small Business Day. This was the agency’s first year holding the program in Springfield.
“It’s widely known that people often want to buy from veterans because people see them as more reliable, respectful and likely to follow through with contracts,” Chris Herriman, economic development specialist and veteran business officer with the SBA, said.
According to Herriman, many veterans find their best entrepreneurial opportunities in government contracting. A large share of government contracts come from the Department of Defense, so veterans naturally bring a professional background and knowledge about the industry.
Additionally, federal law allows government agencies to give preference to veteran-owned businesses for supplies and services. Ed Williams, a procurement counselor with the Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community, talked with the veterans in attendance about how to get into government contracting and procuring the necessary federal certification to receive preferred veteran status.
Ten people, including veterans and representatives for veterans, attended the program at the River Valley Technical Center at Springfield High School. Several veterans in attendance already had small businesses.
Ian Currie, a Springfield resident who served two combat tours in Iraq, owns Doomsday Athletics, a physical fitness center in North Springfield. Currie, who began the gym in 2013, said that he wants information and resources to help him expand his business into competitive sports and build a marketing brand.
Several veterans noted that they entered their businesses before developing a plan and now find themselves “backpedaling” to put necessary plan components into place.
One attendee said she bought a Rutland-based children’s play center from her friend, but the business lost its operating space. Due to unforeseen complications involved to operate a children-based business, the consultants said she needs to restructure it.
“I’m starting new, coming up with a business plan with an already established business,” she said.
Starting without a firm plan is a common problem among many business owners, according to Herriman.
“A lot of people get started without knowing if they are making a profit, or what they need to know to keep their doors open,” Herriman said.
The essential basics to businesses apply to everyone, whether a veteran or civilian. Learning the fundamentals of small business ownership helps remove the fear for entrepreneurship by showing a person the attitude and tools to be successful.
“Entrepreneurship is a way of thinking, to look for the opportunities,” Herriman told the group. “I think people can be taught to be entrepreneurs. You may not be able to teach someone how to succeed, but you can teach the mindset and the tools.”
Arguably, Herriman’s most repeated advice to new entrepreneurs was to research and define your ideas. Every path to business ownership — a new creation, purchasing an existing business, a family-owned operation, a franchise, or an employee-to-ownership model — has its own advantages and disadvantages, but every one requires doing research. The type of research might vary between the path.
For example, when creating a new business, a person must research the available market for one’s product or service, the competition and whether one brings advantages to compete. If purchasing an existing business, Heriman said that many sellers will value their business more highly than the reality on paper, so the prospective buyer needs to access the business’s tax records and other financial documents to get an actual, accurate picture.
Veterans interested in starting small businesses have both the resources available to all Vermonters — from regional development organizations and the SBA — to ones specifically for veterans, including bank loans.
“We have experts who have been doing this for a long time, so use these programs when they are available,” Herriman said. “Otherwise, they do go away.”
More information on available entrepreneurial resources can be found online at SBA.org.