Free service aims to help small businesses, as well as start-ups
In this struggling economy small businesses need any advantage that they can get, and the Tecumseh Chamber of Commerce introduced a strong ally to just such members at its annual meeting last month. Norma LaVallee, a business consultant for the Michigan Small Business and Technology Development Center (MSBTDC), was invited to the meeting and addressed Chamber members on the help that her Jackson branch of the statewide service can supply to those already in business or who are thinking about starting a business.“I can’t comment on the state of the economy,” LaVallee said in an interview after her Tecumseh presentation, “but I can’t overstate how intent the MSBTDC is on helping those who are willing to seek advice. Our mission is to grow the business of existing companies and to counsel those who are thinking about starting a business.”The advice that LaVallee and her counterparts dispense is invaluable to business owners, and the important part for them to keep in mind is that the service is free. MSBTDC representatives will talk one-on-one with business owners or prospective entrepreneurs to provide information on business taxes, accounting procedures, and business planning, and will also provide extensive market research. The information available is not just general and national. The databases available through the organization are up-to-date and local. They are accessible through the organization’s website www.misbtdc.org. Click on “apply for counseling,” fill out the simple forms, and one of the consultants will get in contact with the applicant to provide the free services available.“There are workshops and seminars offered that require a nominal fee,” said LaVallee, “but we keep expenses down to be able to help as many people as we can, and the free services we offer are very extensive.”MSBTDC is funded through a combination of state and federal funds. The Lenawee program is affiliated with Michigan Works, a state program that helps to connect skilled workers with employers who need staffing in a particular field. The workers are screened and counseled through very specific job profiling, including previous documented job references.Besides partnering with local Chambers of Commerce and MIWorks, as the state employment service is more commonly known, MSBTDC also works closely with local Downtown Development Authorities (DDAs) and city economic development directors to assist businesses.The MSBTDC is divided into four teams, each at the ready to help any state business. They include, small business regional teams, a growth group team, a finance specialist team, and a technology commercialization team.“I highly recommend that any business person or potential entrepreneur make use of our service,” said LaVallee. “We’re here to serve, we have a lot of information and business advice, and most of our services are free.”Businesses can get strategic needs assessment, market analysis, development strategy, financial analysis, and advice on using ever-increasing technological advances that pertain to a particular industry or business. MSBTDC can also help businesses secure loans or start-up funding. “We are not an IT [information technology] service,” LaVallee said, “but we do stay on top of what new technology is developing and where the prevailing technology for a particular industry is heading so we can advise our clients.”LaVallee said that local libraries, such as Tecumseh District Library (TDL), are rich resources for small businesses. TDL has connections to free databases for consumer market data, demographic data, and market segmentation data associated with geographies that can be localized by simply typing in a zip code. All that is necessary for interested parties is to logon to www.tecumsehlibrary.org and click the “reference” tab. There is no charge, and the research available from the library is also extensive and updated frequently.Local Chambers of Commerce are an integral part of the support web available for existing businesses and a highly recommended adjunct for start-ups because of services provided such as speakers like LaVallee, who are invited to address members.Chamber membership entitles businesses to local data, a directory listing, a bulk mail permit, and Constant Contact discount, to name a few of the member benefits. The Tecumseh Chamber of Commerce, 132. W. Chicago Blvd., is directed by Vicki Philo. The office number is 423.3740 or logon to www.tecumsehchamber.org for more information.