US 1 Newspaper (PrincetonInfo.com)

July 11, 2007

Learn To Start A New Business   (Michael Glass and SEA)

Two in three new businesses fail within the first two years. That's a daunting statistic. But there are ways to increase those odds, and the best way is to educate yourself on all aspects of owning a business before you start, says Michael Glass, director of statewide training at Mercer County Community College. Glass coordinates the Self Employment Assistance Program (SEA), a state-wide program run by the New Jersey Department of Labor. The program was developed to help people who have recently lost their jobs, and are on unemployment, to develop the skills needed to start their own businesses, but anyone is welcome to register for the classes, says Glass.

The classes are held at 10 locations throughout the state, including Mercer County Community College. The intensive, six-week program covers a variety of topics, including developing business and marketing plans, tax issues, recordkeeping, and the legal formation of businesses. There are rolling start dates. Cost for the entire series: $800, but it is also possible to register for individual courses. To register call 609-570-3530. If you are currently collecting unemployment benefits, call your employment services counselor regarding financial assistance and eligibility.

The SEA classes are also part of a larger program offered by the college, the Certificate in Small Business Management. To earn the certificate a participant must take the four required courses, plus three out of seven electives. The cost to take the additional electives is not covered through unemployment assistance.

A study completed a few years ago by the Department of Labor showed that "60 to 70 percent of people who took the classes were still in business for themselves three to five years later," says Glass. That's a markedly higher rate of success than the average for new businesses.

Knowledge is the key, he says. "Far too many businesses are started sitting around the kitchen table, coming up with an idea and saying, `that would make a great business.'" The new business owner opens his or her doors without doing the necessary research.

Is there a market? Market research is one of the first things the program stresses, says Glass. Find out about the product or service you plan to offer. Who is the competition and where are they located? How much can you charge for the service? Developing written business and marketing plans are a large part of the classes.

How will you market? Networking, advertising, and sales are vital to all businesses. "If you aren't good at it, you need to consider hiring someone who is," says Glass.

What are the legal issues? What type of business structure should your business have? Should you be a sole proprietor? An LLC? A corporation? Different types of businesses lend themselves to different business structures, and it is important to understand the benefits of each structure before making a decision.

When do you take on debt? Having enough money for the new business is one of the most important issues, and the one new business owners frequently underestimate. How much money do you need, not only to open and operate your business, but to live? Know what types of financing are available for your business, how to find the right lender, and what information the lender wants to see.

What records should you keep? If you don't keep good books, you won't stay in business very long. But there is more to business recordkeeping that just accounts payable and accounts receivable. What records do you need to keep for the IRS? What types of software are available to help you keep track of your business?

This is the tenth year for the SEA program in the New Jersey, says Glass. He has worked with the program since its inception and he has been involved with Mercer County Community College for most of his career. He received his bachelor's degree from the State University of New York and a doctorate from Rutgers University, and he has worked at Mercer County Community College for 30 years. "I've been here longer than some of the buildings," he jokes.

Participants who have come through the SEA program have been interested in opening every business imaginable, from daycare centers and landscaping services, from IT specialty businesses to pharmaceutical consulting companies. SEA numbers attorneys and medical doctors among its alumni, along with downsized corporate executives.

"There is no stereotype for who enters the program," says Glass. Participants come from both blue collar and white collar backgrounds. "New Jersey has one of the highest percentages of college graduates in the country," he says. When corporations in the pharmaceutical industry, IT, or telecommunications industry lay off workers, they lay off at every level, from managers and sales professionals, to researchers, to support people. Many of these former corporate employees find their way to the SEA program.

A big factor in the success of the program, says Glass, is that the people who attend are very motivated to succeed. "That's one of the big criteria for success in business," says Glass. "The people in this program are self-selected." They want to succeed in their new business ventures.

Family support is another important aspect in the success of a small business. "Opening a business takes time, all of your time, and that takes its toll on your family," says Glass. To be successful a business owner and his family must understand that the business will take total focus for several years.

The program has more than paid for itself over the years, says Glass. It has been responsible for the start-up of approximately 6,000 new small businesses in New Jersey over the past 10 years. That means tax revenue, not just from the business owners, but from their employees and their suppliers as well.

Reprinted from US 1 Newspaper, July 11, 2007