Once a month, a consultant from the Minnesota Small Business Development Center arrives in Park Rapids to meet with small business owners and entrepreneurs, at no charge.
The guidance is two fold, explained Cathy Lindquist, executive director of the Northwest and West Central SBDC regional centers.
Consultations are geared to business owners who want to expand or who are facing a stressful situation, requiring remediation.
Assistance is also available to an individual wanting to start a business.
"We understand that most businesses start with a passion," she said. But as businesses grow, they often need direction. There may be employee issues. They may be looking to grow. And a consultant is available to assist with a business under financial stress, to analyze the problem and help make a decision that's best for them.
"It's non-judgmental," Lindquist said. "We help them get to the next stage.
"Soup to nuts, we help to find the resources," Lindquist said. "We lay out the options and opportunities so there are no surprises. We want them prepared."
An individual who wants to start a business, for example, may be weighing a choice between purchasing an existing business or a new franchise.
"We help them through the process," she said of advising on state and local regulations. The consultant prepares the client for the trip to the bank, providing technical assistance on cash flow and income statements. But the client does the investigation.
The SBDC does not do a market analysis, but conducts "frank conversations" with clients. "They decide; we support."
It's professional, confidential and one-on-one, Lindquist said, with the consultant reviewing the client's stages of progress.
"We go at their speed," she said.
Services offered include financial analysis and projections, Small Business Administration loan packaging and restructuring cash flow.
"We fit the client with the consultant," Lindquist said of determining a lead advisor.
An initial recommendation for a new business owner is establishing an Internet and Facebook presence. "There's a lot you can do for free."
Clients are questioned on the amount of cash they are willing to put in, while weighing risk. "Banks look at cash flow. That's king now," Lindquist said.
The consultants assist clients in understanding both opportunity and risks involved in owning a business. "It's great fun, rewarding, but it's also hard work. It's not 9 to 5."
Clients are urged to take a hard look at the financial aspect of owning the business. "If it's not making money, get out. That should be at the top of the list," Lindquist said candidly.
The overall goal of the partnership with the Northwest Minnesota SBDC and Hubbard County Regional Economic Development Commission is to stimulate the economy.
In 2012, 319 clients were served in the 12 northwest Minnesota counties, Concordia College now the host. The clients arrived for 1,600 sessions, with 3,082 hours of direct consultation.
The 12-county region experienced "phenomenal" results last year, Lindquist said of new business starts and capital raised to start businesses.
"Our goal was a $10 million capital infusion," Lindquist said. Over $35 million bolstered the area's economy, buoying employment rates.
The objective was 17 new businesses in the northwest region; 26 new businesses emerged.
And last year, a SBDC client, Darrin Swanson of Perham's Kit Masters, was a runner-up for the national Small Business Person of the Year distinction. "That's the first time we had representation at nationals," she said.
This year, Bemidji's Robert Seigert, owner of Hampton Inn and Green Mill who plans to add a DoubleTree, has been nominated.
The SBDC program is 40 percent federally funded, with some funding from the state; the rest privately raised, Lindquist said.
No appointment is necessary to meet with SBDC consultants Jaimee Meyer or Amanda Nygaard from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. the first Tuesday of each month in room B-11 of the Hubbard County Courthouse.
They may also be contacted via phone, Meyer at 218-755-4255 or Nygaard at 218-299-3037.
Or register online to become a client, a three- to five-minute process.
Go to www.offuttschoolof business.org/nwsbdc, click on the gold "Client Registration" on the middle left side of the page. A new window will open, asking for a name and e-mail. Fill out a client profile, as completely as possible.
An assigned professional business consultant will be in contact to offer the no- cost assistance.