Rich Loeffler knows from experience what it takes to start and run a business. Now a counselor with the Maryland Small Business Development Center, Rich operated a small manufacturing business in Dorchester County. Now, he spends his days helping other entrepreneurs get started or grow their businesses. We spent some time with Rich recently to learn more about what he and SBDC offer Talbot County businesses.
TalbotWorks: Rich, how did you come to work for the SBDC?
Rich: I sold my shares to my partners and retired in 1998. The company had grown to 800 employees and had become stressful. My wife and I did some traveling, but one day she found an employment notice for a business mentor, one day a week, and suggested I apply. I think she wanted me out of the house!
TalbotWorks: Tell us a little about what you do.
Rich: The job quickly expanded to five days a week. In addition to Talbot County, I cover Dorchester, Caroline, Kent, and Queen Anne’s counties and work out of three locations – Chesapeake College, Cambridge City Hall, and hotDesks in Easton. I see about 150 to 200 clients a year and help them prepare business plans and find resources to start or expand a business. We also offer training and have access to experts throughout the country who can find answers to just about any question a client may have. We can also ask interns and student teams at Salisbury University to review business plans and provide feedback, or perform a marketing study to help determine whether or not there is a market for a proposed business. I’ve done site visits to help clients evaluate whether or not a location is the right place for a business. All of our services are free, with the exception of some materials for training for which there may be a charge.
TalbotWorks: Do you ever advise a person not to start a business?
Rich: Yes! As we work through the business planning process, I ask clients to answer what, how, where, and when: what it is they want to do, how they are going to make the business successful, where will they get funding if they need it, how will they manage cash flow. If they can’t answer those questions, I either advise against starting a business or suggest that they hold off.
TalbotWorks: Do you have any tips for would-be business owners?
Rich: It is critical that business owners be involved in managing their money. They don’t have to be an accountant, but they do need to understand where their money is coming from and going to. Also, establishing a relationship with a banker is important. The Upper Shore has some of the best lenders you can imagine, and they can be very helpful when starting a business. I’ve had clients referred to me by banks, and I work closely with both clients and bankers to help business owners hit their goals. Take the time to visit a few banks and find one you feel comfortable with.
TalbotWorks: How is COVID-19 affecting your work?
Rich: The most common questions I’m getting are ‘Where can I get money?’ and ‘When will I hear about my application?’ The Small Business Administration is overwhelmed, but it’s working very hard to process applications as quickly as possible.
TalbotWorks: How do are readers connect with an SBDC counselor?
Rich: By either telephone or email. Sometimes email is easier since I can usually send something back quickly to let the individual know I got the message.
About the Small Business Development Center (SBDC)
Since 1988, the seasoned staff of the Maryland Small Business Development Center (SBDC) Network has provided sound advice, consulting, and support to entrepreneurs and small businesses across the state. The SBDC is part of a national network—founded in 1979—that helps over 500,000 U.S. businesses annually.
The Eastern Region of the Maryland Small Business Development Center (SBDC) is dedicated to helping establish and expand small businesses all over Maryland’s Eastern Shore. Through professional training for start-up/growth ventures and no-cost confidential business consulting service, the SBDC will help develop and refine business plans, solve problems, find sources of capital, and develop strategies to support growth and profitability.
Most of the SBDC’s certified, professional business counselors have owned or managed successful businesses. Through practical experience and continual professional development, they have gained the knowledge and insight to help resolve problems or develop and implement new strategies for success.
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