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Friday, September 28, 2012

Suggestions for start-uppers

Expert offers advice to those thinking about starting a new business at Smith Mountain Lake.

Walter "Woody" Hogle Jr. knows business. As one of 13,000 volunteers around the nation, Hogle donates his time and expertise to SCORE, a nonprofit organization that offers free and confidential business advice to aspiring entrepreneurs.

The Small Business Administration founded SCORE , which stands for Service Core of Retired Executives, in 1964 when providing and funding small-business owners proved insufficient, said Shalini Karnani, SCORE communications manager.

"[Entrepreneurs] needed advice," she said.

Since that time, the organization has grown from its original network of 2,000 volunteers to its current membership based out of 364 offices nationwide.

Mentors, such as Hogle, have years of business and management experience. As a U.S. Air Force lieutenant general and commander, Hogle was responsible for cargo airplanes and refueling tankers.

In the civilian world, he held a senior management position with Rockwell Collins Corporation, a manufacturer and distributor of aviation and electronic equipment.

Hogle first learned of SCORE while serving in the military. Years later and living in Huddleston, Hogle said the organization continues to intrigue him.

"It was a perfect fit to work with SCORE and be kind of a local representative in the Smith Mountain Lake area," he said.

SCORE has offices in Lynchburg, as well as Roanoke, where Hogle is based.

"They are an active group of folks who are anxious to help small businesses," said Hogle. "And I think they have been real successful over the years."

Here's what Hogle had to say about starting a business in the Smith Mountain Lake area:

Q: Is it a good time to start a business?

A: I think it's a great time, and I would say that no matter what the economy is. So much depends on the business. What is the business? What is the market for that business? Who are the people, and what is their level of interest? Starting a business is not for the faint of heart. [Start-up owners] work a lot more in terms of hours, commitment and energy than they ever did before.

Q: How is opening a business in a resort community such as SML different from opening a business elsewhere?

A: Opening a business in a resort community affords unique opportunities and challenges. For example, vacationers typically have more disposable income and time for restaurants, entertainment, leisure and sports, which broadens the market for related goods and services. On the other hand, resort areas may be more seasonal and there may be times of the year when the market for resort-oriented goods and services diminishes. Resort-oriented businesses must be flexible with regard to cash flow expectations, business hours and, perhaps, pricing to capitalize on swings in market demand. The SML business environment is diverse and unique. The challenge for a new small business is to correctly analyze the market and the competitive landscape to select business opportunities that are likely to succeed in this environment.

Q: What is the outlook for a new business at SML?

A: The outlook for new businesses at SML is excellent, provided the entrepreneur takes a disciplined approach to identifying, establishing and operating his or her new business. Historically, those businesses that spring from a solid business-planning process have a far better chance of success than those that don't. Remember the 5 Ps...Prior Planning Prevents Poor Performance.

Q: What are some potential pitfalls new business owners might experience?

A: Possibly the largest single pitfall is inadequate planning. People have a good idea and they want to get started, but there is a logical sequence, and if you jump ahead, then it could come back to bite you. [Planning] is critical. I can't overemphasize how important it is. To those who don't have an adequate plan, their success rate is far lower. It's amazing the discipline and focus planning can do. It's priceless.

Q: How would an aspiring entrepreneur go about performing a market analysis?

A: Say for example you want to start a sporting goods store and you want to start it at the lake area. One market analysis would be to travel to a city and talk to somebody who already has one and see what kind of market they found. Stop people and ask, 'Hey, if you were going to buy from a sporting goods, what kind of stores appeal to you?' Some of that is very tedious and time-consuming, and I'm not saying that everybody needs to go out and take surveys. But you need to do some homework to figure out the market for your service.

Q: What sort of homework should an entrepreneur do before starting a business?

A: I recommend that they go to the SCORE website. There are business planning formats that can help new entrepreneurs. The state of Virginia also funds small-business development centers who can help you get started.

For more information about SCORE: contact Hogle at 692-6212 or visit score.org.