Small businesses face a variety of challenges, both when first opening and adjusting to new circumstances. While financial instruments like subsidized loans or reduced rent are beneficial to any local business, providing business owners with the tools to address legal, human resource, and accounting issues can be just as important. For immigrant-owned and family businesses, overcoming language and cultural barriers and understanding the regulations that apply businesses can make the difference between success and failure. Access to these services should be a part of every commercial development strategy regarding small business, as it complements the financial and real estate measures already in place.
Part of the goal of programs like Commercial Land Trusts (CLTs), Public Development Authorities (PDAs), and Community Development Corporations (CDCs) is lowering the barriers to entry for businesses, especially for first-time entrepreneurs. Creating an effective business plan, applying for loans, purchasing infrastructure, and hiring employees all require a significant amount of time and expertise. There are abundant resources available for business owners, but they are not always connected to commercial space nonprofits.
Creating a business plan is critical to receiving a loan, investment, or even receiving a commercial lease. Understanding how to develop a plan for marketing, targets for sales and profits, and requirements for financing is a critical first step in starting a business. Understanding and communicating this plan is vital to receiving initial support. Development nonprofits provide a great opportunity for marketing and can connect entrepreneurs to mentors.
Legal requirements vary for small businesses by municipality, industry, and size, and it is important for business owners to have access to a lawyer. Small businesses generally do not need a full time lawyer, as their legal needs rarely extend beyond incorporation, contracts, or employment, and having the security of an available resource like Wayfind would resolve concerns for entrepreneurs. For-profit law firms are available for legal assistance as well, and may be necessary for issues involving potential litigation.
Accounting and bookkeeping are critical to demonstrating the value of a business to potential lenders or investors. While the basic principles of balancing ledgers are commonly understood, more complicated ideas like depreciation or accounts payable and receivable require specialized knowledge.
Hiring additional employees is important to growing a business, and knowing the requirements and regulations necessary at all layers of government is necessary before starting this process. Recruiting, hiring, payroll and benefits are subject to the Fair Labor Standards Act, Non-Discrimination requirements, and wage and sick leave standards, both of which have recently changed in Seattle. Ensuring required practices are understood and followed helps small businesses avoid legal problems and can improve employee retention.
Worksource King County, SCORE, the Small Business Administration, WA Ventures, and Wayfind are some of the local organizations designed to help small businesses with these issues. Helping overcome barriers for small businesses, especially those with limited experience or resources is a part of the mission of CLTs, CDCs, and PDAs and should be aware of every organization that could further this mission.
The Small Business Administration (SBA) is a federal agency receiving funding from the Department of Commerce. It offers loans, technical programs, and grants to nonprofits and partners like SCORE or women and minority centered organizations. However, as a federal agency, there are limitations to the cultural and community impact the SBA can have, and it is important for community land trusts, CDCs and PDAs to apply tools the SBA developed for cultural settings.
SCORE is a national nonprofit dedicated to connecting small businesses with mentors and technical knowledge. They offer online and in person seminars to help with every facet of starting and operating a small business, along with providing a forum for answering specific questions. Business owners can also request a mentor through the local SCORE chapter, located in downtown Seattle.
Worksource King County is a partner of the American Job Center network, dedicated to providing employers and job seekers access to core development services. They have 22 locations within King County, and are able to connect workers to employers, while providing development assistance to both. They offer free seminars, one on one consulting, and posting access to a free job board, along with connections to resources from the SBA and SCORE. Worksource is well informed about human resource requirements in Seattle, and can help establish best practices for local businesses.
Ventures WA (formerly CASH) is a local nonprofit which offers a similar suite of lending, consulting, and membership services to local businesses. They offer microlending to small businesses, as well as an 8-part class on starting a business, and provide everything in multiple languages to reach additional markets. To further lower barriers to starting a business, retail and food incubators are also offered.
Wayfind Legal is a local nonprofit connecting nonprofits and micro businesses to legal assistance, typically through voluntary clinics. They partner with Ventures WA to create small business clinics and offer assistance with non litigative legal issues.
Pinchot University (formerly Bainbridge Graduate Institute) is an alternative university which created the Center for Inclusive Enterprise, an affordable “first step” program designed to reach underrepresented markets. They offer a variety of workshops, trainings, and consultations to help current and potential business owners overcome obstacles, connect to community resources, and succeed.
From a perspective of providing permanently affordable rent, the organizations listed above are ineffective on their own. They exist to provide guidance and support to new and growing businesses, and generally have no access to commercial rental space, other than incubators. Services for entrepreneurs should be viewed as complements to affordable commercial real estate rather than as a substitute. Preventing dislocation while encouraging economic development requires a diverse system of knowledge and support, and funding reflect this need for diversity.
Support organizations do have other limitations related to community development, specifically:
- Generalized programs mean organizations are not always familiar with cultural specifics, and challenges to specific neighborhoods and demographics.
- Assistance is often only provided in English, which limits access to many immigrant entrepreneurs
- Volunteer and nonprofit structure can limit time and resources
- One stop shops: Putting representatives from organizations with access to real estate and assistance programs under one roof.
- Referral Programs: Creating partnerships and referrals between these providers, including up to date contact and program information.
- Existing Relationships: Many of these organizations are already aware of technical assistance programs.
Small Business Administration: Starting and Managing a Business
Center For Inclusive Entrepreneurship at Pinchot University: Enterprise
Worksources King County: Business Services