By Mason W. Canales
Killeen Daily Herald
Retired Army veteran Denise Worsley started her small business on an impulse.
"I did this on a whim because I had (so) many compliments on what I do," said the former soldier about deciding to transform her jewelry-making hobby into a commercial venture.
Worsley started with a beaded necklace for herself. Then she created items for co-workers and friends and before long she was selling jewelry on Etsy.com, a craft-sellers website.
Late last year, she moved the growing operation into the McDowell Plaza in Harker Heights.
During the three-year period from home-based jewelry seller to micro-business storefront, Worsley relied on the Central Texas Business Resource Center, which helped her develop sales and marketing strategies.
The center and other small business resources in the Killeen-area might have contributed to Bell County's ranking among the top five counties with local businesses receiving U.S. Small Business Administration guarantee loans in a 72-county district shared with Dallas and Tarrant counties.
"We have a lot of loan production out of the area," said Herbert Austin, district director for the federal business agency in Fort Worth. "It means (the county is) very vibrant for new businesses."
Starting with basics
At the local resource center, weekly and monthly workshops cover topics such as writing a business plan and preparing a market analysis.
"We do small training sessions," said Marcus Carr, a director at the resource center. "We teach some business basics, and we teach entrepreneurship."
SCORE, formerly the Service Corps of Retired Executives, conducts business workshops at the Harker Heights Public Library. The volunteer-based organization offers mentoring to small business owners.
"We generally offer start-your-own business classes," said Lisa Youngblood, director at the library. "We usually start to offer those in January and February."
She said the library partnered with the nonprofit business mentoring organization because of the number of patrons who were seeking information it could provide.
"Mostly the questions are 'the banker said we have to have a business plan, how do I start a business plan,'" said Bob Rowen, a SCORE volunteer mentor from Austin who retired from IBM.
For Meredith Viguers, owner of Let Us Do the Cooking, the local resource center has been a "sounding board" for her expanding business venture.
"I take them something I have already thought about, and they help me expound on it," said the caterer and café owner. "I think for me, you always question whether it is a viable product in this market place, and typically they offer a (different) perspective."
Like Worsley, Viguers started her business at home. In more than five years, she expanded from pickup dinners to catering and a storefront café.
Last November, Viguers began offering take-home dinners again. With about 60 part- and full-time employees, she's looking to expand because of space constraints.
But not all small businesses are like Viguers' company and still around after five years. Carr said some small businesses aren't successful because of the type service they provide. Other times, the reasons are tied to inadequate business strategies, such as scant marketing, bad planning and an insufficient financing. To help with these matters, the resource center offers free and confidential one-on-one counseling.
"We can determine what your marketing strategy is," said Carr about the counselors who conduct the private sessions. "We can help with marketing plans. A lot of times people don't do these things. The other part of it is, sometimes we are like a cheerleader. We have to encourage them to educate themselves."
SCORE mentors also provide one-on-one business counseling, but the nonprofit group's private sessions are on hiatus in Harker Heights until it acquires another area mentor.
"Sometimes the best advice that we can give is to discourage them from doing business," said Rowen. "We try to be honest with our clients if we can talk them out of it then great. If they are going to be successful, they are going to plow through it and run a business anyway."
Other local resources
Robert Garner visited the Copperas Cove Economic Development Corporation when he launched his landscaping business.
"I have set down with the EDC to talk to them about what I can expect from the area," said the owner of Garner's Gardening. "For the most part it was their general knowledge of the area, and it was free, so why not."
While the economic development organization usually refers small and micro-business owners to the resource center for in-depth assistance, it can refer them to property management companies and financial lenders.
"We also will tell you if you don't stand a chance," said Polo Enriquez, executive director of the economic development corporation. "We try to deal with people from a very realistic viewpoint of what it is they need to do, and what it is they need to do next."
The Copperas Cove organization also provides some funding for business education. Since opening in 2008, Garner has accepted a grant from the economic development corporation to attend a conference on government contracting.
Both the Killeen and Harker Heights chambers of commerce helped Viguers with professional networking opportunities.
"They have been a great resource for getting our name out," she said. "Because that is what they are all about."
While chambers have membership fees and several events cost money, there are free forums for networking and advertising, said Betty Price, president of the Copperas Cove Chamber of Commerce.
Bill Kozlik, president of the Harker Heights Chamber of Commerce, said his organization, and others like it, are often seen as doorways into the local community.
"What we do for the mom-and-pops to the smaller stores are that we have a good mixer where they can meet once a month," he said. "It is a good way to get your name out there to other businesses."
Contact Mason W. Canales at email@example.com or (254) 501-7474. Follow him on Twitter at KDHCoveEditor.
Small business facts
3,478 businesses had less than 500 employees in Bell County in 2009
549 businesses had less than 500 employees in Coryell County in 2009
355 businesses had less than 500 employees in Lampasas County in 2009
There were 11,847 businesses in the all three counties as of Friday.
Small businesses account for the majority of the employers within Texas, and are a driving force behind the economy. New business creation is vital to the state's ability to increase the gross state product, state personal income and total state employment.
There are more than 2.2 million small businesses in Texas. Of these, more than 390,000 were direct employers, and they accounted for more than 45 percent of private-sector jobs in the state. Small firms made up more than 98 percent of the state's employers.
State and national websites
http://thetexaseconomy.org - The Texas Economy website strives to provide you with the latest news, trends and analysis on issues affecting the state's economy.
http://www.sba.gov - Small Business Administration
http://www.score.org - A source for free and confidential small business advice for entrepreneurs and small businesses
http://www.ntsbdc.org/resources.shtml - The local branch of the SBA
http://www.texaswideopenforbusiness.com - Texas Wide Open for Business provides valuable information and resources to companies looking for expansion or relocation opportunities in the Lone Star State
http://www.centexbrc.org - Central Texas Business Resource Center
www.killeenchamber.com - Greater Killeen Chamber of Commerce
www.copperascove.com - Copperas Cove Chamber of Commerce
www.hhchamber.net - Harker Heights Chamber of Commerce
copperascove-edc.com - Copperas Cove Economic Development Corporation
Central Texas Business Resource Center: Holds regular business workshops from 5:30 to 7 p.m. almost every Tuesday. Also offers other workshops.
Location: 300 Cheyenne, Killeen
Phone: (254) 200-2001