For more than 25 years, the College of Lake County’s Illinois Small Business Development Center has been helping small businesses reach their full potential. The number of business it has supported is on the rise.
Jan Bauer, Illinois Small Business Development Center director, said the grant-funded center provides confidential business advising and counsel in both English and Spanish, access to their resource library, interactive workshops and referrals and support in securing loans. The majority of people who seek out the center’s support are already in business.
“Many are looking to grow their business," Bauer said. "We help with strategic planning, look at their marketing objectives, understanding the financial picture and how to make that work for them."
Any business that has less than 500 employees in Lake County is eligible for the center’s services.
Leslie Lipps, owner of , a photography studio in downtown Grayslake, is one of the many business owners who have benefited by using the free services offered at the center.
“The whole experience was extremely helpful," Lipps said. "It teaches you to look at every aspect of the business that is needed to succeed, even the ones you have not thought of or have not made time for. Small business owners or individuals often do the best they can with what information they have or tend to look for what they want to see, but that does not translate into success."
Lipps said the center helped her to formalize a business plan presentation which led her to secure a small business loan.
“The SBDC is that expert that is key to business growth and success and it is also a free resource, which is even better,” she said.
Bauer stressed that all services offered are kept confidential unless one gives written permission to share his or her story, like Lipps. Bauer was, however, able to share a few more success stories such as: one restaurant owner who is doing so well that his clients are asking that he open another establishment; one company created an environmentally-friendly product which is now used in various construction projects; and another person has successfully sold a product that is now featured in a number of Illinois grocery stores.
Bauer said that the center saw 500 small business owners this past year.
Karen Trush, director of marketing communications at ’s Workforce & Professional Development, said that Bauer’s direction at the center has helped to raise awareness.
“Since Jan has been with us the number of businesses served has rocketed. We served 1,400 businesses in the last three years, that’s pretty much doubled if not more than the amount of businesses in previous years,” Trush said.
Bauer said the center sends out a survey to follow up with those who come in. Although they only got a 4 percent response rate, that 4 percent reported retaining 86 jobs and creating new jobs as well, she said.
“For every dollar that’s invested in the center $35 is invested back into the community. It helps to create jobs and retain jobs, especially during this hard time it’s significant,” she said.
Bauer gets the word out about the center by presenting at numerous chamber events and other organizations in the community, through social media sites like Twitter and word of mouth, among other ways. Some people are still surprised, however, to learn about the center.
“It’s the best kept secret in Lake County. Those that come are very grateful that they’ve been here,” she said.
Aside from Bauer and her part-time assistant, the center operates with three business advisers and three other volunteer advisers. All are required to have their MBA and to have owned a business previously or currently.
Bauer said business owners are a special breed and strive to protect their business as if it were their child. “We know what it’s like to balance all the hats and all the trials and tribulations that you face,” she said.
When offering advice to business owners and potential business owners Bauer stressed diligence and to have all the facts. “I’ve seen too many people get the wrong information only to get in trouble later on,” she said.
Trush said not to wait before coming to the center for additional advising: “Take advantage of the resources that are here; don’t wait too long."
Bauer said there are two types of business owners, the planners and those that jump right in. To the planners, she says, “It’s great to plan, but at some point you need to implement.”
And for those who do not like to plan, she says, “slow down, get good information, talk to people and then jump in.”
“It’s really about being proactive in your business, to be watching what’s going on and not be afraid to bounce ideas of someone outside of your family and business relationships,” she said.
A unique program just entering its second year at the center is the CEO Advisory Board. Unlike a networking group, like-minded business owners get together and serve as each other’s board of advisors for a 10-month period, she said. The board is limited to 10 members.
“They hold each other accountable, they challenge each other,” Bauer said. The program begins in the fall and ends in June.
On June 9, the center will host Small Business Success in Lake County. The event will showcase an array of resources available to businesses.
“We don’t always know the questions to ask, so we’re trying to provide answers before they even know what they need,” Bauer said.
Bauer has strategically networked with a number of area experts such as attorneys, bankers, marketers and others who have offered to volunteer their time and expertise. “We have a massive, an enormous amount of people outside of the college that have volunteered to help,” she said. The event will run from 7:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. in the . The cost for those who register before May 20 is $45 and after that date is $65. The event also includes breakfast and lunch.
Bauer beamed when describing the perks of her job. She enjoys seeing those who come in realize their dreams. “They are incredible; their passion is what drives them forward," she said. "They do it the best way they can because it’s their livelihood. That's what I love about the people who come in.”
The Illinois Small Business Development Center is partially funded by the U.S. Small Business Administration in partnership with the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity and the College of Lake County.
Appointments are available at the Grayslake and Southlake campuses and a bilingual counselor is available. For more information or to schedule an appointment, call 847-543-2033 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
More information can also be found on the center’s website at wpdi.clcillinois.edu/sbdc.