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A New Kind of Business Development Center

Rosalind Resnick's brand of for-profit business advisory centers takes a decidedly different tack when it comes to helping small business.

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In her own words, Rosalind Resnick has been around the block a few times. Starting her professional life as a business writer for the Miami Herald, Resnick became a homebased freelance writer after the birth of her first daughter, covering business, legal, computer and Internet topics for a variety of publications. Based on her own experiences trying to become Internet-savvy in the early '90s, in 1993 Resnick wrote Exploring the World of Online Services, a guide for small businesses wanting to use the Internet, and co-wrote The Internet Business Guide: Riding the Information Superhighway to Profit with Dave Taylor in 1994.

By that point, Resnick had become well-known for her online expertise and became a public speaker. She also decided to apply this knowledge to her own Web firm, Netcreations, a company she co-founded out of her Hollywood, Florida, home in 1995. First launched as a Web design firm, Netcreations eventually became a New York City-based, publicly traded Web marketing company that was instrumental in pioneering permission-based e-mail marketing.

After the dotcom bust, Netcreations lost clients, and in September 2000, Resnick realized the company would miss its numbers. In February 2001, Netcreations was acquired in an all-cash offer, and Resnick walked away with $40 million. Not wanting to sit on a beach and drink mai tais, she decided to share her expertise with other small-business owners and founded Axxess Business Centers Inc. in 2002.

Axxess Business Centers (ABC), which currently has one location in New York City and plans to open in nine other major markets by 2004, are for-profit storefronts where business owners can meet with veteran entrepreneurs to get sales, marketing, financing, technology or management advice. Curious to see how ABC compares to, say, Small Business Development Centers, we spoke with Resnick to learn more about her company.

What happens when a business owner visits an Axxess Business Center?

Rosalind Resnick: You sit down with a counselor who is an experienced entrepreneur, not a retired executive but somebody who's still in the game, who can give you the kind of hand-holding and advice that you really need to start your own business and take it to the next level. It starts with the initial counseling session--we charge $49.95 for [that]. We walk them through a series of questions to find out about them, to find out about their business, and ultimately to find out about their goals and objectives.

The start-ups that come through the door--typically the roadblock they face in getting funding is that they don't have a business plan and they need one. It's interesting because when we opened our doors, I thought, surely, you as an entrepreneur could go to any number of not-for-profits and mentoring kind of groups that assist people with their business plans, but what we found was that even though you could take a 10-week course, take a workshop or read a book, none of the not-for-profit organizations would actually sit down with you and write your plan, and that's because they didn't have the staff or the funding. One of the first things we found was, people were coming in for counseling but they were asking us "Can you write my business plan?"

For the existing small businesses, again it starts when they walk in the door and sit down for the initial counseling session. The second step is typically for them to come back with their financials so that we can get a handle on their numbers. What I've found is, most small-business owners are excellent at what they do, whether it's cooking, designing clothes or any number of different things that our clients do, but when it comes to finance, typically they really don't know much about it and are either too busy to learn or it's not their thing or they're frustrated. So typically we'll sit down with them and put together a sales forecast, a cash-flow analysis and a budget, and then after working with them for a few sessions, various problems that they're having with their business will begin to emerge.

Have most of the entrepreneurs coming in already started a business, or are they trying to put a business together?

Resnick: I would say it's about 50-50 at this point. We do work with a lot of start-ups, but having said that, a lot of existing businesses come in.

Top Concerns

What are most business owners concerned with--are they just wanting to get their business started, or do they want to have as big a business as possible? What are their goals when they're coming to you?

Resnick: Typically these are people who either have an idea that they want to pursue or, more [commonly], they have some kind of business or hobby or venture that they're already pursuing in their spare time and they'd like us to help them turn it into a full-time business.

For the existing business owners, they already have a business, so they've been successful up to a certain level, but now they need to find a way to grow their business and take it to the next level. This is where the financial analysis and the financing typically come in, because a lot of these businesses are surviving as they are, but for them to get to the next level they need a plan and they need additional capital, whether it's debt or equity.

What are some of the major concerns of business owners? Are they worried about the economy? Political situations?

Resnick: I would definitely say the number-one concern is cash flow. Supposedly the recession is over, but the economy is still pretty weak, so [a lot of clients were] the owner of a company that was making $200,000 to $300,000 [a few years ago], and today their company is barely afloat. Companies like that, they need to reduce expenses, obtain additional capital, obtain credit lines, and because these people are not financial people, this is something that they find difficult to do on their own.

The other big problem is sales and marketing. Again, professional services firms typically get all their business from referrals, and a lot of these referral sources have dried up. They need to cultivate new sources of referrals and sales leads in order to get enough business in the door.

Business owners are always concerned about getting good employees. It's certainly a better job market for employers than it used to be because there's all this talent willing to work for practically nothing, but to get qualified, capable people to work for your company is still a challenge. That's why we've also begun doing some recruiting projects for clients.

Who are the people that you're seeing deciding to go the entrepreneurship route? Are they former CEOs? Former employees?

Resnick: Probably part of it is where we're located, because we're three blocks from Ground Zero--we do have a number of people who come in who used to work on Wall Street. They used to work for dotcoms, they've been laid off, downsized, they've gotten severance packages, etc., so they're looking to [use] that money [and their skills] to start a business. We also see people who've built and sold businesses in the past who are now looking to start new businesses. Other people are serial entrepreneurs, people who, like me, have had a business before, have sold it, and are looking to start something new.

For people who are thinking of starting a business, what kind of advice would you give them about how they should prep themselves?

Resnick: The business owners who have the highest chance of success are people who are leveraging skills or experience they have already. When I left the Miami Herald, I was a business writer but I wanted to stay home with my kids, so one day I was a business writer for the Herald, and the next day I was a freelance writer working for me. That was a very successful one-person homebased business simply because I had the experience, I had the contacts, I just took something that I was doing for somebody else and I decided to do it for myself.

That's pretty much the no-risk kind of business. A business owner who comes in and wants to start a restaurant--it's going to be a lot easier if he spent five or 10 years managing somebody else's restaurant, and not only does he know how to cook, but he also knows the restaurant business and he has people he can hire and he knows what kind of equipment to buy. Somebody like that also has a much greater likelihood of getting financing, either from a bank or from investors, than somebody who has no prior industry experience. If you're looking to start your own business and you've identified which industry you want to go into, if you don't have the industry experience already--my advice would be to go out and get some ASAP.

The other thing that's critical is, you need to make sure that you have sufficient capital, and most small businesses do not. Most entrepreneurs who have never done this before tend to underestimate how much money they're going to need, and that's why after the initial intake session if we determine that the entrepreneur is pursuing a business idea where he's going to need to raise some serious capital, we always recommend having a business plan.

For somebody who is considering starting their own business, what should be their first step?

Resnick: Once they've already decided to take the plunge, I think the first step should be a business plan. It's very difficult to figure out where you're going if you don't have a road map to get you there.

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