Sunday, June 27, 2010

Building Block

This article was written by Jill Andrews, Lead Business Development Specialist, Small Business Administration, Santa Ana District Office

During a period when businesses were failing at a record rate, the Santa Ana District Office of the SBA launched a project to provide help to struggling small businesses called the SBA Resource Partner’s Tiger Teams. There was a great deal of local political and media support generated for this rapid response team effort. After an article was published in the Orange County Register a number of calls and requests for assistance came into the office.

One call was from Annie Haven. She was trying to launch a unique business and did not fit the criteria for Tiger Team Assistance. However, she was referred to one of the three SBA Resource Partners participating in the project … SCORE 114.

The Haven business that was in the launch phase was a natural fertilizer produced from drying cow and horse manure and bagging it with instructions on how to make a manure tea to water and fertilize plants.

Annie Haven’s interest in gardening is a result of being involved in her family’s businesses. She is from a family that settled southern California and had large land holdings in Riverside and Orange Counties and ran Haven Seed Company in Ontario for many years.

Launching a new business can be hard even in good times and starting a business with a big dream and little capital during difficult times is even harder. Tiger Team Coordinator Jill Andrews referred Annie Haven to the person she thought had the best understanding of her business. That person was Alan Simon, who owns and operates Omaha Steaks. Alan, of all the SCORE 114 counselors, knows how much manure a cow produces in a day and had lots of experience getting rid of animal residual waste. Alan counseled Annie by e-mail and phone for about a year. He worked on providing assistance to her via on- line marketing and had several people in his company who work with marketing and advertising assist her. He referred her to Tom Patty, another SCORE 114 counselor, who is a marketing wizard and has taken many products to market internationally. Tom reviewed her on-line marketing and offered his suggestions.

SBA staffer Andrews recognized that Annie needed to do “guerilla marketing” because she did not have a marketing budget to launch her project and put her in touch with another SCORE resource, Betty Otte, who was the district director of SCORE at the time. Betty connected Annie with Sherman Gardens, where Betty does volunteer work, and they bought her product. Betty also made introductions to friends who published national farm and ranch magazines.

Andrews connected Annie to the president of the National Farm Broadcasters Association and radio stations she had worked with in previous employment capacities. They admired her tenacity and liked the product and offered to feature her story on programs aired throughout the west.

Early in 2008, Haven applied for a SBA Loan through a company that charges a processing fee to clients. When Haven started the loan process she had excellent credit and had always paid her bills on time, by the time the loan was processed for approval, she had less than perfect credit because she had made investments in her start-up business and was not generating income . Additionally, she had paid down credit balances on personal credit cards and been rewarded for good stewardship by having her personal lines of credit reduced. This is a familiar story, similar to that of many small businesses who encountered such challenges in late 2008, 2009 and 2010.

Undeterred, Haven bootstrapped her business and utilized the internet to market on-line. She grew her business one customer at a time. The product generated many testimonials from happy customers.

A recent feature article in the Orange County Register brought in more orders.

More than a year has gone by since the SBA received Haven’s request for assistance. At present, the business continues to grow, orders are coming in and word of mouth and on-line marketing is working.

The business still needs an influx of cash from a loan, partner or family members or friends to accelerate its growth.

Annie Haven is building the American dream … one manure tea bag at a time. Her resolve to build and grow is as strong as her work ethic. She has three of the best SCORE counselors in the country on her team.

All she needs is a little luck and a little cash!