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Susan A. McCartney
When are business owners like artists? When they're entrepreneurs. "Entrepreneurs are very creative," said Susan McCartney, director of the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) at Buffalo State College. "They're also very passionate, very focused, and extraordinarily self-disciplined."
McCartney has been with the SBDC since it opened in 1984, and director since 1990, when its first director, former technology professor Jack Brueckman, retired. The SBDC has served 12,883 clients to date.
About half the clients are people thinking about starting a new business. The rest want to expand an existing business. "In most cases," said McCartney, "we help them develop a business plan." The business plan has four main components--setting goals, marketing, building a team, and getting funding. Once the business plan is in place, the SBDC counselors help the entrepreneur put it into action in incremental steps.
But the first step is to listen carefully and understand the client's vision. "Our job," said McCartney, "is to help our clients actualize what they envision."
High Tech, Fast Change
McCartney has seen a lot of changes over the last 20 years, chiefly due to the Internet. She tells the story of one entrepreneur who, over time, turned his home-based résumé-writing business into an export business. He exports intellectual property, which, according to McCartney, is a growing segment of the export trade. In this case, the business owner sells sample résumés to job seekers around the world--still from his home.
Another client is a local clothing designer who uses the Web to send his designs overseas for manufacturing, and then sends the created garment to customers around the world.
Besides the Web, high-tech global infrastructure puts a lot of services at the fingertips of small-business owners. "You can ship certain goods from Pakistan to the United States within three days," said McCartney.
Despite economic fluctuation, the number of clients using the SBDC's services remains fairly constant. Some might think that's because Western New York has had a consistent economic outlook: bleak. But McCartney thinks the stability of the client base is due to the nature of entrepreneurs, whom she considers to be a "very special segment of the population."
"They have a core attitude that's different," she said. "The business is their life; it's more than dollars. They're willing to make sacrifices, sometimes enormous sacrifices, to succeed. They focus their energy on their businesses, so much so that they don't pay attention to the economy, to the market, or to the rise or fall of the dollar."
Not all entrepreneurs succeed, of course. Less than half the businesses still exist after three years, the definition of success used by the SBDC. McCartney is quick to point out that bankruptcy is generally not the reason businesses close. "The No. 1 reason," she said, "is that they get tired--tired of finding enough money, tired of the strain placed on families in the start-up years."
Second time's a charm for many entrepreneurs, according to McCartney. "Their first business may not succeed, but for many, it turns out to be like an internship," she said. "The second business they start is much more likely to succeed."
The national SBDC program is designed to put federal, state, and higher education resources at the service of small-business owners. Buffalo State, like most colleges that offer an SBDC, provides the director and the physical space. Federal and state dollars provide the rest of the funding through the federal Small Business Administration, the New York State Governor's Office, and the New York State Legislature. Other agencies and programs sometimes provide targeted support.
The SBDC has a staff of nine: the director, six counselors, and two support staff. The counselors are very experienced, with each having served more than a thousand clients. The staff has a well-earned reputation as experts in helping clients develop a business plan. They also present seminars and workshops on topics ranging from advertising to hiring to taxes, bringing in experts as needed for IRS and New York State regulations, legal considerations, and human resource issues.
"Many banks refer people to us, too," said McCartney. "We help them put together funding packages to obtain small-business loans."
Head Start for Smart College Seniors
McCartney is especially interested in making Buffalo State seniors aware that the SBDC is a valuable resource available to students who are interested in becoming entrepreneurs. Restaurants and bars are the businesses started most frequently in New York State. The SBDC is currently working with the Hospitality and Tourism Department, providing an additional resource to students who hope to own their own business some day.
"Students don't have to be business majors," McCartney, a strong Buffalo advocate, said. "Entrepreneurs have all kinds of backgrounds. And the beauty of being an entrepreneur is that, thanks to today's technology, you can run a global business from your living room--in Buffalo."