Lola Q&A

Lola Are (pronounce R-A) heads up the Business Center and is Senior Business Consultant on the Oakland County economic development team. Her primary focus is on helping small businesses and emerging entrepreneurs promote growth, expansion, innovation, increased productivity and improved management.

Are assists potential business owners with analyzing the feasibility of their business ideas, developing a business or marketing plan, licensing and miscellaneous business questions. She also assists established and growing Oakland County businesses with management concerns and growing pains. She educates her client base on available resources offered by both Oakland County and its various partners including the State of Michigan. Are’s areas of expertise are in marketing and the preparation of cash flow projections. She works with small businesses spanning a variety of industries including traditional (retail and service) and Emerging Sector businesses.

Question: What is the Oakland County Business Center and what does a Senior Business Development Rep, like yourself, do?

Answer: The Oakland County Business Center is a standalone entity operated and fully funded by the Oakland County, Michigan Government. Organizationally, it is housed within the Planning & Economic Development Services (PEDS) division in the Executive Office Building located at 2100 Pontiac Lake Road, Waterford, Michigan.

Our center was created in fall 1985 for the sole purpose of providing business assistance to small for profit businesses in Oakland County. At its inception our primary focus was on startup traditional (retail, service and manufacturing) businesses. Today with Michigan’s diversifying economy our audience has extended to startup Emerging Sector businesses. And since January 2007 with our commitment to business sustainability we have extended our service mix to include programs that will equip existing traditional and emerging sector businesses with the tools they need to succeed in today’s environment and beyond.

I am a Senior Business Development Rep – Business Consultant and Center Director for the Oakland County Business Center. My team includes two Oakland County employees; a small business analyst and business consultant assistant. Additionally, through a collaborative effort I have additional consultant support from the Michigan Small Business & Technology Development Center (MI-SBTDC) and SCORE on an as needed basis. Our combined team is made up of experienced staff with real-world experience.

Q: What’s the definition of a small business?

A: According to the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) small business size standards define the size that a firm, including all of its affiliates, may be for eligibility as a small business concern for most SBA programs. The SBA has established two widely used size standards – up to 500 employees for most manufacturing and mining industries and $6.0 million in average annual receipts for most non-manufacturing industries. However, many exceptions exist.

Q: What Oakland County services does the Business Center offer to small business owners?

A: The Oakland County Business Center offers low-cost training, no-cost consulting and referral services to Oakland County, Michigan small businesses. Our workshops are open to business owners statewide however our consulting and referral services are restricted to Oakland County, Michigan small businesses.

Visit the website here.
View the workshop calendar here.

Q: Speaking of challenging times, what are some of the biggest hurdles small businesses face in the current economic state?

A: Some of the biggest hurdles small businesses face during these trying times include:

  • Undercapitalization
  • The inability to qualify for basic financing.
  • The inability to obtain bridge financing
  • Tight or non-existent cash flow
  • One client and/or one industry focus
  • Lack of basic business fundamentals

Q: Have you noticed any trends in small businesses? Is something working better than others in these challenging times?

A: Up until recently, a person could start or takeover a business with practically no planning or idea of what they were doing, borrow against their home equity line of credit or home and get started. If they struggled along the way they somehow managed to survive or in extreme cases seized to exist.

In today’s environment of a recessionary economy and tight credit markets there is no room to wiggle for small businesses whose business owners lack the basic fundamentals of running a business. There is no credit; personal or business to draw from, cash flow is extremely tight to non-existent and most businesses don’t really know who their clients are or how to attract new ones.

Lending institutions don’t want to lend to inexperienced business owners who have never operated a business, have no management experience, are not even sure of their capital requirements and have no business plan. This is why it is important we educate potential business owners and attempt to rescue existing ones before they get into too much trouble. Small businesses are the backbone of our economy and according to the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) Office of Advocacy, businesses with fewer than 500 employees (small businesses) account for 99.7% of all employers and create 60 to 80% of net new jobs.

We are all about showing business owners how to navigate the treacherous waters in these trying times and beyond. This is why we have a customized approach to working with each client.

With the diversification of the economy into more of a knowledge-based environment and move away from a one industry focus (automotive) we have received an increase in requests from Emerging Sector (alternative energy, life sciences, homeland security etc.) businesses, particularly from engineers and scientists with patentable ideas that can be commercialized. The major challenge for these Emerging Sector businesses is startup/research & development capital which is not provided by traditional funding sources such as banks.

Q: What types of small businesses participate in the services offered at the Business Center?

A: Traditional (retail, service and manufacturing) and Emerging Sector companies. Businesses in both groups range from startups to existing businesses.

Q: How do interested small businesses go about getting in contact with you and participating in these services?

A: We have a process for handling business owners depending on their stage of business. For example is a person is looking to start a business, when they get
to our website they need to click on the “Start Your Business” tab from
the menu on our homepage to review what is required when starting a
business in Oakland County. If they are already an existing business
they should click on the “Manage/Grow Your Business” section and
review that section. And finally if they are re-locating their business
to Oakland County the “Locate Your Business” section should be
reviewed.

Business owners interested in our services can start by:

  • Following us on Twitter — here.
  • Checking out our website — here.

Business can also review our FAQS particularly if they are in the startup phase and if they still have questions they should call our Small Business Analyst or Business Consultant Assistant for an assessment of their situation on 248-858-0783.