By Paula Katinas
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Dozens of would-be entrepreneurs sat in a Bay Ridge church hall Wednesday night to get advice on how to take the first steps toward becoming the next Bill Gates or Steve Jobs. Among those seeking a helping hand in getting started were a woman named Patrice, who is looking to her events planning business off the ground, and another woman, Donna, who has already started a tax preparation firm from her home and is hoping to expand.
Patrice and Donna were just two of the local residents taking part in a seminar on “How to start a business and stay in business” presented by the Workforce Ministry of Saint Anselm Catholic Catholic Church on 83rd Street and Fourth Avenue on May 15. The Workforce Ministry, a subgroup within the church’s Parish Pastoral Planning Council, is dedicated to helping people navigate tough economic times, members said.
"Our mission is to use our time and talent to serve the underemployed, unemployed and those in career transitions to find employment, start a business or create their own jobs,” member Mary Gelormino told the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. “We accomplish this mission by connecting community groups with our parishioners and communities that provide information, contact and resources to assist in their employment endeavors,” she said.
Working under the guidance of the Rev. Msgr. John Maloney, the church’s pastor, the Workforce Ministry members, Florence Diaz, Michael Diaz, Siobhan Funaro, Mary Gelormino, Kim Parker, Bob Kassenbrock Eileen Loughlin, Marie Tesney, John Quaglione, Jeanine Condon, Alain Farrelly, Patrick Gilbride, Arlene Severet, and Brother Robert Duffy, have previously held seminars on how to full out a resume and how to conduct oneself in a job interview, and on May 15, how to start a business.
“This is part of out church’s engagement in the larger community,” Maloney said.
With times getting tougher and jobs getting more difficult to find, many people are going a different route and are starting their own businesses, Workforce Ministry members said.
The participants received advice from two experts, George Telmany of the New York State Small Business Development Center, and Joan Bartolomeo, director of the Brooklyn Economic Development Corporation. Over the past few years, both Telmany and Bartolomeo have helped hundreds of Brooklyn residents realize their dreams of starting their own businesses.
The first step in getting a business off the ground is to have a plan, both experts said. The evening at the church hall was dedicated to learning the ins and outs of writing a detailed business plan. It is the first step toward starting a business, the experts said.
“A business plan is a roadmap,” Telmany told the participants. “Writing a business plan will save you money. One of the things I find is that people get intimidated at the thought of writing a business plan. You really need to start simple,” he said.
A business plan is a document the owner would present to investors or lending institutions to secure funding for a start-up.
The plan could include a description of the business one wants to open, an analysis of the market (focusing on who the customer base is), a description of why customers will want to purchase the product, an analysis of the competition, a marketing strategy, a description of the operations (how the business will be run), information on management (who will run the firm and who will work there), and finances (how much money will it take to get the business off the ground and operate it).
It’s not as hard as it sounds, according to Telmany and Bartolomeo, who said it can be done, as long as would-be business owners are willing to put a great deal of thought into the process and are willing to think outside the box. “Don’t be threatened or nervous,” Bartolomeo advised. “It’s just thinking out loud.”
The business plan also helps the owner, the experts said. By writing a plan, the owner develops a vision and an operating manual for the business, the two experts said. “Having a value system is important. It’s what you stand for,” Bartolomeo said.
“There are different ways to write a business plan,” Telmany said. “There are some things you will not be able to answer in the beginning. Be comfortable with what you know,” he said.
The key elements of success in opening a business are commitment and passion, a source of capital, an understanding of customers, and knowledge of cash flow, Telmany said. “Life in business is about obstacles and overcoming them,” he said.
To help the participants understand the process of composing a business plan, Telmany and Bartolomeo told them to imagine writing a plan for a new T-shirt company. Participants sat at tables and worked in small groups, coming up with different aspects of the business plan for the shirt company, including financing, marketing, and operation.
Gelormino, who served as the facilitator at the Finance table, urged the would-be business owners to think outside the box. “What you need to know is that many people start businesses from home. Walt Disney was an out-of-work cartoonist,” she said. Meg Whitman started e-Bay out of her home and is now a billionaire.
“You don’t need to start with a lot of money. You need creativity,” Gelormino said.