Maureen Tinen President, UCEDC
Maureen Tinen has sat at the helm of UCEDC, a nonprofit economic development corporation for the past 27 years. As president of the nonprofit, she has worked with thousands of business owners to help them build and grow their businesses. Here she shares how the South Jersey business climate has changed over the years and what business owners should consider when they’re just starting out.
On opening a business in South Jersey:
Regardless of where you are located in the state of New Jersey, the degree of difficulty of starting a new business is very much contingent upon the nature of the business itself. Opening a small retail shop, in a retail section in an established downtown, is pretty simple. Opening up a more complex operation such as manufacturing or a business that has environmental sensitivities, can pose significantly greater challenges. However, generally speaking, all businesses need to go through some basic initial operating procedures such as registering your business, determining the type of legal structure, opening a business checking account, and, most importantly, having a business plan.
On opening your own business:
There is an old carpenter’s adage that says ‘measure twice cut once’. The same thing applies for starting your own business. The key element for starting a successful new business is planning, planning, planning. Invest your time and talent before you invest your money. All businesses should have a business plan before they invest any of their money. If you don’t plan where you’re going, you won’t know when you get there. More than 50 percent of your analysis should constitute analyzing the general soundness of your business plan; 25 percent should go toward the nuts and bolts; and a full 25 percent should go toward the financial aspects of projecting your income and, more importantly, your expenses. UCEDC offers a seven-week training program to help entrepreneurs work through this very process. We encourage all our loan applicants to ensure they have a business plan before they invest their hard earned savings into any business venture.
Challenges in business:
Unfortunately, although the US recession technically is over and economic prospects are brightening, there still remains a great deal of uncertainty and reticence from the buying public. If you’re opening a retail business, the psyche of the buying public must be taken into consideration. In addition, access to start-up capital is more difficult than ever. Increased bank regulations and general bank conservativism had led to fewer loans for start up and young businesses and, an overall tightening of credit criteria. Borrowers are finding it much more difficult to borrow based upon good will, business value, or even good credit score. Banks now are requiring significantly greater equity investment (the borrower’s cash in the project) when starting a business and significantly higher loan-to-value ratio (the amount that banks will lend against your collateral) on the collateral for the loan. Fortunately, borrowers have another borrowing alternative. UCEDC is willing to look at a client’s cash flow and make a loan based upon cash flow versus the client’s equity (cash) or even collateral. We encourage clients to give us a call to explore their financing options. UCEDC’s goal is to work towards finding a “yes” for your loan application in order to help stimulate the New Jersey economy.
South Jersey’s business climate:
South Jersey has always been a very different economic market from Central and Northern New Jersey. Given the preponderance of farmland, it is an obvious choice if you’re looking to start any agricultural related business. Camden County, on the other hand, seems to be having a growth spurt in the area of professional services and child care, particularly for home-based businesses. Regardless of where you’re located, a micro analysis of the immediate area of your business location is critical. Your type of businesses may be growing rapidly on a state or regional basis, but that may not be true in your micro area of your business location or the area from which you would draw your clients. There can be great disparities between states and national trends vs. micro economies.
How business has changed in South Jersey:
One of the very positive trends we have been seeing in Southern New Jersey over the past decade is a resurgence of incubators and grass roots organizations looking to support the local economy—food innovation centers, business improvement districts, local incubator office space, etc. Although the casinos were the big economic story on the scene several decades ago, their economic promise has not come true. In fact, today, it’s quite the opposite. We’re seeing a decline in economic impact of that industry in Southern New Jersey. On the other hand, we are seeing a very significant increase in state investment in Southern New Jersey ranging from such mega projects as the construction of the Camden Aquarium to the business incentives offered to large corporations expanding in this region.
UCEDC’s relationship with the New Jersey EDA:
For the past ten years, the New Jersey EDA has made a commitment to providing financing to small businesses in New Jersey while ensuring that micro businesses also have equal access to capital. As a result, EDA is also committed to ensuring that entrepreneurs have access to the prerequisite training and mentoring to make them successful entrepreneurs. UCEDC holds the official contract with the State of New Jersey to provide that training and mentoring throughout the state. In New Jersey UCEDC hosts dozens of free classes each year in such topics as QuickBooks, Understanding Your Financial Statements, Cash Flow Analysis, Credit Score, Marketing Your Business, Social Media etc. Most important is our seven week program to help entrepreneurs prepare a business plan. UCEDC offers classroom style training that is followed up with one on one mentoring. In addition, the New Jersey EDA works closely with the New Jersey Small Business Development Centers. These centers, located across the State of New Jersey, offer direct one-on-one counseling to clients looking to start a business. Clients are matched with a mentor with the appropriate expertise, who can then provide the client with the information and guidance that is germane to your particular industry.
Key to success:
Tenacity. Many people think that owning your own business is an opportunity to controlling you schedule and controlling your life. Quite the contrary, starting your own business means that you are available 24/7 to make your business successful. Frankly, nothing short of that level of commitment will enable you to be a successful entrepreneur. Tenacity refers to doing whatever it takes to get the job done, regardless of whether it’s fair or easy or reasonable. So you may in fact encounter an unreasonable local zoning requirement, or an unreasonable requirement from your funder, or even an unreasonable reporting requirement from a government agency, or even most likely an unreasonable request from your clients or customers. In the long run, all of those requests must be satisfied in a rapid amicable way or you cannot succeed. That goal requires nothing short of a commitment to do “whatever it takes to get the job done”.
Best part about working at UCEDC:
I have been President of UCEDC for 27 years and am lucky enough to be able to say that I have never been bored a day. I have experienced excitement, stress, sadness, gratitude, humility, and pride, etc. I never know what will face me when I walk in the door and that is a very exciting challenge to me. The unexpected, the planning, the excitement of seeing an idea turning into reality. Some of those ideas are my own, some ideas are our clients’ entrepreneurial ideas; both of which give me great satisfaction to see them come to fruition.
Best business advice ever received:
The best business advice I ever received is one that, after 40 years in business, I still struggle to implement. Someone once told me that the real role of a CEO is to make half a dozen key decisions during the year that will set the course for the organization. The rest is the small stuff and the CEO should get out of the way and let his staff manage. Unfortunately, it’s also the small stuff that helps you prepare to make those big decisions. Being willing to make mistakes on the small stuff will help you be successful on those big decisions each year. Instead of spending one’s energy suffering through the self-doubt or self-recrimination often associated with making an error, it’s far more important to put energy into dissecting the error so that it can be turned into a lesson for the future. In other words it’s very important to know how to make lemonade from lemons.
Published (and copyrighted) in South Jersey Biz, Volume 4, Issue 7 (July, 2014).
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