Help for small businesses available for free at SBDC
On the second floor of the St. Johns County Permit Building is a treasure trove of resources for business owners. Marge Cirillo is the St. Johns County consultant for the Florida Small Business Development Center. A one-woman office, Cirillo helps business owners, both new and experienced, with every aspect of their business — including setting it up, finding credit, marketing and websites.
Cirillo has been in her position since 2009, when, in the midst of the recession, the St. Johns County Board of County Commissioners decided that to encourage more businesses in the county, they needed to fund a full time mentor for county businesses. Previously, the county had someone who only made monthly visits. Cirillo said her office, like all Small Business Development Center offices, is located in conjunction with a university (in this case, the University of North Florida) and operates off grants from both the county and the federal government.
“This is truly taxpayers’ dollars at work,” Cirillo said. “I hope all businesses will take advantage of the services we offer.”
The services the Small Business Development Center offers are varied and comprehensive — and not just for start-ups, although Cirillo said they do see a lot of those. Business owners can make an appointment for a consultation and then remain a confidential client of Cirillo’s through the life of their business, including exit planning.
“Things change frequently,” Cirillo said. “Every year a business owner has different needs. I am like the outsider looking into someone else’s business. If you can’t make me understand it, how can you make the bank understand it?”
There is never a charge for the Small Business Development Center consultant’s services. Cirillo said the client does all the work, though. She provides templates for such things as business plans and financial projections and then is available to critique. She can help a business get credit, guide them through the maze of being able to bid on government contracts and help veterans start businesses.
“Most people don’t know what to do first,” Cirillo said. “They are overwhelmed with where to go, what to do and what to ask.”
One of the most popular services that Cirillo provides is the How to Start a Business workshop, which does charge a nominal fee for materials. Attendees are provided with a workbook in which all the legal requirements for doing business in St. Johns County are laid out — Cirillo even hand numbers the pages in order of importance and sequence.
Cirillo said the most important thing a potential business owner needs to do is have a workable business plan. It can be lengthy or bullet points, she said, but it needs to comprehensive. She said her office location above the county permitting department is ideal and that county employees regularly send potential new business owners upstairs to her for advice.
When she is not consulting with her clients, Cirillo is out networking on their behalf. She visits banks, accountants and financial planners to keep up to date on what each is offering so that she can make recommendations. She has available a directory of fully vetted businesses that can support her clients in her office. She also provides follow up emails and newsletters to her clients, some of whom she has worked with for seven years.
Cirillo is a former small business owner as well as former banker and Small Business Administration consultant. Her varied background allows her to, as she calls it, “play it forward.” She said the most fulfilling part of her job is feeling a partnership with her clients and giving them the next step up to make their business successful.
Cirillo said, “It is always a good time to open a business, if it is well-thought out and planned.”
Photo by Martie Thompson
Marge Cirillo is the Florida Small Business Development Center consultant for St. Johns County.