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PCC’s SBDC guides entrepreneurs through tricky decisions

Story by Christina Holmes. Photos courtesy of Queen Bee Creations and YOLO Colorhouse.

Rebecca Pearcy, owner of Queen Bee Creations

Janie Lowe and Virginia Young - Rebecca Pearcy

Last summer Rebecca Pearcy was at a crossroads with her specialty handbag business Queen Bee Creations. The 10-year-old company she founded was growing at a rapid pace but Pearcy was spending all her time at work leaving little for her personal life.

She contemplated closing up shop and walking away. Then a friend suggested she talk to a counselor through the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) at Portland Community College.

“It’s so much work to start and run a business and I’m sure anyone could find the SBDC useful, especially if you don’t have a business degree,” said Pearcy, whose purses, wallets and bags sell nationally.

Some of the most important advice Pearcy heard from counselors was to stop “being the business and instead run the business.” The message rings true for many small business owners who try to handle many jobs and save money by not hiring employees.

“It was really encouraging to hear from the counselor that I could run this business and that I needed to hire people and that I should stop worrying about money,” said Pearcy.

Pearcy, who as a high school student made her own clothes and later studied at a textile and fabric institute in Philadelphia, started the business in Olympia in 1996 and moved it to Portland in 2002. For many years she did just about everything in the shop – from designing bags to producing the items to shipping to bookkeeping.

She’s now taking SBDC entrepreneurial classes that teach everything from writing a business plan to hiring employees to paying business taxes. She also learns from her classmates who talk about their business challenges and solutions.

The SBDC, located inside the Lloyd Center Mall, is funded by PCC as well as the U.S. Small Business Administration and the state’s Economic and Community Development Department. The mandate: help grow businesses and the economy.

Across the country there are about 1,100 SBDC offices that assist entrepreneurs with launching a new business, growing it, and selling it. While the classes cost from about $25 for a single session to $1,200 for a year-long course, the one-on-one counseling is free.

“We are all about creating employers,” said Tom Lowles, who oversees the local office where last year counselors met with 560 clients and held more than 100 training events.

Janie Lowe and Virginia Young, founders of YOLO Colorhouse

And there are plenty of businesses to assist as recent figures show that about 95 percent of Portland metro area companies are considered small with fewer than 50 employees. In addition, nearly half of Oregon’s small businesses are in the local metropolitan area.

YOLO Colorhouse is another Portland-based business benefiting from the SBDC. Janie Lowe and Virginia Young, founders of the environmentally-friendly wall finishes and paint company, were in the position for a giant leap forward when they met with advisers several years ago.

“We first sought out the SBDC when we were exploring ways to change our service-based business into a business that could be more than just ourselves,” said Young. “I had to repeat to myself over and over to delegate and move on to the next thing — to work on the business and not in the business. One of the biggest challenges for Janie and me is to give stuff away but as we grow it’s essential.”

SBDC counselors helped with marketing, national distribution, business systems and trademark development.

The company now partners with manufacturer Rodda Paint and YOLO expects to quickly become a national environmental color and design company whose products are sold in eco-friendly stores. YOLO has 12 workers with headquarters in an office on Southeast Water Avenue.

Young recommends the SBDC to anyone in business. “It’s one of the best deals in Portland,” she said.