Seminars cover the ins and outs of starting a business

Starting a small business can be the American dream or can turn into a real nightmare.

But forewarned is forearmed, and that is the essence of Calling All Entrepreneurs: A Workshop Series on Starting a Business that begins Thursday, March 1, from 8 to 10 a.m. at Wilton Library. It is co-sponsored by Wilton Library, SCORE Fairfield County, the SBA CT district office, and Silver Pine Real Estate. The Bulletin is media sponsor.

The sessions will cover:

  • March 1: How to Start Your Own Business, including such topics as choosing a business name/structure, licensing, registrations.
  • March 8: ABCs of a Business Plan and Understanding a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) Analysis.
  • March 15: How to Finance Your Small Business.
  • March 22: Marketing and Advertising.
  • March 29: Contracting 101.

Each session is free and attendees may go to all or as many as they wish. Registration is strongly encouraged: www.wiltonlibrary.org or call 203-762-6334.

This is just the type of program Shalini Madaras, owner of Silver Pine Real Estate on Route 7, wishes she had known about when she started out a decade ago.

Flouting all convention, Madaras started her business in 2007, facing the worst possible economy for real estate. She was also grieving the loss of her son Nick, who was killed while serving his country in Iraq in 2006.

“I was inspired by his courage and his determination knowing what he was going into,” she told The Bulletin last week. So she persevered, adding “the learning curve was the most I ever had.”

She set about attending conferences and learning from financial institutions about where things were moving and how quickly. She had been working in real estate since 1999, and with licenses in Connecticut and New York she had a good grip on the business, but it still wasn’t enough.

“It was going to all those professional conferences and listening to people and networking with people, and that is how I started getting more and more direction,” she said. “Those conversations, that networking, got me from one organization to another that got me help. The Small Business Administration (SBA) was the one I really went after.” It helped her get certified to qualify for government business.

She also connected with the Women’s Business Enterprise Network Council and the Greater New England Minority Supplier Diversity Council and learned how they could help.

It was when she was speaking with Lisa Powell of the SBA that the two began discussing the idea of making things easier for people who want to start their own businesses. She thought, “Wouldn’t it be great to do a program for people thinking of a small business to give them help step by step without stumbling.”

They approached the library and the conversation started. Powell will run the workshops with her colleague Tanisha Baptiste.

When asked what she thought is the biggest challenge small-business people face, Madaras said bringing diversity to their enterprise.

“You can’t rely on the same thing,” she said. “Diversity makes the business grow.” Having multiple types of clients helps, she said, when one can support you in ways another cannot. How can a business diversify its offerings?

The Small Business Administration, she said, “is where you meet people from all different backgrounds that can help inspire you to do different things. If you do the same thing over and over,” it’s not going to be as successful.

Knowing where you want to take your business and what to do when you get there — whether it is taking on employees, selling, retiring, taking on a partner — is something that can be overlooked in the beginning.

“When people start up a business, it is very personal, it’s your idea and you’re working it.” It is only now, she said, that she is shifting into an area where she “can look at it from above.”

“People don’t see moving forward into the future.”

Madaras has not stopped furthering her own education. She has sought out scholarships from foundations to learn how she can take her business to the next step. In June she will go to Dartmouth for a week through an offering from the Bank of America Foundation.

“You will learn so much,” she said. “Sitting back and hoping business will come to you, it won’t happen. It’s definitely a lot of hard work.”

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