By Jason Lewis
Entrepreneurs play a vital role in business, as approximately 85 percent of the economy is generated by small business owners, according to Tonia Knightner, director of economic development at the West Angeles Community Development Corporation (CDC). The CDC is a non-profit organization that was created by West Angeles Church of God and Christ in 1994.
Many people roll with the punches in the corporate world, bouncing from one nine-to-five job to another, continually submitting online resumes with the hopes of getting a call back, and are financially limited to what an employer is willing to pay. But a lot of brave souls have decided to break away from the rat race and create jobs for themselves and members of their community.
While many people have made the leap into business ownership, the road to success is not that easy. About half of all new establishments survive five years or more and about one-third survive 10 years or more, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Two of the most common problems that new businesses face are that the owner lacks experience to run a business, or the capital to maintain the company during the first two critical years.
That’s where the CDC steps in.
“We are working on how we can get these businesses to become more viable by increasing productivity for their business,” Knightner said.
The CDC does this by offering an eight-week entrepreneurial training course, which is free of charge. Students only have to pay $50 for course materials. The class meets weekly on Tuesday nights. The CDC gives 3,000 hours of technical assistance, and helps with the development of business and marketing plans.
The course teaches future entrepreneurs the practical aspects of operating a small business. While this solves the issues of people not having the experience to start up a business, the CDC also prepares students for micro-loan lending, to ensure that the business has the capital it needs to survive. The CDC offers micro-business loans ranging from $500-$50,000, with an eight-10 percent APR and a loan period of one to three years.
“We don’t just give them the loan and then say pay us, we’re nurturing them through the whole process,” Knightner said.
Knightner said that there are a lot of people who have awesome ideas, and are already doing business. That was the case for Domonic Smith-Weston and Jerome Harris, who started a video content creation company called Duelpersona Productions in 2011. The idea seemed pretty simple. They both had been creating videos for over 15 years, and they worked on the media team at church. They had a few dollars between them (and they emphasized the word ‘few’), so they started a company. But unfortunately that company struggled.
“We were video people, but we were not business owners, and that is a huge difference,” Smith-Weston said. “We closed that company down, because we didn’t know what we were doing.”
They teamed up with Kim Smith-Weston, who gave them more focus on what their services should be, and they opened We Are Vision, which creates training, marketing, and corporate videos. The videos that We Are Vision creates allow their clients to introduce themselves and connect themselves on a personal level to their customer base.
The trio obtained a small-business loan from the CDC, which has allowed the company to thrive in the early stages.
“It’s incredibly important to have a business loan, because it takes money to make money,” Domonic Smith-Weston said. “It offers legitimacy, because you are able to buy things. Buying business cards is a legitimacy issue. Having an office in a certain area is a legitimacy issue. Having the right equipment. I can’t tell my clients that it’s going to take 15 hours because my computer is slow. If I don’t have the micro loan, I won’t have the money to buy the faster computer.”
“It also helps with the cash flow,” Harris said. “We don’t have credit right now, so where is that money going to come from? As soon as you spend money, now how are you going to pay for a networking event, or pay for a business lunch? Cash flow is very important because it allows you to do other things for legitimacy. It allows you to work, because you wouldn’t be able to work without your materials, without all your tools.”
Learning how to operate a business opposed to simply providing services, coupled with the CDC loan, has made a world of difference for these entrepreneurs.
“We started We Are Vision in September of last year, and we’ve been more successful in less than a year with We Are Vision than we were in the four and a half years with Duelpersona,” Smith-Weston said.
Not only have they been more successful, but also they appreciate the benefits of working for themselves, opposed to working for a company that they do not own.
“We have our own (work) culture,” Harris said. “I love that we can create our own. When you’re working for someone else you’re dealing with their culture, good or bad. Google has great culture, but some other company may want certain things to be done that you’re not comfortable with. Or that you have no choice with, because you can’t control their culture.”
“I think, not working for a nine-to-five, and working for yourself, it feels like passion,” Smith-Weston said. “Like, today is a hard day. Today I have overhead that I need to pay. Did my money come in? But the money that came in, it’s based off of things that we did. That’s something that we created, we worked hard to get to. It’s like every single high or low you feel. With a nine-to-five, if it’s a bad day, it’s like I don’t care. Or if it’s a great day, well the owner made some money. But this here, it feels like, which ever way it goes, it’s us. There is something about that to walk out the door everyday and say that it was us. We made that mistake, or we had that success.”
The CDC has also assisted Latish Austin, who opened Make A Difference Child Care Learning Center in her home in View Park-Windsor Hills. The center provides childcare services for infants, toddlers, and older children. The small-business loan allowed her to start the company.
“It’s really expensive to open up a home childcare,” Austin said. “I wanted to create a pre-school environment, and I also wanted to pass my inspections. With the CDC loan, I got hardwood floors, tables, chairs, I got my patio fixed, I got books, toys, and even food. It’s very costly, so I’m happy that I was approved.”
Austin’s ultimate goal is to open a charter high school, which is a much greater business endeavor. Her childcare center can be seen as the first business steps to achieving that monumental goal. While she continues to develop her business acumen, she is enjoying the benefits of being her own boss.
“When you work for someone else, you’re taking orders from someone all the time,” Austin said. “But with my own business, because now I’m dealing with my own paperwork, my own employees, my own payroll. Now I have to solve my own problems.”
While many people have many stresses that are connected to their nine-to-five jobs, Austin’s only real stress is her new tax bracket. Her business is flourishing, she’s at capacity, and she has a waiting list right now.
“Life is fulfilling, and I’m feeling very blessed,” Austin said. “Without the CDC loan, I would have still opened up my business, but it would have never soared, or I would not of had the materials that I need if I had done it on my own.”
Knightner pointed out that the CDC expects 1.5 jobs to be created from the small businesses that are financially assisted. We Are Vision is currently looking to hire two more employees, and as Make A Difference Child Care Learning Center expands, more jobs will be created.