Transforming your idea into a small business is no easy feat. Most entrepreneurs will say it takes a village to achieve their vision and support team to help them grow and deepen their impact with their customers and communities.
Imagine having a skill, talent, or product idea you know people want and need, but you are stuck because you don’t know how to seek clients. Maybe you are growing, but managing your books and introducing payroll systems is overwhelming, and you don’t know where or how to start.
We work with thousands of small business owners across various industries, from different cities and countries, and have diverse perspectives that are just as unique as their services and products. Although they are different, the entrepreneurs we serve all have one thing in common: they need access to free legal, finance, and marketing assistance to elevate their businesses and better serve the people who support them.
Having a support system through finance, marketing, and legal growing pains shouldn’t be a luxury for entrepreneurs. Its essential information and support should be accessible to all business owners and entrepreneurs regardless of age, race, gender, or ethnicity.
Once our team onboards entrepreneurs, we access their intake and pair them with skill-based volunteers for one-on-one marketing, finance, legal consultations, and assistance. We also provide resources like how-tos on our Small Business Blog and host workshops led by industry professionals from organizations including the SBA and CitiBank.
We spoke to small business owners in the #ALLFORSMALL community who value our pro bono small business program and how easy it is to apply and receive immediate support. They contacted us for resources like reviewing rental agreements and trademarking, helping with the proper documents to start a business and other needs. Wanda Blake, chef and owner of Wanda’s Cooking, and Jennifer Huang owner of Nusa, shared their small business journeys in the food industry. They both opened up about their ups and downs and the importance of small business support systems like Start Small Think Big.
Check out Wanda and Jennifer’s experience, apply for small business service or RSVP for upcoming workshops and events.
1. What are some of the most prominent challenges entrepreneurs face? Can you tell us about your journey or a specific obstacle?
As an entrepreneur, you sometimes feel “alone” in your business thoughts. My current challenge is waiting on a government agency to provide a permit for me to produce my product. I feel stuck, like I had let my customers down. I let my staff down. Having a temporary setback with no estimate of when it will come to an end. See “sold out” on my website has been troublesome.
2. How did you overcome them? Did you lean on your community for support?
Breathing exercises (lol) Taking deep breaths has helped me focus on what is essential to the business and myself. I decided to speak publicly, but the hold was up in me not having any products to sell. I had to reach out to my community and ask for support to overcome this challenge.
3. Tell us more about your experience navigating help to grow your business?
I can’t advocate enough for the support of an entrepreneur program. Having a mentor was critical to understanding my business goals and objectives, even though I have been in management for over 20 years.
4. How did working with Start Small Think Big impact your confidence and skills as a small business owner?
Besides providing tools to support my business in all areas (website, financial, marketing, trademark, to name a few) – working with SSTB feels like a part of my business. The communication, mentoring, and suggestions – all feel organic.
5. Why are you passionate about your business and serving the Bay Area community?
My most profound passion is rooted in food – memories – family, friends, and places worldwide. Serving the community with food is very natural for me. With my family gathering around a food background – I feel committed to feeding the community through collaborations with community food outreach programs.
6. What are some of your client’s favorite products or services?
Pepper Chowchow is my client’s favorite product and my Popup food event.
7. What advice would you give to someone who wants to start a small business?
Join an entrepreneur program – no matter how much you think you know about your business. I have over 20 years of experience in several food-related industries, and nothing beats the support, network, and exposure you get from an entrepreneur program.
8. What advice would you give to someone who has a small business but is stuck and unsure of how to grow their business?
Your company has to have a support network – check with others in your industry and find out where is your local network. If you don’t find one, start bonding with others in your industry. The food industry people have a tight community. You must have a like mind person to discuss your business challenges—research others in your industry. I would also refer back to my answer in number 7.
What are some of the biggest challenges entrepreneurs face? Can you tell us about your journey or a specific obstacle?
As entrepreneurs, we are faced with a myriad of challenges from the moment we start a business. We have to navigate various city, county, and state permitting requirements, to taxation, to running day-to-day operations, to finding the right advice that helps us avoid common pitfalls and choose the right strategies to grow the business, among others. There is much to learn in many areas such as finance, legal, and marketing. We also have to be mentally ready for significant unexpected challenges that were never even in our contingency plan. Being in California, we are familiar with disaster preparation plans such as earthquake preparedness. Still, we, along with millions of other businesses, never expected a total and complete economic shut down due to the COVIS 19 pandemic that resulted in a 100% loss of our catering business.
How did you overcome them? Did you lean on your community for support?
Working with local and national non-profit organizations has been very helpful. There are excellent local organizations in San Francisco, such as La Cocina, and Rennaisance Entrepreneurship Cente. Start Small Think Big has been beneficial in providing us with countless resources to navigate our journey, starting from launching the business, selecting the correct legal form and its various legal and tax implications, to learning the ins and outs of the financial aspect of business operations, to marketing. During the pandemic shutdown, these organizations also shifted gears in a big way to rally small businesses. They helped us go through one of the most difficult times any business would face and provided several resources to help us survive with PPP loans and various small business grants, as well as ways to pivot the business in a time of unprecedented, new realities.
Tell us more about your experience navigating help to grow your business.
We have to learn a new skill in accounting, finance, and marketing and be aware of all the legal and regulatory requirements in running a small business, to name a few. Many online resources, including zoom webinar that touches on all those topics, and many more, that been very helpful for us climbing the steep learning curve and applying them in our day-to-day operations.
How did working with Start Small Think Big impact your confidence and skills as a small business owner?
Start Small Think Big has benefited us since the beginning, from providing us with resources to decide our company’s legal formation, finance, and accounting to marketing. We had a meeting with expert volunteers who took some time from their busy time to learn about our business and gave us just the right advice for the stage of business we are in, as well as some strategic direction and next-steps that are useful as the business grows.
Why are you passionate about your business and serving the Bay Area community?
When my family immigrated from Indonesia to the Bay Area a few decades ago, we soon realized that Indonesia had a little-to-no culinary presence in Northern California -- even though it is one of the largest countries in the world. My vision is to introduce and broaden the appeal of Indonesian food to the San Francisco Bay Area. There is no Indonesian bakery in SF Bay Area. NUSA offers some of the most famous and popular classic Indonesian desserts, cakes, and savory snacks that are not readily available to the general public in Northern California.
What are some of your client’s favorite products or services?
One of our best-selling cakes is 1000 Layer Cake, initially created over 100 years ago during colonial times. It is a Dutch-Indonesian cake. 1000 Layer Cake is truly a labor of love. A small amount of generously spiced flavored batter is poured and top grilled until golden brown, one layer at a time. The result is a rich, delicious cake that is best served in small pieces or thin slices accompanied by a cup of coffee or tea. I was born and raised in South Sumatra. Sumatra has one of the best-tasting single-origin coffee in the world. We often advise our customers to match our cakes with Sumatra coffee. Our customers and loyal following are also drawn to the desserts/snacks items we make due to their unique flavor and texture, some of which are naturally gluten-free and vegan.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to start a small business?
The organization “Start Small Think Big” is a great name and provides excellent advice for anyone wanting to start a small business. It would help if you started small but think big because it is like the proverbial journey of a thousand miles that always begins with a tiny step.
What advice would you give to someone who has a small business but is stuck and unsure of how to grow their business?
Lean into the challenge while leaning on many local organizations in your area, such as Start Small Think Big, whose vision is to help small businesses start, grow, and succeed. It will not be easy, but we must be accountable for our actions and success. Know that we are not alone when we have these fantastic organizations in our neighborhood that are filled with wonderful people who understand small businesses and make it their mission to help us.