People You Should Know: Robin Soumi, Executive Director, Loudoun SBDC

By September 6, 2012November 4th, 2016Blog, Small Biz

By: Susan VanEpps

This month we sat down with Robin Soumi, executive director of one of the most useful organizations for local entrepreneurs: the Loudoun Small Business Development Center. She explains how her group helps with those “dreaded business plans,” why entrepreneurs shouldn’t try to “do it all,” and relates what they counseled one group about starting a murder scene clean-up company.

1. What are the key ways the SBDC assists entrepreneurs?
Our mission is to assist and educate Loudoun entrepreneurs. We achieve that through our core services — free business counseling and low-cost business seminars. Whether you are an established small company in the growth phase or a passionate, budding entrepreneur with an idea, we are here to help. A lot of our counseling surrounds the “dreaded business plan,” either in preparation for a loan request or to facilitate internal growth or partner attraction. We cover all the basics and help clients come up with a manageable plan. We even assign homework!

And yes, I said “dreaded.” Many people fear and put off completing their business plans. However, after they have completed their plans, countless clients tell us how valuable the entire exercise was and how they wished they had done it sooner. It is not unusual for the business to change direction or focus during the planning process. Entrepreneurs feel more in control of their business and confident of the direction they are heading following a thorough planning process.

2. What are some common errors or oversights?
Lack of planning is probably the biggest challenge. From that stems not putting funds aside to hire professionals in non-core areas, such as legal, accounting and even administrative assistance. It is tough to be a small business owner “doing it all.” Another difficulty is lack of focus – in other words, trying to be everything to everyone and serving a market that is too large and too diverse for the company. Finally, some new entrepreneurs underestimate the time it takes to become profitable, and don’t plan ahead to make sure they have funds in place to weather the start-up phase.

3. Do you have a funny story about a small business you dealt with?
We had some folks several years ago who wanted to start a cleaning service – specializing in clean-up of murder crime scenes. We discussed that the murder rate was pretty low in Loudoun County, and they would need to expand well outside our borders to make this idea into a viable business.

4. What advice would you give Loudoun entrepreneurs?
Many entrepreneurs give up too early in the game. It’s tougher than they think, and they get discouraged. Get a support system in place early on, whether it’s Loudoun SBDC, the Chamber, other networking events, or an accountability group you create yourself. Even better, consider a combination of all these possibilities. And remember that Loudoun SBDC is here to help throughout the life of your small business!

 Also, check out our website for our newsletter signup, and to find information about our Fourth Annual Business Plan Competition. If you are a Loudoun business three years old or younger, you are eligible to enter. Last year’s local division winner won $8,000 in cash/prizes, and the scalable division winner won $1,500 cash and a private luncheon with Eric Major of K2M, Inc. and John May of New Vantage Group, Active Angel Venture Funds. This year, you just might be the winner!