With 20 years of advising small business owners under his belt, his job should be getting easier.
But Jim Kraft, director of the Small Business Development Center at Cleveland State University’s Nance College of Business, has had to adapt to challenging economies and warp-speed advances in technology.
“In all my years of doing this, this is the toughest time I’ve seen,” Kraft said.
Kraft and CSU’s development center moved from Beachwood’s Business Development Center, which recently closed, to its .
Since he became director of CSU’s SBDC, which opened in March 2010, he’s advised more than 130 clients on marketing, business plans, accounting, social media, and everything in between, with the exception of legal matters and taxes.
“I’m not a CPA, and I’m not a lawyer,” Kraft said.
The center is one of 39 in Ohio, and although the CSU office is in the Heights, Kraft counsels small business owners from around Northeast Ohio.
Kraft runs the SBDC with the help of two graduate students from the Nance College of Business who each work 20 hours a week. In addition to free counseling, the SBDC offers $12 classes outside of the center.
The center assists novice and expert business owners alike. Most who pursue their first business and seek his input arrive without enough money and enough experience, he said.
“(Starting your own business) takes a lot of dedication. It’s hard on the family, it’s hard on the person,” Kraft said. “I never say never, but I say, ‘Maybe you should think about the five-year plan.' There are times when I say, ‘It’s not a good idea, but here’s what you can do.’”
Save money, repair credit and work in the business you want to own, he always suggests.
For example, if a client wants to own a bed and breakfast, he tells them to work at one for at least six months. Some who come to him with ideas have not worked in the industries they seek.
With all the competition business owners face today, Kraft also emphasizes the importance of solid customer service.
“If you’re out there in this market, you better treat customers like they’re queens and kings,” he said.
And using websites and social media to market businesses is essential, Kraft said.
“Twenty years ago you couldn’t sit at your desk and find all the information in the world at your fingertips.”
CSU's Small Business Development Center is open Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. in . Call 216-359-0220 to schedule an appointment. For more information about classes, visit www.csuohio.edu/business/global/gateway.