Lorraine Allen is the Regional Director of the NJSBDC at The College of New Jersey (TCNJ), which serves Mercer County. Lorraine has supported small businesses and entrepreneurs as an NJSBDC Regional Director for 25-years and is a unique and invaluable gem in Mercer County. Lorraine and her team at the NJSBDC at TCNJ have a personable yet comprehensive approach to assisting with their clients, which consistently prove essential to successful business development.
Take a moment to learn more about Lorraine and the NJSBDC at The College of New Jersey team.
- In your own words, how would you describe your role to the business owners in your region?
Whereas we ‘counsel and train’, ultimately we have great influence in helping businesses advance, sustain and manage growth. We bring guidance for decision making, objective feedback and access to resources to the conference/ worktable.
2. What is your background in the business arena? How do you feel your personal experiences have helped you in this role?
First, is my 25 years of experience in directing the center at The College of NJ. I’ve been responsible for helping nearly 19,000 business owners and representatives. As a result, we’ve benefited from every business’ challenges by adapting best practices from and for each one of them. Second, let’s just attribute my first business experience to being a 15-year old Avon rep. I’ve never been afraid to cold call since.
3. Describe the average small business owner in your region. Why do they reach out to you for help?
Concentrations in retail, general and medical services may be the average industry profile but the average business owner is trying to advance in the changing economy; the evolving workforce of millennials pouring into the workplace, transitioning into current marketing norms using social media, videos, in addition to managing public reputations and exposure. The “average” is actually all of them. Everybody is in a shift. We help them manage within that shift.
4. What is the relationship between The College of New Jersey and the NJ Small Business Development Center at TCNJ?
We have great support from TCNJ’s School of Business and Academic Affairs. We collaborate on programs and outreach to established companies and on programs for the students, including the $50,000 Mayo Business Plan Competition and advising with the Entrepreneur Club. Dean William Keep is a very forward thinker and a great leader for practical experiences so we also get many opportunities to cross network with alumni businesses and local companies. Additionally we have access to super facilities for events, training or counsel.
5. In what ways does that relationship benefit your clients?
It increases exposure to programs on campus that also speak to established companies.
6. How do you measure success in your role?
In regards to success as the role of our center: I think success is when our clients are comfortable to be open-minded enough to share, listen and then apply what they’ve learned and change their business processes. For some clients these are leaps, for others they’re just shifts …. all result in change for the better. Ultimately success is when they come back for more guidance and encourage others based on their experience here.
In regards to success in my role as director, well topically, the obvious measurement is meeting our required deliverables. Aside from that, success is organically developed in movement and energy by building inspiration, motivation and encouragement. You accomplish more when your team “owns” their passion in their work and in our mission. Success is also when partners trust you to lead, when everyone is open to experiment and celebrates achievements together.
7. You specialize in “mindset makeovers”. What does that mean and how do you makeover someone’s mindset towards business?
Often we are influenced by the culture of those around us or isolated and lack exposure to trends or methods. Just as often, someone tumbles their way through business just reacting to circumstances vs. being proactive and strategically owning circumstances. Changing the mindset means elevating someone’s perspective by examining alternate solutions so they lead vs. follow. Most of the time, it is simply changing their use of negative words like ‘we can’t do’ into ‘what can we do’; ‘we are not’ into ‘what we are‘. Mindset makeovers help transform obstacles into opportunity. It is a shift in the way we lead, operate and motivate.
8. Where does someone with an idea to start his or her own business begin?
Speaking of mindset: Start with the proper mindset. Begin with good habits from the get-go. Take a class on starting a business, which will help all the moving parts involved in operating a company. Don’t be a ‘Lone Ranger’. Get advisors in your industry, a lawyer and an accountant. And document everything financial from Day-1.
Test and practice before officially filing for your LLC or whichever official designation you declare for your business. Dip your toes in the water. Make those sales calls and see if they have buyers or folks who will pay for what you have or what you do. Thinking and visioning the business is a world apart from actually working the business.
9. Starting your own business has its shares of ups and downs. How does the NJSBDC at TCNJ help those cope with setbacks and get them on the right track?
Setbacks are in every part of running a business and it eventually comes down to the ‘survival of the fittest‘. It is all part of the rite of passage to success. Our counselors help examine their challenge, discuss and offer feedback and solution options. Often times, it’s like untangling a fine chain. They have everything. It’s just a matter of reordering or sorting it out.
10. What do you think is the one-thing entrepreneurs should know before starting their own business?
The vision a new entrepreneur has regarding how great their business will be vs. what the business actually is when they start are 2 entirely different things. You can’t give birth to an adult. They should consider this new venture a baby. Function and operate carefully at the very early stages. It’s important for new entrepreneurs to ‘stay in their lane’ but be open to grow with their companies.
11. Reflecting on your interactions with the small business community, what do you see as advantages and concerns for New Jersey’s businesses? Do you feel those advantages and concerns are galvanized in your region? Why is that?
What I see as advantages and what they see as advantages may be 2 different things!
Advantages for all business are their ease of access to knowledge and their customer base through technology i.e., research, $0 marketing costs, a greater net of attracting a customer base.
Disadvantages for all businesses are the change in the workforce, influenced by technology. New generations have had an entirely different experience in workforce culture; having grown up with communications through technology and less of an emphasis on trade education. Plus, the cultural influences of sustainability with a newer emphasis on social responsibility created some complication in positioning businesses appropriately.
As far as a region: We have the capital city in the capital county and are becoming recognized as a tourist destination. Once we are successful as an attraction overall, that will have a major and positive economic impact by providing more opportunities for our small businesses.