Bill Long says $50 was the best investment he ever made. The owner of the Auto Care Clinic in Front Royal paid the small sum to enter an entrepreneurial contest sponsored by the Lord Fairfax SBDC. “I heard about it on the talk show, I listen to on the radio every morning,” Long says. “For 50 bucks I figured I didn’t have anything to lose, and I had a lot to learn.”
The contest included six classroom sessions offering one-on-one assistance to develop a business plan. This was followed by the first public pitch night, in which participants presented their business plans to a panel of industry professionals. “It was a little nerve-racking, but I made it through the elimination round,” Long says. The winner of the final pitch night would receive $5,000 cash plus another $3,000 for marketing. “I won!” Long says. “With the prize money I was able to purchase two lifts and add a three-bay expansion to my shop. We’re just now finishing up the radio and newspaper marketing I received.”
Long was also able to increase the size of his staff. “We’re pretty excited,” he says. “We started in 2014 with just me and my daughter. Now I have four mechanics. And this year we’ll do about $850,000 in business.” Long expects to increase his revenues to $1.2 million next year. “We regularly revisit the business plan the SBDC helped me write,” he noted.
The turnaround in his business, Long believes, came from the marketing and business advice he received from the SBDC. “I’m at the point now where I’m working on the business versus working in the business,” Long says. “When I was able to make that change, it made a huge difference. Now I have enough money to do more marketing.”
Working with the SBDC has given Long a new perspective on making business decisions. “As a small business owner you have to get to the point where you realize you don’t know everything,” he says. “You have to be willing to make changes.”
Long continues to take advantage of the SBDC’s free classes and recommends them to his friends. “Working with the SBDC has been a wonderful experience,” he says. One of the speakers at the SBDC course that Long took was Dr. Miles Davis, dean of the Shenandoah University School of Business. Recently he brought his car into Long’s shop for servicing. “You can’t ask for a better endorsement than that,” Long says.