Starting up your own business with little money

Two Pacific Northwest nonprofit organizations are teaming up to show those with little money how to make their dreams of business ownership come true.

Washington Women’s Employment & Education (WWEE), an agency providing job readiness training  and support services to low-income residents of Pierce and King counties, and Washington Community Alliance for Self-Help (Washington CASH), an organization devoted to self-sufficiency through self-employment, are partnering to offer an eight-week business training course in Tacoma geared toward low-income people.

“It’s a great fit,” said Kathy Gillman, Washington CASH executive director, citing the two organization’s similar missions. “It’s a great addition to their (WWEE) array of services.”

“They (Washington CASH) teach them how to make a business plan,” said WWEE Executive Director Robin Lester of what students will learn in the weekly class.

The course – which is offered free of charge to low-income people – covers identifying business strengths, record keeping, determining selling price, controlling costs and planning the best way to sell your product or service.

“The class focuses mostly on in-home businesses,” she said, like catering, child care and wedding consultant. “It’s a two-part program.”

The first part of the program teaches students how to run a business and keep it going, Lester said.

In addition to learning the skills needed to get a business up and running, students are provided step-by-step guidance through the process of writing a business plan.

The second part of the program involves participants joining small business groups formed out of those in the class upon completion of training.

From there, class members receive micro credit lending services.

Lester explained that each person in turn is loaned money by the other group members, and with the money paid back, the process continues with another group member.

“The group itself becomes their own lending institution,” Lester said.

Participants also receive business coaching and technical assistance from local business owners, as well as peer support.

It’s not just women who are eligible for this program, Lester stressed, but any low-income individual.

Low income status is determined by federal poverty guidelines, she said.

Lester said anyone eligible who is interested in the class must have a strong desire to run a business and be willing to put in the necessary work.

This quarter’s class has about 15 people signed up, Lester said.

Those in the current class, which begins tomorrow, attended an Oct. 16 information meeting on how to start their own business.

“We hope to grow the program with an increase in the number of students next time,” Lester said of the weekly classes, which are planned to be offered on a quarterly basis.

“That’s what we plan to do,” Gillman concurred. “It depends on funding.”

WWEE was founded in 1982 and has since helped residents of the Puget Sound area – both men and women – reach self-sufficiency.

Seattle-based Washington CASH was founded in July 1995 by Peter W. Rose.

Rose spent nearly 10 years studying the practice of microcredit in the developing world and advocating for the expansion of support for microcredit worldwide.

In addition, he visited the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh in 1990, experiencing microcredit first-hand at the village level.

The Washington CASH peer lending model is based largely on the Grameen model and the study of the “best practices” of the microcredit industry in the United States.

Washington CASH began its first training and lending pilot program in May 1996.

The pilot project was a collaborative effort with WWEE.

Washington CASH has experienced near exponential growth since 1998.

“It’s been very successful,” said Lester of such business training courses.

For more information on Washington Women’s Employment & Education and Washington Community Alliance for Self-Help, visit their respective Web sites at: