As director of the Shenandoah Valley Small Business Development Center (SVSBDC), Joyce Krech ’80 knows the business world inside and out–from both her own perspective as a one-time small business owner to that of hundreds of businesses her organization has helped.
The SVSBDC, which turns 30 this year, is one of 29 centers across Virginia that provides free professional business advice, training and information resources to help grow and strengthen local businesses. The SVSBDC, based in Harrisonburg, welcomes about 200 clients a year (both startups and existing businesses) from the six counties it serves: Rockingham, Augusta, Rockbridge, Page, Bath and Highland. Some business owners and prospective owners come for one visit, some for many visits over a short period of time, and others come in periodically as issues arise. And if a client has a question the center can’t answer, a business adviser will match them with an expert in the field, such as a human resources specialist, accountant or a lawyer.
Two years after Krech and her husband, Stephen, were married, Stephen decided to open his own business. Krech took some businesses classes on bookkeeping and accounting to keep the business’s finances, and found out she loved the work. She ended up doing bookkeeping for various small businesses in the area. In 2000, Krech started working at the SVSBDC in an administrative role, then moved up to training and business advising. In 2011, she was named director of the organization.
One of her favorite parts of the job is the variety of businesses and people who come through the doors. Krech said there is no prescribed formula for aiding clients at the center, which is part of a national network of small business development centers. The main goal is to help owners with “whatever keeps them up at night.”
“We’re always available,” Krech said. “It’s their agenda, not ours.”
Top industries vary by area, Krech said, but retail remains strong.
“Small businesses are well positioned to fill what the malls are no longer filling, which is personal service,” Krech said. “You don’t get that from Amazon; you don’t get that from the big-box stores. Support your local business and patronize them because it makes a difference in your community to have them there.”
Krech, who majored in English at Bridgewater, said the liberal arts education “prepared me well for whatever was going to come.” She went on to get her master of technical and scientific communication from James Madison University. She enjoyed that Bridgewater’s smaller size allowed her to know so many students and faculty on campus.
“It was a great experience at Bridgewater,” she said. “I loved it.”
What do you like about your job?
Every day is different. Every client is different. Businesses tend to think their problems are unique. They’re not, but their stories are unique and they are unique, and that’s what I like. We can help them understand that they’re not alone, that they have similar problems that every other small business has had, and there are solutions out there. It’s just an amazing group of people that we meet every day as they come in to talk to us about their business—a wide variety of types, and it’s never boring because of that.
What would be your one piece of advice to someone who’s starting his or her own business?
We have a workshop called Start Smart, and in that workshop we try to convey this type of advice, which is to take some time to plan, not only a business’s goals but your own goals. One of the things we see is their goals for the business don’t necessarily align with their life goals. Maybe it’s income level that’s needed—if you need a certain level of income, whatever that is, doesn’t matter how many zeroes are behind it—that’s what you need. If the business is not going to do that, it’s not a good match.