“We had a good product and did good work, but we didn’t know how to run a business,” David Robinson observes looking back to when he started his Charlottesville graphic design business 17 years ago. He sought advice from a local business group, but found that the SBDC was able to provide the more intense, detailed counseling he needed.
“We had been “winging it,” he says, “but the SBDC quickly identified a critical gap in addressing basic financials, everything from profit and loss statements, balance sheet, forecasting, budgeting and even some marketing.” Beyond identifying the problem, the SBDC worked closely with David and functioned as a trusted advisor, “almost as a board member,” and gave him confidence as he grew more capable of dealing with this part of his business structure. “I knew we were really on the right track when we sat down for a meeting and our advisor Nora smiled because I came prepared with all the financial reports and budgets,” David recalls.
As his business has grown, David has continued to call upon the SBDC when he’s needed special advice. He sought human resources counseling when he was ready to add to his staff and wanted to establish benefits to attract and retain employees and again when he experienced a critical personnel problem. He took one of their marketing classes as a review of his own processes.
Seven years ago, when they needed to expand into larger quarters, the company was well positioned to be able to purchase space. Later, the SBDC suggested refinancing to take advantage of better rates and even provided a commercial loan contact. David credits that refinancing advice for saving the company thousands of dollars each year.
In addition to David and his wife Jenny, Birch Studio Graphics currently employs four others. Since their founding in 1996 and with the growth of their reputation, the firm is now serving larger clients who have greater needs and bigger budgets in addition to an array of smaller project customers. The client portfolio is diverse, ranging from major units of the University of Virginia, to builders and realtors, manufacturers, financial services and more. While the recession slowed things a little for them, they were able to weather the economic downturn because their business fundamentals were sound and partly because they had begun building products to augment their design studio services.
Shortly after the company began, they began producing the Healthy Living Directory, an annual digest of natural health services and products. Now, they are developing an e-commerce version of the directory and have created a special real estate product linking select realtors to shared listings. They even offer web hosting on a small scale.
As the company continues to grow, David envisions success based on a pair of special assets beyond the quality of their design work. Their studio has developed a proprietary process to assure reliable delivery of their projects, a process that is a useful sales tool and a distinguishing competitive feature that engenders trust. David also knows that he can turn to the SBDC as a resource whenever he needs to and has trust in his SBDC advisor. “She knows what ‘normal’ is, what to prioritize, and can often help with referrals. She’s seen us from the inside and has been wonderful. Because of the SBDC we are able to run our business as a business and to prosper.”