Community-based program offers free training for entrepreneurs

Jessie Lee is the director of Small Business Services, a program of Brooklyn-based CAMBA, a multi-service non-profit agency. The Business program offers free business training and counsel to the community.

This division sees 2000 individuals a year, helping them start businesses that range from food-based, to childcare, to retail products, to services (like photography and graphic arts). CAMBA serves primarily low-income, minority persons and women.

Often, those that come to CAMBA have difficulty getting a living-wage job because they may have children at home or struggle with English. Many who turn to the program have a good skill or an idea, and they say, “I want to be my own boss.”

“One of the biggest issues for a potential business,” Lee explains, ”is targeting your market, knowing and finding your niche. For example, you might have a product, a tee shirt that lights up at night.“ Lee asks, “but who are you going to sell this to?” She mentioned that a number of other good ideas come through the door with out planning how to market the item. CAMBA helps all kinds of businesses.

It’s not just about having a good idea. Says Lee, “A business is more than just a good idea. It takes management.”

Lee recommends seeking business counseling before putting your savings into the business idea. An experienced business counselor can guide you through the business process.

And where do you find a business counselor? CAMBA has three counselors in its economic development division.

Counseling services are also available at the SBA (Small Business Administration-a federal government program) ( and the New York State Business Development Center ( The organization SCORE provides free local mentoring from experienced “older” business people who volunteer their time (

CAMBA’s free start-up workshop series includes business basics (and choosing a business legal structure), planning that gets funding, marketing, access to capital, credit repair, how to start and operate a home based business and how to become a licensed childcare provider.

Each course is offered every month.

Business practices the novice might be unaware of are how to create a profit/loss (cash flow) statement or which necessary business licenses are needed (e.g. business registration or incorporation).

Its three-session series offered each month called “entrepreneurial finance module” –the beginner, learning Basic Excel spreadsheets, or intermediate level–is intended for existing or startup businesses with a need to develop, manage and understand basic financial statements. Skills learned at these sessions are essential if applying for a loan.

Also, the third Thursday of every month, CAMBA offers a two-hour course in writing a business plan.

Lee says that a high percentage of CAMBA’s small business clients turn to them only after problems arise “when they need help and want to revamp the business” and often when it’s too late to rescue the business

One successful, but challenging client was a woman who had started a business making party favors. She had a small store and taught classes. When the economy plummeted, her retail business followed suit.

By the time she came to CAMBA, she was two months overdue on rent and facing possible eviction. CAMBA encouraged her to put the retail on hold, give up the physical store and concentrate on giving classes, which required little overhead. CAMBA enrolled her in its social media business courses and taught her how to market her classes online — thus lowering her marketing expenses and growing her teaching income.

She is now getting back on her business back on its feet.

CAMBA works closely with local banks, and many referrals come through the banks’ small business services, typically when a bank client can’t qualify for a conventional loan. CAMBA will work with the clients to create business plans, and then provide small loans.

Succeeding in business, starting and running a small business, takes hard work, planning and a strong knowledge of the nuts and bolts of solid business practices.

CAMBA’s Small Business Services programs aim at helping individuals start and manage their own businesses. For more info: 718-282-2500,

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