Giving Small Businesses a Helping Hand
“The thing that is amazing about Mainers is they do whatever it takes to get the job done, and if there is a barrier, they find a way around it.”
That’s what Susan Desgrosseilliers, a certified business advisor with Maine’s Small Business Development Center (SBDC), has often noticed, especially as Maine emerges from the shadow of the coronavirus epidemic. Susan has some 30 years of being an entrepreneur and business advisor, and she has lately had a front-row seat to view business conditions during the time of COVID-19.
“Helping clients during the pandemic has been very different because businesses are trying to find ways to survive,” Susan said. When the state put in place shut-down measures in the spring, she and her colleagues shifted into high gear, educating themselves in the Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program through the Small Business Administration and the Payroll Protection Program application process. They created webinars to guide businesses through every intricate application detail and all the subsequent documentation. She said, “There was lots of hand-holding as businesses went into full-on survival mode.”
One of those clients is Erica Archer, president of Wine Wise, based in Portland. She sees how Susan’s energy and work ethic are intertwined. “It was too common for anything COVID-related to be hard to find, slow, not user-friendly, and certainly not leveraging present-day technology. In March, I shared my situation with Susan. I even cried during our first zoom. Having that rapid one-on-one help from her was a much-needed and welcomed change from the frustration.”
Not all businesses have successfully navigated this uncharted course. “I have had seasonal businesses who have decided to close for good. That is disheartening after they worked so hard to create a successful business, and then out of nowhere, it just stops,” said Susan.
Susan has helped clients complete the applications process under a range of circumstances, and one case in particular stood out as a gratifying experience. “I have this one client who is an amazing blueberry business owner, but she did not own nor know how to use a computer, so she couldn’t easily apply for the disaster loan,” said Susan. This situation led to Susan handling the technical aspects of the loan application through “lots of telephone work.” In the end, the client was approved for an $80k disaster loan.
Susan grew up watching her father run a small business and appreciated his rapport with his clients. She went on to own the Fixtures Designer Plumbing Showroom in Rockland. She was also New England Regional Director of Marketing for Ocean Properties, Realtor with Legacy Properties Sotheby’s International Realty, Executive Director of Rockland/Thomaston Chamber of Commerce, and a member of the Board of Directors for Make-A-Wish Foundation. This wealth of experience all led to her role with the SBDC.
The University of Southern Maine administers the Maine SBDC program. A cooperative agreement with Maine’s Department of Economic and Community Development enables the state to match the program’s federal funding from the Small Business Administration. Services are free to those with existing businesses or those wanting to start a new business.
Mark Delisle, State Director for the Maine SBDC, sees Susan’s upbeat attitude blending well with her excellent skill set. “Susan knows many in the business community, and during the recent economic crisis caused by the pandemic she has gone above and beyond to help her small business clients. She is always willing to help.”
Brianna Morrill, former employee and now owner of the Rockland fixtures showroom, shared her perspective—that Susan is an amazing mentor and now advisor. “Sue is an extremely smart businesswoman. She knows the ins and outs of how to truly make a business thrive. Everything she has dipped her hands in has become successful.”
Pete Morse, who owns and operates an audio recording business, discovered SBDC in early 2019. He credits his advisor with helping him recover from losing about 70 percent of his business when a client changed its course. “I attribute Susan in helping me get my act together and re-salvaging my business.”
As a SBDC advisor, Susan guides a variety of clients. “I will help them with their business plan, their financials, their three-year projections, and more.” While Susan contends that she is far from stern, she admits she pushes back a lot. “Sometimes that pushback helps the client really look deep, and some may think, ‘maybe I need to keep my day job.’” She went on, “I don’t want to be the ‘Debbie Downer,’ but sometimes you have to be real with them and drill down to get clients to understand numbers.”
While business is in her blood, her passion lies with the Make-A-Wish Foundation. “I first came to know the organization when I was invited to an event. Having a daughter with type 1 diabetes and seeing children and their families affected by some type of illness, I was blown away to see how this event gave families a break from the day-to-day worries.” She went on, “It’s so rewarding. These Maine children that have their wish granted by Make-A-Wish are so happy, and the parents are relieved to see their kids happy and full of joy and hope.”
In between working with Make-A-Wish and enjoying time with her two adult daughters and their growing families, Susan continues to share her optimistic and positive nature with her clients, as Maine shifts back into gear. As Erica Archer, a client, puts it, “Susan has an innovative mind, and her passion to help, her ‘let’s-get-it-done’ support, and her uplifting energy are what small businesses need right now.” Susan says this style comes naturally to her. “I believe in the people of Maine and the business community, and Mainers do not easily throw in the towel.”