September 21, 2014

Surviving and Thriving During Hard Times

Diane Sears | 3/2/2009

Buying a Built-In Customer Base

[Photo: Jeffrey Camp]

Dr. Maria Mendez
Owner and orthodontist
Company: All About Smiles Orthodontics
Location: Orlando
Founded: September 2008 — Mendez purchased the practice from another doctor.
Employees: 11
Revenue: Not available.

Description: Orthodontic products and services, such as dental braces for children and adults.

Biggest economic challenges: Leaving an orthodontics practice with multiple offices in central Florida to start her own practice during a downturn in the economy. “People are coming in for new patient consultations, but it’s hard to persuade them to spend money at this time on straight teeth, which are not a priority in families’ minds right now.” Getting a loan backed by the U.S. Small Business Administration to purchase the business took longer than planned. “Every time we thought we had jumped the hurdle, they came back and required more documents.”

Survival secrets: Buying a thriving practice from another doctor who had two locations and was looking to sell one. The office was already running, so she incurred no startup expenses and opened her doors with cash flow and an influx of patients. Another survival tip: Finding a friend to mentor her through the SBA loan process. It was her first time applying for a business loan, and she wasn’t sure where to start. The friend, who had previously helped Mendez and her husband with a home loan, set up an appointment at his office with someone who came to see them from Banco Popular.

Results: She eventually secured a loan from Banco Popular just before the institution downsized its SBA lending program, and she closed on the sale Sept. 30, a month later than scheduled. Because of the economy, the process was tougher and required more documentation than usual. She had to obtain signatures from her husband, an oral surgeon, and his business partners to say she doesn’t benefit financially from their practice. Still, she says, “the SBA loan was the right decision. I don’t think it would have been any easier with a regular bank loan.”

Advice for anyone launching a business today: “Have a lot of patience and start early with the planning process. Count on spending more time than originally estimated.”

Tags: Florida Small Business, Entrepreneur

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