Cassius F. Butts was appointed by President Barack Obama in 2011. He is responsible for the delivery of SBA programs in Region IV comprised of the eight Southeastern states. During his appointment, Cassius has managed oversight of five record breaking years for SBA lending in Region IV. Under Cassius’s leadership, the SBA witnessed historic lending, record-breaking government contracting dollars awarded, and the highest number of entrepreneurs trained and counseled in SBA history.
Read on to hear what he has to say regarding starting your own business, and the plethora of resources available by the Small Business Administration to help you succeed along the way.
Monique: Tell us a little bit about your story and journey toward becoming the Region IV Administrator for the Small Business Administration?
Cassius: My journey began when I was in elementary school in Orlando, Florida and I was on the front cover of the Orlando Sentinel making the “I have a Dream” speech. It continued in high school when I was featured on a billboard in Orlando being recognized by Junior Achievement’s Future Business Leader of America. My life took a significant direction from that point forward and continued when I attended Morehouse College in Atlanta, GA. That experience changed my life forever. Without going into too much detail, my studies at Morehouse provided me the opportunity to learn some of the best life lessons from life-long mentors. Mayor Maynard Jackson was a significant mentor to me who helped to lead me on my life journey. It is significant to say that he was the first African American mayor in Atlanta, just as President Obama is the first African American President and I was fortunate to be the very first African American to become Region IV Administrator for the SBA. Mentors helped to shape me and my morals and my dreams, and have helped me along on my journey. My journey could have taken me to seminary school or to law school, but my journey led me towards entrepreneurship and government. It also led me to attend graduate school at Clark Atlanta University, where I became the President of the Public Administration Student Association. The role of regional administrator has been a role that has brought together all of my passions and allowed me to make a true difference in the United States under an Administration that will be recognized for many years to come for job creation, strengthening our economy, and supporting small business. We have witnessed historic numbers in lending to small business. Under my leadership, over $25 billion in SBA-backed loans have been approved for small businesses across the Southeast. This is something I am extremely proud of. The SBA team has truly made a difference.
Monique: You started your consulting firm, CB Consulting Group, LLC in 2005. What was your motivation to become an entrepreneur? What do you see as the primary benefits and pitfalls of small business ownership? Do you think it’s for everyone?
Cassius: My grandparents demonstrated to me from a very young age the importance of entrepreneurship. They were the owners of a very successful construction company in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; City Wide Construction. My parents also motivated me to become an entrepreneur. My mother was one of the first accredited daycare owners in Orlando, Florida. I watched her build her dream and change lives. She showed me that anything is possible. Also, my experience in working in the banking industry inspired me to become an entrepreneur. The advantages were very clear of owning your own small business when standing in the shoes of a banker. Owning your own small business offers great advantages and flexibility, and it also represents one of the biggest challenges an entrepreneur can face in their life. A benefit of being an entrepreneur is being your own boss and creating your own schedule and living your dream. The greatest pitfall of entrepreneurship is the unknown. No one may predict a downfall in the economy or a natural disaster or personal challenges. All of these factors take a toll on a small business owner. Sometimes entrepreneurship is a risk, and risks aren’t for everyone. The best part about this is that resources exist to assist individuals in deciding if entrepreneurship is for them- from a personal standpoint as well as a financial standpoint. SBA has resources to help along the entrepreneurial journey.
Monique: Why do you think some people are hesitant or fearful of starting their own business and what advice can you give them?
Cassius: People are naturally fearful of getting started in business. The corporate paycheck doesn’t directly deposit in to your bank account every two weeks. Often it is a leap of faith. The best advice I can provide to anyone looking to go in to business for themselves is to not do it alone. Resources are available to entrepreneurs every step of the way- from a small business concept in your head to purchasing real estate and hiring a full staff and going global. There are no-cost resources to always help. Entrepreneurs need to be able to place their egos to the side and always ask for and accept help.
Monique: How important is the business plan? What are the most essential elements and what do lenders look for the most in granting awards?
Cassius: A business plan is critical for a small business to survive. The plan isn’t only to look bankable; the plan should be a guideline for the owner. The plan forces an owner to think ahead and truly account for what it will take for a small business to survive. The business plan should be an integral part of an entrepreneur’s life plan. Lenders want to see a solid plan that represents a serious owner- they want to see that a small business owner means business and has truly planned the scope of the business out from the smallest details to the 10 year forecast. Lenders want to see a plan that reassures them pay back ability from the entrepreneur.
Monique: What should SBO’s know about pursuing government contracts to heighten their chances of being awarded?
Cassius: The federal government is the largest purchaser of goods and services in the world. Government contracting provides stability for a small business- a secure income. Contracting provides an avenue of business that is secure. It is important to not rely 100% on contracting. A sound small business will have a diverse portfolio of clients from the private industry and clients from local, state and federal government. What an entrepreneur needs to know to secure an award is very important; they need to know how to market themselves to the government. Pursuing government contracts is very different that going after private accounts. Resources exist for the small business owner looking to sell their product to the government. The SBA has the 8(a) Business Development Program; a 9-year program designed to assist small businesses in marketing themselves to the federal government. There are also Procurement Technical Assistance Centers (PTAC’s) that may assist an entrepreneur with getting their foot in the door with local, state and federal contracts. Also, Small Business Development Centers are located nationally and may assist with the process.
Monique: Statistics show that more than 80% of new businesses fail within 18 months of operation. Based on your experience, why is this and how can new businesses avoid this “curse”?
Cassius: Many entrepreneurs aren’t asking for help. They feel they know the industry, but many don’t know the small business tools to success. Entrepreneurs should reach out the SBA and to the SBA’s Women’s Business Centers, Small Business Development Centers, and SCORE Chapters to assure success. The SBA and other small business resources may provide the tools to success, but the entrepreneur must master how to use the tools to their business’s advantage.
Monique: How can SBO’s best prepare for turbulent economic times to stay in business?
Cassius: This is what I call disaster planning. Whether it is a tough economic time or a natural disaster, a business must prepare. There are many tools to assist in physically preparing a business. A business plan with forward projections and details for success is another best practice to utilize to stay prepared. Also, many say that the best time to borrow money is when you don’t need it. This could definitely come into play here.
Monique: What tips can you provide to assembling the best grants/loan application package for SBO’s seeking support from the SBA?
Cassius: The SBA has several government guaranteed loan programs for small business owners. It is best to work with your lender and the resource partners to prepare your business to be in a position to borrow money. There is no need to pay for this service- you have already paid for it through your tax dollars. Put your tax dollars to work and seek guidance in preparing to request a loan. Also, some grant programs exist such as the Small Business Innovation Research Grant (SBIR). It is important to do your own research before asking for anything- be prepared and know what you want and need for your business to succeed. Also, talk to other entrepreneurs and learn what has worked for them and what hasn’t. Sometimes, this is the best education- first hand small business information.
Monique: Do you have any final words or thoughts you’d like to share with anyone considering starting their own business who may be a little hesitant to take the leap?
Cassius: Now may be your time to follow your entrepreneurial dreams. And now, also, may not be your time. You are the only decision maker who can decide this. Utilize the SBA and network with small business owners, do your research. If you have the passion, the drive, and the dedication, then today could be your day to become your own boss.
To learn more about how the SBA can assist you and your business, please visit https://www.sba.gov/about-sba.
Yours In Service,