Toneka Pires and Linda Okwor had lots in common when they met at a fitness competition.
Both had business degrees, successful corporate careers and a passion for fitness. After being
laid off, they combined their business acumen with their passion for health by launching
BWell Fit, which provides personalized fitness programs incorporating nutrition, exercise,
supplements and motivation. They initially visited the SBDC at Santa Monica College for help
choosing a form of business, but gained much more.
Working primarily with SBDC Business Advisor Ron Sardisco, the partners got help with
“everything a small business needs—from incorporation to funding, running the business,
taxes and accounting,” recalls Okwor. They took classes in QuickBooks, setting up a small
business, and developing a virtual presence utilizing the social media and promotional
potential of the internet. They developed a business plan and a marketing plan, and obtained
a $25,000 bank loan.
• Know when you need help. With business degrees, corporate experience and an
impressive array of fitness credentials, Okwor and Pires seem like the last people
who would need startup help. But they knew entrepreneurship was a whole different
animal. “Rather than reinvent the wheel, we needed someone who had
been down this road before to guide us,” says Pires.
• Get out there. Word-of-mouth and referrals are key for BWell Fit, so “people
need to see us and know who we are,” explains Pires. The marketing plan they
developed with the SBDC boosts their profile through public speaking, radio and
TV appearances, networking and social media tools.
• Details matter. BWell Fit began seeking a loan in October 2009 and obtained it
in November. “It wouldn’t have happened without the SBDC,” says Okwor. “Our
business plan was 64 pages, very detailed. [The SBDC] guided us through the
financial portion, from beginning to end.”
• Know when to say no. “We’ve had opportunities where people want to partner
with us and work on [new] projects,” says Pires. “Ron would say, ‘If it’s not directly
impacting your business, you can’t do it right now. There are only two of you.
If you spread yourself too thin, you’re never going to grow.’ We need that—we
need someone to keep us on track.”
The SBDC helped BWell Fit narrow its focus to bridal fitness. Targeting that niche, the
company has grown to three employees. “We want to corner that market,” says Pires. “We’re
developing strong relationships with wedding vendors so we can cross-promote.” They
recently launched an online store selling supplements, skin-care products and DVDs.
As their business grows, Pires and Okwor will keep working with the SBDC. “They are a wealth of
knowledge,” says Okwor. “Knowing that there’s someone there to support you means the world.”