Marla Beck started providing in-home services to seniors in 2003; by 2009 she had built Andelcare into a $1.1 million business with 65 employees.

That’s most people’s idea of a success story, but Beck had hit a wall.

She was working harder than ever, she said, but it was still a struggle. The recession had hit, competition was increasing and she started to wonder if all the work was worth it.

She remembers thinking, “Either I have to grow or I should probably just sell.”

She did not sell, and three years later her revenues are up to $2.3 million, her staff has nearly doubled and on Thursday (April 26) the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) honored her as the Washington State Small Business Person of the Year. The award was presented at the SBA annual Small Business Awards Gala at Boeing’s Museum of Flight.

Clients, caregivers matched with care

Beck – who rediscovered her passion for working with elderly people after a 20-year career in corporate finance – has worked tirelessly to create not only a successful business, but a business where she would like to be an employee. She expends an enormous amount of time and energy on hiring the right people, matching clients with caregivers, and putting policies and procedures in place to ensure that both clients and caregivers enjoy their Andelcare experience.

While some clients enjoy 24/7 care from an Andelcare employee, others might hire a companion for a couple hours a week to go shopping, have their hair done or help with cooking or personal hygiene. Each client is different and requires different services, Beck said. Likening herself to a matchmaker, Beck said her goal is for both client and caregiver to look forward to their time together.

Small business advisor “a godsend”

With an attitude of “let the baker bake,” Beck has brought in experts to help her manage various aspects of her business, from CPAs to IT providers to a payroll service. But the person she credits with being key to the phenomenal growth she has seen over the past three years is Michael J. Franz, a certified business advisor with the Washington Small Business Development Center (WSBDC) program in Seattle.

The WSBDC is a partnership between the SBA, Washington State University, other institutions of higher education and economic development agencies. Confidential one-on-one advising is provided at no cost to clients who want to grow or start a small business. Franz is part of a network of 32 WSBDC advisors located in 26 centers across the state.

“He’s been a godsend,” Beck said. “I know I wouldn’t be where I am today without Michael.”

Excels in all criteria

For his part, Franz has called Beck a “hero” of the small business community. She has a genuine concern for the elderly and her employees, he said, and she has built a multi-million dollar business that reflects her values, is setting industry standards and is sustainable.

Business sustainability is one of the criteria for the SBA Small Business Person of the Year award. Other criteria include growth in employees, financial growth, innovation of product or service offered, response to adversity and community service.

“Marla was just over the top in all of those areas,” said Nancy Porzio, SBA district director in Seattle. “If there is an ideal business person it is Marla Beck.”

Not just for new business owners

Beck said she initially was skeptical of meeting with a WSBDC advisor because she assumed the focus was on new businesses or first-time business owners. She’d been in business seven years and was grossing more than a million dollars a year, so she wasn’t a rookie.

On a referral from Emmy Jordan, senior vice president for business development at the Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce, Beck made an appointment with Franz and was pleased to discover that he met her where she was. Together they created an action plan that focused on what she wanted to achieve.

“I really needed an advisor whom I could trust and know that he’s only looking out for my best interests,” she said.

Beck said they took the tortoise approach, moving slowly but steadily and being smart about where she spent her resources.

Long-term goals, short-term objectives

One pitfall of being a small business owner is that so many things need doing that it’s hard to prioritize or attend to the big picture. Franz helps her keep focused on her long-term goals and the short-term objectives that will get her there.

Not only is he a thoughtful, intelligent, experienced sounding board for her ideas, she said, but he is constantly sending her more information that he thinks she might find useful.

“He’s very curious about what’s new and what’s changing and what the trends are,” she said.

Delegating and reenergizing

In the beginning, Beck was the business, and controlled every aspect of it. As the business has grown, she said, she’s had to give up total control. That was scary at first, she said, but Franz continued to encourage her to delegate more and trust the process. The result has been worth it, she said.

Leading Andelcare is “hugely more satisfying” now than it was three years ago, Beck said. Because of the procedures and processes she has in place, her recent growth has reenergized rather than depleted her.

“The larger I get, the more I get to concentrate on what I like to do and what I’m good at,” she said. Not every small business owner can say that, but Beck has a plan – and an advisor – and she’s sticking with them.

One of many awards; national contest next

This award is the latest in a string of recent honors for Beck and Andelcare. In 2011 the Better Business Bureau recognized Andelcare as the Western Washington Business of the Year and the Puget Sound Business Journal selected Beck as one of the Women of Influence. In 2009, 2010 and 2011 Andelcare received Better Workplace awards from the Association of Washington Business, which commended Andelcare for workplace safety, job training and advancement, and innovative benefit and compensation programs.

For more information about Andelcare, go here.

Small Business Person of the Year winners from 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and Guam will converge on Washington, D.C. in May, when one of them will be selected as National Small Business Person of the Year during the SBA’s celebration of National Small Business Week, May 20-22.
The WSBDC has been providing one-to-one business advising, at no cost, to entrepreneurs and small business owners across the state for more than 30 years. The WSBDC network includes 32 certified business advisors working in 26 locations across the state and four international trade specialists working in Spokane and South Seattle.

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