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Women Business Owners Alliance helps small businesses

Date: 11/28/2012

By Lori Szepelak

HOLYOKE — For Amy Grabowski, a small loan from the Women Business Owners Alliance (WBOA) allowed her to transition from her den to incubator office space at the Scibelli Enterprise Center in Springfield.

"The $3,000 loan at 5 percent simple interest gave me the ability to buy a new computer, printer and scanner," Grabowski said during a recent interview with Reminder Publications in her spacious office now at 4 Open Square Way.

Grabowski also stretched that initial loan to include furniture and pay the office space security deposit.

Fast forward six years and it seems like yesterday to Grabowski who took her home computer in her den and transformed her business into one that currently serves 25 bookkeeping clients in a variety of businesses across the region.

Grabowski noted the loan from the alliance's Cheryl Reed Memorial Loan Fund gave her the capital and motivation to succeed in business and she has never looked back. Grabowski has also been a WBOA member since 1999.

Today, her company, Fiscal Training Solutions, helps businesses "move from the shoebox to the accountant." She has one full-time office manager and one part-time bookkeeper and plans to hire another part-time bookkeeper in 2013.

"Women have different needs in business and the WBOA recognizes that," she said, adding, "WBOA is a great organization for women because of its supportive environment."

Grabowski has more than 20 years of accounting experience coupled with 10 years as an educator with a mandate to help small businesses succeed. She is also a certified member of the QuickBooks, Pro Advisor Program, which helps businesses customize the various options to meet in-house accounting needs, and she recently partnered with CheckWriters of West Springfield for payroll processing services.

"Being an educator I love to teach and our user-friendly programs are easy and fun for small business owners to learn," she said, adding she is able to break down the processes into manageable steps that are easier to learn.

"We care about our customers," she said.

Grabowski also noted that growing up in a family-owned business environment provided her with a unique perspective on the joys and frustrations of owning a business.

Eileen Jerome, president of the WBOA, noted that the organization is dedicated to supporting current and aspiring women business professionals, and encourages women to join the organization and consider taking advantage of the loan program. Jerome is also co-owner of Jerome's Party Plus/Taylor Rental at 253 Union St., Westfield.

"A business plan is one of the criteria that women have the most trouble with and we help them through that process if necessary," Jerome said.

The fund was established in 1992 as a memorial to Cheryl Reed Wallace, a founding member of the WBOA, for the purpose of making low-interest loans to women business owners for seed money, for expansion, and for other worthy business purposes. Loan amounts must be repaid within 24 months.

"The loan recipients are kept confidential and women should take advantage of the loan program because the interest rate is lower than they'll get in a traditional loan," Jerome said. "We don't give huge amounts of money, but enough to really help a woman change the direction of her business or give her a helping hand in growing her business."

Grabowski echoed those sentiments.

"WBOA members are supportive of each other and the networking options are endless," she said.

Jerome added that the WBOA recently celebrated 30 years of offering monthly programs, networking opportunities, educational and charity focused events, and inspiration and support for women across the Pioneer Valley.

"We are very excited to be celebrating this special milestone," Jerome said.

For more information on the WBOA and its loan fund, contact Jerome at 562-1777 or visit Loan applicants must be in "good standing" as a member of the WBOA.