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SMALL BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT CENTER COUNSELING AND THE ROLE
OF CAREER COUNSELING: AN EXPLORATORY STUDY
Michael Cusack, University of New Orleans
Kenneth J. Lacho, University of New Orleans
This exploratory study examines the use of career/vocational counseling services by SBDC
counselors who advise clients on starting a small business. Findings suggest that SBDC
counselors are unaware of career counseling resources in their geographic area. Yet, they use
career/ vocational counseling practices in an informal manner. The SBDCs should consider
formalizing their counseling practices which may include career counseling certification.
THE RESEARCH PROBLEM
The Small Business Development Center (SBDC) program has been providing services to the
small business community since 1979 (Chrisman, Nelson, Hoy, & Robinson, 1985). Funded
primarily by the Small Business Administration (SBA), over 700 SBDCs across the country
provide counseling and training services to both existing small business owners as well as to
clients not in business. The not-in-business client represents a significant and constantly
expanding group which receives services from the SBDC programs. Whether due to the threat
of layoff, being laid off from a job, or the entrepreneurial spirit to be self-employed, the desire
of starting one's own business has become a very popular career decision.
The purpose of this study is to examine the use of career/vocational counseling services by
SBDC counselors who advise clients on starting up a small business. Specifically, this study is
concerned with counselors working for Small Business Development Centers(SBDCs) who
counsel clients who are not in business, and explores the SBDC's counselor's awareness of the
career counseling profession, the career development process,, and career counseling activities.
This study focuses on the following questions:
1. Do SBDC counselors use career counselors as resources?
2. Why do they use them?
3. How often do they use them?
4. If they do not use them, why not?
5. How often are career development activities performed by SBDC counselors?
6. What is the counselor's perception of the purpose of his or her assistance to the not-in-
Answers to these questions should be beneficial to the professional development of the SBDC
counselor or professional career counselor who works with the career development issues of
those clients exploring going into business as a career goal. If it is believed that small business
ownership/entrepreneurship is a legitimate career path as suggested by Hanson (1984), then it is
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expected that the professional counselor assisting with the client's career development is properly
aware of the process of career development. This paper explores whether the SBDC counselor is
aware of this process and how skilled he or she is in career counseling activities.
Although SBDC business counselors have a mission to assist small businesses and increase the
number of small businesses in the community, these counselors meet with many not-in-business
individuals who are not ready to start a small business. These individuals have not developed a
career identity, assessed their skills, nor developed a plan to implement their career goal. The
importance of these steps in career development is well documented. Vondracek (1992b) and
Dorn (1992) found that a focused career identity is closely linked to specific personality
attributes and successful career decisions.
Career assessment instruments used with entrepreneurs range f rom standardized tests to
informal self-help check-lists. The Myers-Briggs Personality Type Indicator, Self Directed
Search, and Strong Vocational Interest Inventory are often used by professional career
counselors with clients. The Entrepreneurial Style Success Indicator (Anderson & Shenson,
1988), the Entrepreneurial Index (Carland & Carland, 1992a), and the Entrepreneurial Attitude
orientation (Robinson, Stimpson, Huefner, & Hunt, 1991) have been used more specifically to
identify entrepreneurial potential. More informally, many "Going Into Business inventories "
books and brochures have simple check-lists for a quick entrepreneurial assessment. Manzi
(1987) supports the evaluation of specific career skills for future career success. Johnson (1990)
explored the importance of achievement to career success as related to the entrepreneur.
Based on one of the author's eleven year experience in SBDC counseling, more than 50 percent
of the clients counseled do not start up a small business following SBDC counseling. Three
reasons found by Ronstadt (1983) for not starting up a business are: family considerations, time
commitments, and a lack of a suitable role model. These concerns involve the personal
dimension of the individual rather than the business development aspects familiar to SBDC
counselors and are not usually disclosed in the counseling session. Furthermore, evaluation of
the client's work skills and training experiences are often not pursued. Rather, the counselors,
determining the client's needs to be pre-business skill acquisition, tend to follow one or more of
the following avenues: (1) send them to training on starting up a business, (2) refer them to
SCORE (Service Corps of Retired Executives), (3) have them work in a small business, (4) refer
them to a nearby library, or (5) have them start working on a business plan.
Since the goals of the SBDC are to assist existing businesses and the development of new
businesses, how can the SBDCs best assist those clients who come in for counseling, yet are not
ready to start their own business due to personal issues as well as career development issues?
Are professional career/vocational counselors a possible referral? A professional career
counselor is a professional or nationally certified career specialist who helps people make
decisions and plans related to life/career directions (National Career Development Association,
1985). A few of the strategies or techniques utilized by the career counselor would be:
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1. Conduct individual and group personal counseling sessions to help clarify life/career goals
2. Administer and interpret tests and inventories to assess abilities, interests, etc. and to identify
3. Provide opportunities for improving decision making skills (National Career Development
The career counselor tends to work with the personal interests of individuals. Yet, personal
counseling and career counseling are inseparable (Manuela-Adkins, 1992; Betz & Corning,
1993). Moore (1986) acknowledges personal and social characteristics of the start-up business
person such as: internal control, n-Achieve-ment, personal values, ambiguity tolerance, job
dissatisfaction/loss, commitment, risk taking, education, experience, networks, parents, family,
and role models. Carland & Car-land (1992b) further explored the association of personality and
the small business owner with the use of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. Can SBDC
counselors address these issues, or more specifically, should they be working on such a personal
level with the not-in-business client? Does this constitute a strong case for referral? SBDC
counselors are familiar with the skills of such professionals as lawyers, accountants, and
marketing consultants. Would the professional career counselor also be a viable resource and
referral for SBDC personnel?
Lastly, business careers progress through developmental stages similar to all other careers
(Shaver & Scott, 1991; Conger, 1992). Exploring business objectives of clients often involves
understanding the client's past, present and future goals. These objectives demand the healthy
integration of the factors of person, process, and choice. Jaffe & Scott (1991) provide suitable
exercises in career exploration and development that also benefit the entrepreneur. Evaluating
competencies and job congruence as suggested by Mirabile (1991), is often used in career
counseling. Do SBDC counselors know these counseling skills or use them?
This exploratory study was initiated with ten telephone interviews with selected small business
development specialists. Their experiences and opinions on the potential complementary nature
between SBDC counseling and career counseling were the focus of the interviews. The
feedback provided assisted in the design of a mail out questionnaire. The questionnaire included
the career counseling process and career activities developed by Zunker (1990). The
questionnaire was then sent out to twelve SBDCs within a southern state.
A four-page questionnaire contained questions on the following four topic areas:
1. Use of a career counselor as a referral resource
2. Services provided to clients not-in-business
3. Career counseling and career planning activities
4. Counselor characteristics and focus of SBDC services
A cover letter was sent with the questionnaire explaining the purpose of the survey and included
the definition of "career counselor" as previously defined. The questionnaire consisted of forty
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questions. Follow up phone calls to all centers were made. Fourteen counselors from nine of
the twelve subcenters returned questionnaires. This is a response rate of 61 percent based on a
total population of 23 SBDC counselors within the state.
There were ten male and four female respondents. Eight counselors reported that they had over
5 years experience counseling clients. Only three counselors had less than two years experience
with no counselors having less than a year's experience. A majority of the counselors either
presently own their own business or has had previous ownership. With respect to counseling
training, only two responded that they had any formal (for credit) courses in the field of
counseling. However, five all respondents have read books or articles on counseling techniques,
theories, and career development. In conclusion, the study is exploratory and the findings
cannot be generalized to the total population of SBDC counselors.
Use of career counselors as a referral resource
Two of the SBDC counselors reported referring not-in-business clients to career counselors.
Only one of these respondents used a career counselor once a month or more. Both counselors
were familiar with the Career Development office at their respective universities and the
counseling services available in the community. Twelve of the respondents never used a career
counselor as a resource. The primary reason for not using a career counselor as a resource was
the lack of familiarity with what career counselors do. Two respondents felt that career
counselors do not understand entrepreneurship/ small business development. Another two
indicated there were none in their geographic area. One respondent reported that career
development assessment was not important in starting a small business.
Services provided to clients not in business
Ten of the respondents reported that a workshop on going into business is provided to clients
not-in-business. A majority of the respondents reported that a personal evaluation was not made
in the program. Only one-half of the respondents asked about entrepreneurial traits. Four
responded that they required a business skills inventory or work experience. Lastly, only two
counselors inquired about personal interests.
Although most respondents give out questionnaires on going into business, it consisted primarily
of a brochure Starting Your Own Business. No counselor reported the use of any specialized
career assessments (i.e., Myers-Briggs Personality Type Indicator, Strong Interest Inventory,
With respect to referral resources, all respondents suggested using a CPA as a resource. Banks,
lawyers, and a library (one third each among SBDC, public and university libraries) followed. A
third of the SBDC counselors Used these resources with more than half of their not-in-business
clients. Fewer than half of the clients were referred to SCORE, business mentors, or university
faculty members. The least used referral resource was a career counselor.
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Career counseling and career planning activities
The self assessment activities were implemented more often by counselors than any of the other
career planning activities. Over 80 percent of the counselors worked with clients not in business
by using self assessment activities. Three counselors evaluated strengths and weaknesses in
interest areas, identified new skills needed to reach goals, and identified specific tasks or
activities needed to reach goals. on the other hand, five respondents reported never working on
long-range goals with their clients.
Half of the counselors reported that they work with clients in exploring their career possibilities.
These counselors assessed job choices, training needs, and the development of career contacts of
their clients. Eight out of the twelve reporting respondents discussed with their clients the
option of staying in one's present situation but trying to improve the existing situation.
Six of the respondents assisted their clients in creating a plan to carry out career objectives and
assisting these clients with follow-through activities. Outcome evaluation was least utilized by
the respondents with five counselors reporting helping clients with plan revision following
Counselor focus of SBDC services
When asked several questions concerning the purpose of their SBDC counseling services to
clients not-in-business, the following results were gathered. Ten counselors answered that they
thought they both helped clients actually start their own business, and made the clients think or
reconsider the decision. Three counselors reported they made the clients think more about their
decision. No counselor reported that she or he only helped clients start their own business.
The next question asked the counselors to label themselves as either a counselor/facilitator or a
business developer. Again, ten respondents felt that they were more of a counselor/ facilitator.
Three respondents labeled themselves as a business developer.
The final question addressed the counselor's perception of how their respective SBDC defined
success with clients not in business. Nine respondents indicated that what was important was the
number of clients who had been helped in making better career decisions. Three respondents
answered that they did not know how their SBDC defines success with clients not in business, or
they did not track these clients. Two respondents reported that success for their SBDC was the
number of businesses which had been started.
Implications for SBDC counselors
If SBDC counselors perceive their role as a facilitator of a career process, then it appears there is
a need for further evolving of their role as a counselor. Professional development includes
understanding the skills of the career specialist. This is already occurring. Recent articles
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support the implementation of professional counseling strategies into the small business
counseling process. Nash & Nader (1990) outline an effective use of counseling techniques with
clients for the business facilitator. Counseling theories as they apply to the business advisor's
role with facilitating the developmental process with clients is discussed by Boyd (1993).
The SBDC must acknowledge that it is not only a small business intervention facilitator, but also
a human development intervention facilitator. As such, they must focus on optimal
development, which means a focus on interventions that assist individuals in acquiring the skills
to direct their own future and to be more self-efficacious and planful (Vondracek &
Career facilitation is not only for the undecided individual. Newman, Fugua, & Minger (1990)
found that their career-decided subjects benefited from career intervention. Many SBDC clients
that appear to be convinced of their decision to start a business may benefit from being
challenged and having their career plans reevaluated. These clients may need assistance in
exploring the personal aspects of entrepreneurship, as well as acquiring the business skills
needed to fulfill their goal.
One SBDC specialist contacted felt that SBDCs are unfamiliar with the career development
profession and should develop the career counseling skills themselves so clients would not have
to be referred to another resource. This specialist felt clients are referred excessively. An SBDC
specialist who provides frequent preventure training reported using career counselors in her
business start-up programs. Another specialist reported implementing the career development
process with new business owners and clients expanding their business.
Understanding the career counseling profession is important. These findings suggest that most
SBDC personnel are unfamiliar with career counselors as a resource. Lack of information must
be replaced with awareness of skills as well as limitations of the career counseling services in
their SBDC community. The SBDC counselor is not equipped to work with clients whose
decision-making capacity interferes with their daily activities. These individuals need to be
referred to a licensed professional counselor.
Implications for further research
The SBDC program has developed a favorable and professional position in the business
community. This strength lies in the SBDC program's success in developing effective business
skills with existing business owners and the clients not in business. But like the expanding
businesses they assist, SBDCs face their own growth decision. They can continue with their
present level of services or move forward by developing their counseling potential as expressed
in this paper. To do so, individual SBDCs and the national association of SBDCs need to further
research the contexts and limitations of incorporating the professional skills of the career
counseling specialists. One direction is to develop a unique identity as a "special" counselor
with certification process. An alternative would be to review the National Career Development
Association guidelines for certification for admission of SBDC counselors. SBDCs should
explore complementing their services with those of their university career development
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departments. Levin & Kammire (1986) suggest the development of a university-sponsored
career development center for nonstudents.
These suggestions follow the SBDC and career counselor's own recommendation. Expand one's
goals, incorporate change, chance and opportunity into a plan, and develop appropriate skills to
carry them out. It can only be assumed that the counselors will listen to their own advice.
References may be obtained from the first author.