Business Monday

Small Business Makeover: lending a hand to a for-profit health center

Jesus Quiles is the CEO of Family First Mental Health Center on April 21, 2015,
Jesus Quiles is the CEO of Family First Mental Health Center on April 21, 2015, Miami Herald staff

For many entrepreneurs, the road to owning a business is often paved with a desire to make a better product, provide an improved service or create something entirely new. For Miami native Jesus Quiles, the journey was a little different. His desire to become an entrepreneur was driven by frustration, uncertainty and fear when, in 2013, his son was diagnosed with autism.

“My son was 4 years old at the time he was diagnosed,” Quiles said. “For my wife and I, his diagnosis was followed by a desperate search to find services and therapies for him that would not leave us bankrupt.”

Quiles began researching doctors, hospitals and other facilities in Miami to help his son. After a couple of months, it became clear to Quiles and his wife, Maria, that finding affordable services for their son wasn’t going to be easy.

“After taking our son to many, many doctors and hospitals in and around Miami, we discovered that most of them don’t take insurance and that care for autistic children isn’t even covered on most plans,” Jesus Quiles said. “So we were left to pay for our son’s care out-of-pocket, and the cost ran into the thousands every month. I got so frustrated that I decided it was time to do something about it.”

That’s when Quiles, who previously worked in medical billing, decided to open Family First Community Mental Health Center in Kendall, which now employs about a dozen licensed therapists, doctors and counselors. But money was tight, so to fund the business and get it off the ground, the Quileses tapped the equity in their home in 2013 and obtained a bank loan.

“We got the business up and running quickly through the home equity loan,” Jesus Quiles said. “Maybe a little too quickly because there are so many things we still need to do to make this a profitable business.”

Quiles wanted to grow the business and become profitable but needed to find time to develop and execute affordable strategies and techniques to market it to the community.

“I don’t have a marketing background,” Quiles said. “So, for me, it’s hard to find the time to devote to promoting the company like I should be.”

To get answers, Family First sought the assistance of the Miami Herald for a Small Business Makeover to help figure out how to best incorporate tools like an updated website, social media and a formal, written business plan into their overall efforts. The Herald, in turn, brought in Miami SCORE, a nonprofit organization of volunteers who have been successful entrepreneurs. SCORE volunteers use their business acumen to mentor small business owners free of charge, putting them on a path to profitability and growth. SCORE identified four counselors to help Family First map out a plan to achieve their goals. The SCORE team included Orlando Espinosa, co-founder of Emineo Media, who has over 25 years of experience in branding and social media. He has also led training programs for entrepreneurs in the United States and abroad.

José Borda is the owner of Green, Resilient and Sustainable Alternatives Inc., a company that specializes in promoting green business solutions and financing opportunities for its clients. Borda has over 30 years of experience working in accounting and financial management through the Americas including spending 10 years as an internal auditor for Chiquita Brands in Mexico City. His expertise is in writing business plans and developing accounting strategies to help companies get a clear picture of their finances. Asunción Marin is a semi-retired former entrepreneur with over 20 years of experience in marketing, franchising and business planning. She helps firms find funding sources and grants. Scott Dunn has been a certified SCORE counselor since 2010 and holds an MBA from Nova Southeastern University. He has spent over a decade advocating for consumers and small business owners as a consumer protection officer for the Miami-Dade County Regulatory and Economic Resources Department.

After the first of two meetings and several phone conferences with the Quileses, the counselors identified several issues with the Family First business strategy. One of the company’s immediate problems was a lack of clear vision for growth. Another factor impeding the company was the need to focus more effort on marketing the business. Word-of-mouth had been their main marketing tool to date. The counselors agreed that to be sustainable Family First needed to explore social media, free events and other strategies to increase visibility in the community. Another issue facing Family First was the need to tap into healthcare grants and other sources of revenue to help the company become profitable.

The counselors all agreed that with a solid business plan that could be used as a road map to sustainable growth and a few changes to the company’s marketing strategy, Family First could be well on its way to achieving increased sales and more exposure in the community. To accomplish those goals, the SCORE team offered the following advice:

▪ Create a written business plan: “One of the most critical needs that Family First had when we started working with them for the Makeover was a well-developed business plan,” Marin said. “But for many small business owners, they don’t really know where to start in terms of creating one.”

Marin helped Family First develop a plan by first giving the Quileses samples of other plans to follow. Marin also worked closely with Jesus Quiles to make sure he understood the purpose of the plan.

“A lot of entrepreneurs think that you write a business plan and then stick in a drawer never to be looked at again,” Marin said. “But a business plan really is a road map to achieving your goals. Business owners should review the plan daily to make sure they are on target.”

Next, Marin spent time with the Quileses writing sections of their new business plan. In putting the plan together, Marin identified several key aspects that are needed to develop a good business plan.

“The company needed to first identify their long- and short-term objectives for the business,” Marin said. “Then, they needed to conduct a financial analysis of the business to get a very clear picture of the money coming in and going out.”

Dunn advised Family First to make sure the financial section of the business plan is in order.

“When it comes to financial information in a business, knowledge is power,” Dunn said. “As a business owner, if you know your numbers like the back of your hand, you can plan for the future and see what you can afford to do and where you may need to cut back. This will help your business grow over the long term.”

By the second meeting, Jesus Quiles had a draft business plan ready for Marin and Dunn to review.

“Asunción and Scott are great counselors and teachers,” Quiles said. “They were very patient with us and really helped us to understand why we needed a business plan in the first place and how important it was to the success of what we’re doing here.”

▪ Get a handle on the company finances: Because the company is not yet profitable, Borda — who has expertise in accounting and finance — advised the company to take advantage of loan programs from the Small Business Administration in order to access working capital.

“Family First needs to concentrate and put a major focus on the financial end of the business,” Borda said. “They need a line of credit that they tap into, so we put them in touch with Celtic Bank, an SBA lender, to see how we could facilitate that.”

Next, Borda recommended that Family First work with the Miami-Dade County commissioner who represents the district where Family First is located.

“There is a Mom and Pop Grant Program that each commissioner has that gives funds to small business in their districts,” Borda said. “Family First needs to explore applying for the grant and see where that leads.”

Borda also recommended applying for state and local grants that are offered to for-profit mental health clinics.

“There is funding out there,” Borda said. “And we at SCORE will continue to work with Family First to explore those opportunities.”

Another key recommendation from Borda is for Family First to finalize Medicare and Medicaid licenses. “Getting approved to accept Medicare and Medicaid will help Family First tremendously. This will be another source of revenue for them and opens up opportunities for them to serve more clients.”

▪ Take a ‘do-it-yourself’ approach to marketing: One area where Family First needed help was in marketing. While the company relied heavily on word-of-mouth to bring new clients in the door, the SCORE counselors suggested a different, more proactive approach that will allow the Quileses to do a lot of it themselves.

“At the stage where Family First is now, a do-it-yourself approach is what’s needed,” Espinosa said. “The company can’t yet afford to hire a marketing team, so we came up with a few things they could do immediately to improve visibility.”

First, the SCORE counselors recommended making adjustments to the company’s website.

“One of the things I noticed right away was that there were several misspellings on the site,” Borda said. “It’s not a huge deal breaker, but I think it adds to a company’s credibility when they have an error-free website.”

The team also recommended adding content such as articles or short blog posts to the site to keep people interested in what the company has to offer.

Next, the SCORE team recommended using some of the company’s limited marketing budget to advertise in the Kendall area.

“They need to focus on their client base, which right now, is primarily in Kendall,” Marin said. “We recommended advertising in local publications to achieve increased visibility at a low cost.”

Next, the team advised Family First to offer free mental health seminars. “There are a lot of topics they could talk about related to mental health,” Espinosa said. “By organizing free seminars and partnering with other organizations in the mental health field, Family First can gain more exposure in the community cheap.”

The team also recommended that Family First join organizations like local chambers of commerce for the opportunity to network with other business owners.

Lastly, the SCORE team encouraged Family First to embrace social media, but to use it in a unique way.

“For Family First, using social media should not be about promoting themselves,” Dunn said. “It should be about sharing articles, blog posts and other information about mental health issues. For example, if they had a Twitter page, they could share content from the National Institutes of Health and other organizations that focus on such issues.”

For their part, the Quileses have made a commitment to follow through on all of the recommendations provided by the counselors.

“We will most certainly do our best to put their advice to good use,” Jesus Quiles said. “We are grateful to SCORE and all of the counselors that have helped us so far.”

And SCORE remains committed, too. Each counselor has offered to work with Family First over the next two years. They will stick with Family First and make sure it completes its business plan, finds additional funding sources and executes a new marketing strategy.

“We believe in this business,” Borda said. “And the Quiles family is amazing. Each of us is in this for the long haul with them. We know that with the right advice, support and mentoring, Family First will not only become profitable, but could expand beyond Miami-Dade County.”

The makeover

The business: Family First Community Health Center, 12001 SW 128th Ct., Suite 102, Kendall, has been in business for a little more than two years. The company is owned by Jesus Quiles and provides an array of mental health services for children, adults and the elderly.

The challenge: Getting a handle on how this relatively new company can develop a solid business plan that will help it achieve sustainable growth.

The experts: SCORE Miami-Dade counselor Orlando Espinosa, co-founder of Emineo Media, has over 25 years of experience in branding and social media. José Borda has over 30 years of experience working in accounting and financial management through the Americas including spending 10 years as an internal auditor for Chiquita Brands. Asunción Marin is a semi-retired former entrepreneur with over 20 years of experience in marketing, franchising and business planning. Scott Dunn has been a certified SCORE counselor since 2010 and holds an MBA from Nova Southeastern University and has over a decade of experience working with small business owners.

The makeover: In just over a month, the SCORE team helped Family First write a business plan, create a marketing strategy and take charge of its company finances.

About SCORE

Based in Washington, D.C., SCORE is a nonprofit with more than 12,000 volunteers working out of about 400 chapters around the country offering free counseling to small businesses. There are seven chapters on Florida’s east coast, including SCORE Miami-Dade, with more than 90 volunteer counselors.

Counselors from SCORE Miami-Dade meet with small business owners and offer free one-on-one counseling as well as dozens of low-cost workshops, such as “Crowdfunding 101” on Thursday or “Funding Your Business Plan When Banks Say No” on Saturday. To register or see more, click on “Local Workshops” at miamidade.score.org.

To volunteer or learn more about SCORE, visit www.score.org or www.miamidade.score.org.

How to apply for a makeover

Business Monday’s Small Business Makeovers focus on a particular aspect of a business that needs help. Experts in the community will provide the advice. The makeover is open to full-time businesses in Miami-Dade or Broward counties open at least two years. Email your request to rclarke@MiamiHerald.com and put “Makeover” in the subject line.

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