Ben Calhoun, Greenwood Area Manager for the Clemson Small Business Development Center, at Clemson University's Wilbur O. and Ann Powers College of Business.

“LivePlan has been a great tool for facilitating the conversations that lead to business planning breakthroughs.”

Whenever someone wants to start or grow a business, they have far more things to consider than they first realize. Sometimes, they aren't yet sure what questions to ask, what challenges they need to foresee, or how they are going to turn their vision into a reality. That's why, every year in the Clemson area of South Carolina, entrepreneurs turn to Ben Calhoun, area manager and business development specialist for the Clemson SBDC at the Wilbur O. and Ann Powers College of Business.

“As a former small business owner, I can relate first-hand to the challenges that come with entrepreneurship,” says Ben. “The mission to help the small business community has always been near and dear to my heart.”

Throughout South Carolina's 20 area centers, consultants like Ben assist over 6,000 clients annually through seminars, resources, and free consulting. Those educational efforts pay off: Since 2006, South Carolina has seen the creation of over 500 new operations and over $383 million in capital formation. In one five-year period alone, SBDC consultants were integral in helping small businesses secure over $1 billion in government contracts.

Clemson Small Business Development Center Area Manager Ben Calhoun in front of a monitor displaying LivePlan.
After testing LivePlan with a small group of consulting clients, Clemson Small Business Development Center Area Manager Ben Calhoun successfully pitched to his supervisors to implement LivePlan on a broader scale. / LivePlan scales with consulting businesses as they grow

A simple test turns LivePlan into a preferred business planning tool

Ben has been assisting Clemson entrepreneurs through the SBDC since 2018. He brings over 20 years of experience in consulting, management, and consumer finance (not to mention a passion for sports and the Clemson Tigers). With so many perspectives from his professional experience, it's no wonder Ben has a keen eye on how vital entrepreneurship is to the area.

“If we think about the businesses that signify what makes our communities truly unique,” he explains, “it doesn't take long for a local small business to come to mind.”

“Before long, I was pitching LivePlan to my Region director to test on a broader scale. Fast forward a few years, and now it is the preferred business planning tool throughout our region.”

However, Ben is also aware that people who want to start or grow a business don't always know what steps to take, or how to trust that they can find their way. As he began working with more clients at SBDC, he saw a need for tools that could guide each entrepreneur, yet allow other decision-makers, advisors, or stakeholders to be part of the process.

After learning about LivePlan, Ben tested it out with a small group of clients, the same exact way he would advise them. Start small, see how things work out, improve, and then figure out how you can scale.

“It didn't take long for me to start recognizing how versatile and powerful of a planning tool it was,” says Ben. “Before long, I was pitching LivePlan to my Region director to test on a broader scale. Fast forward a few years, and now it is the preferred business planning tool throughout our region.”

Clemson Small Business Development Center Area Manager Ben Calhoun pointing to the LivePlan dashboard.
Area Manager Ben Calhoun shows how his clients benefit from reviewing scenarios in LivePlan's planning and forecast tools. / LivePlan helps Clemson area businesses explore potential financial scenarios

LivePlan Forecast shows clients how small changes can add up in the bottom line

Whether an entrepreneur is shifting from startup concept to implementation or expanding into new markets or lines of business - Ben can advise them. He knows that good forecasting is a critical way new and existing businesses figure out how to weather ups and downs, challenging markets, and the impact of seen or unforeseen problems.

“I really like the versatility of LivePlan's forecasting section,” he explains. “It makes it extremely easy to work through several different scenarios.”

“I really like the versatility of LivePlan's forecasting section. It makes it extremely easy to work through several different scenarios.”

Businesses often need to think through how changes in numbers can affect operations in the future. Figuring out what to adjust and examine, or how to look ahead at all, can be too daunting to some entrepreneurs. When that happens, a business owner may skip forecasting entirely, even though it puts their business at risk down the road.

Inside of LivePlan, however, Ben can walk entrepreneurs through different scenarios. By adjusting numbers in different categories of revenues or expenses, he can show an owner how changes can negatively or positively impact parts of the business or the company as a whole.

“Through the forecast, clients can get a quick comparison of how small adjustments to strategy and structure can make a big impact on the bottom line.”

Exterior of Clemson business school campus.
The Clemson Small Business Development Center operates out of Clemson's Wilbur O. and Ann Powers College of Business. / LivePlan is used across Clemson University's Small Business Development Centers

Working in LivePlan helps entrepreneurs clarify their business vision and goals

Above all, Ben wants entrepreneurs to come away with clarity about the road ahead for their business. During introductory sessions and subsequent meetings, Ben asks questions and listens carefully to each client's goals and motivations. The better he understands not only what sort of business they want to build or expand, but what they want to get out of that endeavor, the better he can advise them.

As Ben onboards clients, they work on adding information and data about their business into LivePlan. They may be refining financials in the forecast or outlining their overall business plan. If the entrepreneur is working toward presenting their vision to potential stakeholders, partners, investors, or lenders, they can also work inside of the pitch section of LivePlan to develop and polish the presentation.

“With the help of LivePlan, we can cover the full range of topics that generally come up during a consulting session.”

“With the help of LivePlan, we can cover the full range of topics that generally come up during a consulting session,” he explains. “We can go from talking about a marketing strategy to modeling the impact that adding a new sales representative will have on the bottom line.”

LivePlan's format helps Ben and other SBDC team members hone in on what each entrepreneur needs, from the challenges they're trying to overcome to the resources they need to access. More and more though, Ben is seeing how LivePlan helps advisors and consultants like himself too.

“The benefits of these discussions are also helpful for internal training,” he says. “We have recently started using LivePlan to train student workers, new employees, and interns.”

By employing LivePlan not just as a consulting tool but as a training aid, SBDC consultants can refine how they view the advisory process. When a consultant understands the business planning process as laid out in LivePlan, they can pinpoint where they need to work more closely with a client to further clarify their vision, and find their path toward their business goals.

Clemson Small Business Development Center Area Manager Ben Calhoun in front of a monitor displaying LivePlan.
Using the comment features of LivePlan allows Ben Calhoun to keep track of his clients' progress on their business plans between meetings. / LivePlan enables seamless asynchronous communication between Clemson business consultants and their clients

LivePlan shows entrepreneurs that a business plan is a living document

When consultants work with business owners and other players, sometimes communication can be tricky. Whatever piece of a business plan Ben is working on with a client, he relies heavily on LivePlan's comments feature to keep everyone on the same page.

“It can be intimidating for a new business owner to start writing their first business plan,” he says. “The comments feature allows consultants to easily chime in when a client gets stuck on a section.”

“It's extremely useful for helping us keep our clients engaged in the process between meetings.”

Whenever someone leaves a comment, Ben receives an email. Then he can go into the plan, review the comment, and see what assistance the owner needs to help move the plan forward.

“It's extremely useful for helping us keep our clients engaged in the process between meetings.”

Beyond the initial planning and consulting process, Ben tries to instill in each business owner the idea that a business plan is not a one-and-done endeavor. Instead, the business plan is a living document. The plan guides the business, but as the business operates, grows, and changes, the business can also change the plan.

“We encourage clients to revisit their business plans and projections on a regular basis to ensure they are up to speed on how they are performing,” says Ben.

Since LivePlan can integrate with financial applications such as Quickbooks and Xero, business owners can easily go back and see how the business's actual performance compares to projections. Ben also encourages owners to use LivePlan's industry-based comparison features. That way owners can keep tabs on how their business compares to their peers and competitors.

“By arming our clients with this type of information,” he says, “we empower them to make the decisions needed to be more successful.”

Thanks to reviewing their plan, status, and current performance, owners are then more empowered to make changes and decisions on the course they need to take.

A portrait photo of Clemson Small Business Development Center Area Manager Ben Calhoun.
Today, LivePlan plays a central role in every meeting that Ben Calhoun holds with his clients. / LivePlan helps Clemson business consultants provide guidance along every step of the entrepreneurial process

LivePlan helps business owners meet their goals

Ben and the SBDC team strive to help entrepreneurs identify their goals, and find a path to make them happen. With each meeting, each review of the plan in LivePlan, and every step the owner takes on their business path, Ben can follow the progress entrepreneurs make. Working through LivePlan, he can see each owner's confidence and expertise grow within their business and their overall industry.

“LivePlan has been a great tool for facilitating the conversations that lead to those types of business planning breakthroughs.”

“There is nothing more rewarding than seeing a light bulb go off in a client's head after they learn something new about their business,” says Ben. “LivePlan has been a great tool for facilitating the conversations that lead to those types of business planning breakthroughs.”

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