Growing up, many little girls played with miniature ovens, turning out small cakes that parents pretended to nibble on, and dreamed of the day they would open their own bakery. While most would grow up and change their minds about baking as a career, Maria Alonso did not. She started small, baking and decorating cakes for her friends and neighbors, but word soon got around in her small city of Warren, AR, and the orders grew. Maria knows how to make delicious and beautiful desserts, but turning her love for baking into a business was not something she was prepared to do. Her small kitchen was becoming overrun and not leaving any space for herself and her two daughters to cook and eat together. She went to her pastor for help.

“I felt alone, unsupported and insecure in the choices I had to make, facing the responsibility of providing for my two daughters, without knowing how to improve my economic situation. My pastor introduced me to a business coach, who guided me with specific actions in sales, expense control, processes, marketing and contacts for supplies.”

Communities Unlimited started working with the city of Warren last year to provide resources to its citizens that ignite hope and create a sustainable economy. One of the resources Communities Unlimited offers is small business consulting. Maria began working one-on-one with a CU small business consultant to develop her business. She had always taken down orders on small scraps of paper that were quickly lost, so CU helped her create a system for collecting and tracking orders. Then Maria learned how to calculate how much it cost her to make a cake, what her profits were, and how to keep accounting records. She realized she needed to expand the space she was using if she wanted to keep up with and grow her orders without turning her kitchen completely into a bakery.

Maria was already part of a supportive church community whose members volunteered their time and materials to turn her carport into additional kitchen space and a demonstration room. Nevertheless, to furnish the kitchen, she still needed several pieces of expensive equipment, an industrial sink, an oven and a specialty bakery printer. She had wanted to apply for a small business loan, but she didn’t have any financial records to show that she could repay the loan, or that her business was growing. Now having worked with Communities Unlimited, she finally had everything she needed to apply for a loan, but she faced a new problem. She needed to borrow a smaller amount than regular banks typically lend.

This is an obstacle facing many entrepreneurs like Maria, and one with which Communities Unlimited is very familiar.  To overcome this, Communities Unlimited developed a small business lending program. With the help of her consultant, Maria applied for a small CU loan and received the money she needed to finish her new addition and have room to keep her business growing. According to Maria, the best part of her new business is that she can now support her eldest daughter’s dream of going to college,

“Now, sales have improved, the profit margin has also improved, and my business is growing. Thank you, Communities Unlimited, for giving me the support I needed.”