Core Financial Services, Inc.

When unavoidable disaster strikes, small business owners often find themselves lost and alone. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Lisa Sicola knew she had someone in her corner that she could rely on.

In 1995, Sicola launched her own life and health insurance business, Core Financial Services in Kansas City, Missouri. As a sole proprietor, she sold insurance to individuals and small groups, encompassing a wide variety of businesses and clients. In 2018, after almost 20 years, she wanted to incorporate her business to take advantage of more tax and salary options. However, the mass amount of information and complicated regulations made things confusing. Sicola even considered closing down the corporation because she was so perplexed on what to do. That is until she met up with business counselor Carmen DeHart of the Missouri Small Business Development Center (SBDC) at the University of Missouri-Kansas City (UMKC).

Sicola had worked with the SBDC many years before when she gave an information session on life and health insurance. This time around, she needed their help. DeHart walked Sicola through the process of incorporating her business and gave her the confidence she needed to keep moving forward. DeHart helped her understand various forms, taxes, and payroll information. Sicola also received resources from the Missouri SBDC that allowed her to work on her own and access programs that could better her business.

DeHart and Sicola meet up once or twice a year to go over tax forms and regroup. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit the United States, Sicola knew she was going to need help. The nature of her business relies on other businesses staying open and hiring employees, which meant she was in trouble.

"My initial fear was that all my commissions were going to go away. I work on straight commission, so if a business closes down and lays off all their employees, my commission goes away," Sicola explained. With others so focused on their health, starting a new life insurance plan is not at the top of their priority list, so she couldn't depend on gaining new clients, either.

As soon as Sicola heard about the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), she emailed DeHart. The two discussed whether the program was an option for Core Financial Services, Inc. and if she would qualify being the only employee. DeHart helped her understand the government jargon within the loan information. They went on to process and fill out the paperwork so that Sicola could navigate the system and be eligible to receive the loan.

"I don't know that I would have explored it without knowing that I had Carmen as a reference and having her walk me through it. She knows my business. She knows me, and so we were able to cut to the chase pretty quickly to find out which programs would be good for me," Sicola said. "I'm not sure I would have done it if it hadn't been for her."

Once Sicola felt more secure in her business and income, she was able to reach out to her own clients and help them through the PPP loan application. "Once Carmen helped me, I sent the information that she provided to my clients. I said, 'Hey, I have a contact at the SBDC and she's helped me. Here's some information if you think it would help you too,'" Sicola said. "So not only did [DeHart] help me, but she was able to help my clients as well."

Things are beginning to look up for small businesses, and Sicola is seeing her clients bringing employees back to work. Her commissions are recovering, and she's focusing on simply keeping her clients happy and serving them the best she can. "It's great just to be able to say, 'Carmen, you know me, you know the business. What do you think?'" Sicola said. "She has made everything extremely easy for me." Sicola knows that whatever comes next-whether it be another lockdown or the slow return of business-she can always call DeHart at the Missouri SBDC.



Writer: McKenzie Kellem