William Joubert didn’t hesitate when asked how the Small Business Development Center at Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond won recognition as “best in the nation” by the U.S. Small Business Administration.

“This really is a community award,” said Joubert, the center’s director.

He said the center at Southeastern serves the people of Livingston, Tangipahoa, St. Tammany, Washington and St. Helena parishes. He also said information provided by parish economic development corporations, local chambers of commerce, SLU, the Louisiana Department of Economic Development and the SBA helps his staff assist residents of the five-parish region.

The center is one of more than 900 such operations in the nation, so the “best in the nation” is chosen from a large field.

SBDC advisers provide aspiring and current small-business owners a variety of free business consulting and low-cost training services including business plan development, manufacturing assistance, financial packaging and lending assistance, exporting and importing support, disaster recovery assistance, procurement and contracting aid, market research help, 8(a) program support and health care guidance.

“We are extremely proud of Bill Joubert and his staff,” said Michael Ricks, SBA’s Louisiana district director. “Southeastern’s SBDC has been a consistent top performer over the years in a state SBDC network widely recognized across the agency as exceptional. It is truly a remarkable achievement to be acknowledged best of the best.”

Joubert appreciated the emphasis on his talented staff, which he described as energetic, knowledgeable, highly educated and accomplished.

Over the past decade, Joubert noted, that staff has helped more than 3,600 clients. With center assistance, some of those clients developed more than 220 new companies or expansions, obtained $328 million in funding and created a combined 2,500 new jobs.

“This award recognizes the tremendous emphasis that Southeastern places in helping to build the economic development of our region,” said John L. Crain, SLU president. “After years of commitment to assisting our area businesses and industries, we are proud to be recognized at this high level.”

Awards are nice and economically helpful, Joubert agreed, but center employees must remain as diligent as ever.

“The work we do here has to be spot-on,” Joubert said. “It has to be right.”

The director said he and his staff members all have one or more business degrees, and most have real-world business experience.

Assistant Director Sandy Summers, for example, has a bachelor’s in finance/economics and a master’s in business administration from SLU. Summers oversees the center’s training curriculum and is certified in that field. She also has worked as a loan officer at Iberville Bank and as a credit analyst for Georgia Gulf Co.

Senior Business Consultant Wayne Ricks has a bachelor’s in finance and a master’s of business administration from Southeastern. He also is a certified global business professional.

Business consultant Brandy Boudreaux has a bachelor’s in accounting from SLU and also operates an export business with her husband. Boudreaux has additional experience in accounting and hedging futures for an international grain company.

Joubert has a bachelor’s in economics and international trade and finance from LSU and a master’s in business administration from Southeastern. He has experience as a small-business owner, retail manager and business consultant. Joubert also is certified as both a global business professional and a Louisiana economic developer.

There are different ways to measure success in business development.

The memory of helping someone achieve business success always makes him smile, Joubert said. But smiles also come from the memory of someone who took his advice not to start a business.

“Sometimes, it’s important to talk someone out of going into business,” Joubert said. “In a case like that, I’ve saved them from losing their house.”

Ricks, the center’s senior business consultant, agreed.

“If you take the time, a lot of time, the person will realize their plan won’t work,” Ricks said. “Better now than after they’ve pulled all the money out of their 401(k).”

Stopping a proposed business venture dead in its tracks doesn’t mean the train’s engine can’t be refueled six months later.

About 80 percent of new businesses fail in their first five years, Joubert noted.

“If all would-be business people would spend six months planning their businessess … I feel that failure rate would drop, probably to single digits,” Joubert said. “It isn’t magic.”

For those would-be business owners who haven’t done their homework, “I don’t tell them,” Joubert said. “I show them why they don’t want to go into business at that particular time. This is real-world blood and guts stuff here.”

What are the biggest mistakes by those who won’t listen?

“Going in under-capitalized,” Joubert said. “That is a huge mistake. Not knowing who your customers are is another.”

Lack of knowledge on both sides of the craft the person hopes to market is another big mistake, Joubert added. A person must know how the product or service is made and how it works. He or she also must know how to market and manage that product or service.

Each new business also should have a highly skilled salesperson or staff.

Joubert said he doesn’t know the origin of his father’s favorite adage, but has never suffered for belief in its essential truth: “Nothing happens until something is sold.”

So, why should a person planning or operating a business take their questions to one of the SBA’s small-business development centers?

“First off, it’s free,” Joubert explained. “It’s the single-best source of free business information you’ll get. We are not allowed to sell you anything.

“Second, it’s confidential,” Joubert said. Even success-story clients cannot be identified without their permission.

Jennifer Mutter, founder of Hestia Luxury In Linens in Covington, is one of those success stories.

Mutter said she went to SLU’s small-business development center a decade ago to learn what was needed to qualify for a small-business loan.

“They knew all the information you had to have to get a small-business loan,” Mutter recalled. “They would just give me pointers — how to write a business plan. They were helpful.”

Another success story on the center’s website is that of James “Sonny” Salande Jr., who founded Sonny Day Surveillance in Covington.

Salande, a disabled Army veteran, obtained a Veterans Administration grant with Joubert’s staff’s assistance and developed camera systems and other security equipment.

The center helped Salande write business and marketing plans, as well as make cash flow projections.

Salande added on SLU’s website that the center “assisted with the licensing of my technology to the TV news industry for $60 million. I am very grateful.”

“Sonny is an extraordinary client,” Joubert said next to Salande’s statement on the website. Joubert later added, “Sonny identified his niche and mastered it.”

For several years, Salande remained the center’s biggest success story, Joubert said this month. But that unofficial title now is held by a real estate development that has attracted more than $100 million in funding, Joubert said.

Will the SBA’s best-in-the-nation award help Southeastern’s small-business development center in the future?

“It’s actually elevated us in the eyes of our funding partners,” Joubert said. “It helps us keep our funding in these tight-budget times.”

The SBA, Southeastern and the state’s economic development department are the center’s funding sources, Joubert explained.

“Another benefit … some of the larger companies we serve may be able to help, matching their needs to some of our student employees and building additional connections to Southeastern,” Joubert said.

How big are those larger companies?

Joubert said small- business development centers cannot serve companies of 500 or more employees.

Companies smaller than 500 can send employees and managers to the center for training, get answers to questions about business strategies, and find all the information and services that people with startup companies need, Joubert explained.

“We work with about 400 clients a year,” he said. “Fifty employees and below is really our sweet spot.”

Added Joubert: “This award has put us out there, though. We anticipate more talks with the larger firms.”

Joubert also said one of the toughest problems the center confronted also gained it substantial attention from SBA officials.

“After Katrina … was so devastating for our region, we realized people would be looking for disaster loans,” Joubert recalled. “We assisted with over 800 disaster loans in the first six to nine months after that hurricane.”

Joubert said he believes that effort helped the center gain the title of “best in the nation” a decade later.

“Going to the White House to receive an award, that was fun,” Joubert said. “That was kind of special.”