Silicon Valley SBDCSan Jose, CA

"My time with [My SBDC Business Advisor] has been invaluable.  When I look at how frustrated and overwhelmed I was when I first met with her, and how smoothly things are running now, I can't believe I have made it this far.  Without [their] objective opinions and expertise I don't know what I would have done."

Carla Bunch

Marbella Properties, formerly called “It’s a Hummer”, specializes in high-end residential property management.

Although she had many years of experience leasing and managing high-end properties, owning and managing her own business was a new experience for Carla Bunch. She’d purchased an existing company, It’s a Hummer, in March of 2008. By May, she realized she needed help and came to the Silicon Valley SBDC to get it.

When Carla first came to the Silicon Valley SBDC, she was overwhelmed and “thrashing” from one thing to another, couldn’t answer her phone fast enough, and couldn’t begin to focus on the strategic issues of getting organized and positioned for growth.  She knew she was short-staffed, the staff she had was overpaid and there was no infrastructure to support the business. She also knew that these problems needed to be addressed before she could think about growing the business.

Carla called her first session with her SBDC counselor a life-saver. They sorted through the mass of issues, large and small, sorted them into categories and identified approaches to addressing the top three problem priorities: staffing, infrastructure, and the company identity.

Staffing: Initial actions included getting specific about the skills needed, and going ahead and hiring an additional sales person and administrative assistant. Carla had some people in mind for this, but needed to push ahead and get it done. There were some additional complications of needing to lower compensation of existing employees to be inline with market rates.

Infrastructure: This was the most urgent and largest set of issues for Carla to address. The previous owner managed the business “out of a shoebox”. Major intervention was needed, both immediately (simply to survive) and for the long term (to enable growth). We identified two priorities:

Messaging: Phone and email messages come in rapidly, 24 hours a day. Constant interruptions, inability to return calls and emails, and no ability to track follow-through were contributing to lost opportunities, unnecessary stress and insane hours.

Contact and Property Management: There was nothing systematic. Everything was done on an ad hoc basis, with minimal automation support Carla was jumping from one crisis to the next, and leads were falling by the wayside. Meanwhile, relationships were completely in the hands of the sales rep, leaving the business vulnerable.

Company Identity: The company name “It’s a Hummer” was based on the previous owner’s family name. Without that connection, the name was confusing—and potentially a serious problem. To avoid confusing her clients and to establish her own identity, Carla needed a new name and corporate look.

By the end of 2008, when Carla had owned the business just 8 months, she has achieved the following:

  • A new messaging system is in place. Calls and emails are routed automatically to the correct representative or to the administrator for maintenance calls. Carla only handles the calls that require her personal attention.
  • An administrator handles maintenance calls, not the sales reps and not Carla.
  • She’s added one new sales representative, and replaced the previous rep with someone more suitable. Commission structure has been adjusted to reflect market rates.
  • The pay of the Webmaster has been adjusted to reflect market rates.
  • A new contact and property management system has been installed, is partly operational and will be fully implemented shortly. This solution centralizes client and property information, and will allow property owners and tenants to handle many issues themselves, over the web.
  • The company name has been changed to Marbella Properties, and new logo and corporate look has been designed, and the company is in the process of implementing a new website that will incorporate both the new look and the new capabilities of the property/contact management system.

Carla has reduced costs by almost $100,000 per year. She has a net increase in the number of properties she manages of 10%, and is ready to take on her next challenge: doubling the number of properties she manages over the next two years. Given the results she’s seen so far, it’s no surprise that she’s looking to the SV-SBDC for help in developing her growth strategy!

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Funded in part through a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Small Business Administration. All opinions, conclusions or recommendations expressed are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the SBA or HSU Sponsored Programs Foundation.