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The Entrepreneurial Edge

Small Business Development Center dispenses experience, advice

Every small business dreams big. But taking that idea, those skills, or the most desirable product or service and rendering it into a well-oiled, profitable operation is a daunting enterprise. Luckily, there’s a local resource that can help Central Oregon businesses map a path to success.

The Small Business Development Center (SBDC) at COCC is a team of talented individuals that provides practical navigational tools for the crucial early phases of entrepreneurship—and well beyond. Hands-on workshops, no-cost advising and a fully-fledged business management program are just part of how the SBDC is helping clients get themselves oriented.

Maybe you need to create your own website or learn the finer points of QuickBooks? Or maybe you have the seed of a product concept but aren’t sure how to best hammer out a business plan. Perhaps you’ve been in the business environment a while and need to revamp your marketing goals, hone your approach. The SBDC can help both out-of-the-gate start-ups and seasoned businesses already underway.

Hands-on workshops, no-cost advising and a fully-fledged business management program are just part of how the SBDC is helping clients get themselves oriented.

When Howling Boy Tech Inc., a technical problem-solving business, first launched in 2016 the company was flush with 20-plus years of computer know-how—able to offer everything from customized software creation to tricky data recovery. Yet they required some business-minded refinement.

“I have great technical skills and experience,” shares Michael Leslie, who founded the Madras business with his wife, Tracey. “But I don't always think in terms of business strategy or what makes a sustainable business practice, so I knew that I was going to need help in making a successful business.” He turned to SBDC and met with business advisor José Balcazar.

“José took time to understand what I was thinking, helped me focus on what was important—and how to think like one of my potential customers, rather than the technical geek behind the scenes,” says Leslie. “I was initially focused on what I thought would be good, and they helped me to focus more on what my customers would want or need, and how my prospective customers would be thinking.”

That outside perspective is key. “We can provide honest feedback without the feelings attached to the business,” explains Balcazar. “The biggest thing is if you are going to make mistakes, do it on paper before investing hard-earned savings.”

Leslie learned things like pricing strategies and helping the customer see value in the services offered. His business now includes an expanded focus, incorporating image analysis—by way of software, drones and land surveys.

“The return on investment is enormous,” Leslie adds. “SBDC’s counselors have lots of diverse business experience and there is great value to be gained from the experience. After every session with José, I felt like I had two to four new principles that I understood and could immediately apply to bring more value to my dream, my customers and my business.”

For those already engaged in running a business and in need of a consult, the SBDC offers no-cost, confidential advising, with personal sessions available at all four of COCC’s campuses (Bend, Redmond, Prineville and Madras). Consults cover topics like cash flow management and market research.

New businesses can gain access to this as well, but are required to take an SBDC Business Start-Up class first, with classes offered each month for $29. These classes delve into the basics of starting a business, helping new ventures avoid costly mistakes.

Patti Norris, another SBDC advisor, says the role can mean many different things, ranging from a teacher and a researcher to a number-cruncher and a connection-maker. “I love being a part of helping someone fulfill their dream and empowering them to achieve more than they thought possible,” she says. “No business owner is an expert in everything it takes to run a business, and that’s OK. But those aspects of your business you don’t feel confident about aren’t going away and ignoring them won’t make it better. The only cost to meet with an advisor is an hour of your time.”

SBDC classes coming up: Business Start-Up (April 4 & 19), QuickBooks Pro class (April 14), and Building a Business Website with WordPress (April 24-26). For more information and registration, call 541-383-7290 or visit the Small Business Development Center.

By Mark Russell Johnson, COCC College Relations

Jim Wilcox instructs during an SBDC Management Program session.