Entrepreneurs often need resources in order to grow their small businesses — resources they can’t always afford, because they’re running a small-time operation.
It’s a vicious cycle.
But there’s a solution.
The Small Business Development Center (SBDC) at North Idaho College offers free business coaching, training and other resources for entrepreneurs and individuals.
“Good news for business owners in North Idaho,” said SBDC Director Bill Jhung. “Year after year, the coaches at NIC’s Small Business Development Center have amazing success at helping businesses thrive and grow.”
The center isn’t just for start-ups.
“We get businesses at all stages,” said digital marketing specialist Jamie Morgan. “Wherever the business is, we meet them there and continue on.”
The center currently works with more than 300 clients, ranging from solo entrepreneurs just getting started to larger firms with more than 50 employees looking to improve their business model. There’s still room for more.
The center began offering extra support for digital marketing and e-commerce in 2020.
As an e-commerce coach, Samantha Dascomb takes her knowledge of the corporate world and scales it for small businesses.
“Big business has all the tools,” she said. “Small businesses are trying to compete — and they’re losing. It’s not fair.”
Her expertise has been especially valuable for small business owners who found themselves navigating new territory in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The center saw an influx of new clients in 2020. They faced a range of obstacles — setting up clients to work remotely, handling an unexpected surge in customers visiting from states with tighter restrictions, creating online storefronts and interpreting data gleaned from the web.
For some brick-and-mortar businesses, the pandemic forced an inevitable transition into online spaces.
“There’s a new urgency to address online needs,” Dascomb said. “If you weren’t online, you were losing sales.”
That won’t change any time soon.
Customers — particularly younger ones — move through an increasingly digital world, and it’s crucial that businesses meet them where they are.
“People are using mobile devices over desktop devices,” she said. “It’s how they shop.”
Morgan noted that many clients don’t want to go back to business as usual, because the methods they turned to in 2020 proved to be efficient.
“They want to continue to expand on it,” she said.
But COVID-era business practices have also spawned new issues that owners have to reckon with.
Dascomb pointed to return policies as an example.
When customers can’t visit a physical store, she said, they have no way to test a product before purchase. That can lead to return rates higher than expected.
“Customers are now testing that refund policy hard,” she said.
As a result, many businesses — both small and large — have re-examined their return policies over the last year.
It’s just one feature of a constantly evolving landscape.
Because SBDC coaches work as a team, clients have access to their collective knowledge and expertise.
“We can provide a range of perspectives that you wouldn’t get from just any business coach,” Morgan said.
Dascomb said she wants her clients to remember their reason for becoming an entrepreneur, so that goal is always at the forefront, pulling the business forward.
“People start a business for a reason,” she said. “It has to be more than to make money. There are easier ways to do that.”
Above all, Morgan said, she wants entrepreneurs in North Idaho to know they’re not alone, whether they’re just getting started or are deep in the weeds of running a business.
Free resources are available to help them, if they only ask.
“A lot of businesses had a super hard year,” she said. “It’s even harder right now. But it’s not so dire that business owners need to throw up their hands and quit.”
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Opportunity for business owners to build a better business
The “Accelerate Your Business Series” will be offered IN PERSON this Fall on the North Idaho College Campus. Morning and evening classes are available.
Learn the essential skills and tools every business owner needs to take their business to the next level. The Accelerate Your Business Series includes: Marketing Strategy for Profit, Financial Management for Profit, Operational Excellence & Hiring Winners, and Digital Marketing for Success.
Presented by: The North Idaho Small Business Development Center
This series includes:
MARKETING STRATEGY FOR PROFIT
Marketing is the engine of your business. Knowing your key customer is the difference between thriving and just surviving. Understand what specific need you are meeting, and how to create value that your customers will be willing to pay a premium for.
Evening: Thursday, Sept. 9 or Nov. 4, 5:30-9 p.m.
Morning: Friday, Oct. 8 8:30 a.m. – noon
FINANCIAL MANAGEMENT FOR PROFIT
Good business decisions are not guess work. They require accurate timely intelligence. Business financials are not for paying taxes, they are essential for making good business decisions. Gain and understanding of your financial statements and learn how to use them for business success.
Evening: Thursday, Sept. 16 or Nov. 11, 5:30-9 p.m.
Morning: Friday, Oct. 15, 8:30 a.m. – noon
OPERATIONAL EXCELLENCE FOR PROFIT AND HIRING WINNERS
employees are your competitive advantage and key to your business future. Learn how to find and keep winners. Learn what key processes make up your business operations and improve productivity, effectiveness, and efficiency for higher profit.
Evening: Thursday, Sept. 23 or Nov. 18, 5:30-9 p.m.
Morning: Friday, Oct. 22, 8:30 a.m. – noon
COVID has accelerated your customers' migration to ease of digital shopping. With nearly half of the global population online it is an essential tool to reach & build your customer pipeline. Find out what opportunities exist and how a website, videos, or social media could help you achieve your goals.
Evening: Thursday, Sept. 30 or Dec. 2, 5:30-9 p.m.
Morning: Friday, Oct. 29, 8:30 a.m. – noon
These classes have been offered in the past at $49 for each class. This this fall, to support local business owners in these challenging times, entire series will be offered free of charge.
Register today at nisbdc.com or call 208-665-5085.