Thrive ATA – A COVID19 Small Business Pivot Story

Christy Overby from Thrive Martial Arts jumped into answer our survey questions about how Thrive is pivoting during the COVID-19 crisis.

What were your first reactions when COVID began to impact your business?

We were a little intimidated and worried as we never experienced anything like this before. We knew we had to come up with a great game plan, communicate with our students more than ever, and try to keep things as “normal” as possible for everyone. 

What was the reaction from your customers?

There were a lot of mixed reactions. We have had a lot of families support us during these times and take advantage of the different training opportunities that we have made possible. We also had a lot of families cancel their memberships due to financial reasons and not being able to engage with the virtual learning. 

What services did you begin to change or what did you do differently in response to COVID?

We had to change almost everything we were doing when COVID hit. Before this, we were an in-person Taekwondo training facility that would have class sizes anywhere between ten to forty students at a time. We never did virtual training before this and now we offer group classes on Zoom, semi-private classes on Zoom, and pre-made YouTube workouts. 

How did you connect/communicate these changes to your community and/or customers?

We have been sending emails almost daily to our members along with daily Facebook posts. We also reached out with phone calls to everyone who was not participating in the virtual training to make sure they understood what options they had to continue their training. 

What kind of help did you seek out? (if any)

We have applied for every Government loan that is available for small business owners, but unfortunately we have not received any of the loans yet. We have also reached out to ATA school owners from all over the World and we have gotten a lot of great ideas! The ATA has really come together to help each other and it has been a wonderful tool for us.  

What have been the results so far?

It has been a challenging, and yet sometimes exciting time for us. We have lost a lot of students, but the support we have gotten from the families that have been sticking with us through this time has been amazing! We have learned so much virtually and we are excited to continue some of the virtual training when this is over. 

Do you have any advice for fellow business owners who are looking at pivoting to something new?

Take this time to take advantage of every virtual learning opportunity that you may have and use it! We never realized how easy it can be to train with someone from across the World or even the country. You can use this time to come up with ideas that you can still implement in your business when things start to go back to normal.  

Level Up Financial Planning – A COVID19 Small Business Pivot Story

Nick Armstrong, Lead Organizer of Fort Collins Startup Week, interviewed Lucas Casarez, Founder of Level Up Financial Planning of Fort Collins, Colorado about his pivot during COVID-19 and the long-term considerations he’s emphasizing in his work.

An unedited transcript is provided below.

Nick Armstrong  00:00

I’m Nick Armstrong from Fort Collins Startup Week and I’m here with Lucas from Level Up Financial Planning. And we’re going to be talking about his successful pivot to the COVID-19 situation. Lucas, why don’t you introduce yourself and give us some background on your company.

Lucas Casarez  00:15

Yeah, so, I’m Lucas Casarez, I’m a certified financial planner. I started level financial planning two and a half years ago. So definitely way before COVID 19 hit and kind of through the whole world into chaos, but basically level up financial planning and I focus on kind of entry and mid career level tech professionals, which is typically not the space for most financial planners. Most financial planners only want to work with rich, successful people before I started my own company as working at a firm where our minimum was $500,000 of investments in order to work with us and so that’s why I started a low level financial plan is to really help people figure out how to be successful not only work with people once the only the ones that survived were successful at that point.

Nick Armstrong  01:02

What were your first reactions when the COVID-19 situation began?

Lucas Casarez  01:07

Yeah, I think it’s hard for me to tell because stuff started happening so quickly. And I was monitoring the news and stuff a little bit more before things start really hitting home. But I think the investments is what I noticed the first so the stock market went crazy. It’s at records on the low end set records on the high end, sometimes in the same week. Like it was pretty, pretty interesting and phenomenal how volatile the stock market was. So the first thing I did was I was very proactive in creating videos that I shared not only with my clients, but with all my email subscribers and Facebook followers, all those different social media outlets. And that was something that was important to me because, with with my clients, just knowing how people are emotionally tied to their investment sometimes I wanted to make sure that it was gonna be very hard for me to reach out to every single one of them and make sure I get them live on the phone to talk them through what’s going on. So that the video was super helpful as far as putting people at ease and, and giving people confidence that all my clients at least were to talk through this possibility that COVID-19 specifically, but crazy stuff that throws the market into a tailspin. And we account for these things in advance, make sure people don’t freak out basically do the wrong thing at the wrong time.

Nick Armstrong  02:29

So it sounds like you already did a good amount of client priming prior to this about disaster recovery and disaster planning. What was the reaction of your clients during the actual crisis as it was unfolding?

Lucas Casarez  02:42

So as it was unfolding, I think a lot of people thought it wasn’t going to be an issue for them initially. And again, I think that’s how a lot of us felt like oh, yep, this is like a china thing. Now it’s like, it’s different parts of the country. Not here. Not Not us type deal. So I think Early on, it was like, Oh, yeah, like that’s crazy. It’s kind of like the flu. I think that’s what a lot of people were thinking. And as things kind of got more serious, you could see even the communications with the same client. I went from that with some clients to the stock market being super volatile, like, Oh, yeah, let’s, let’s be aggressive. Let’s start buying in while things are cheap. And those very same types of clients. Couple weeks later, like, oh, my goodness, let’s get everything out now. Like what’s going on? So I think the emotional toll it was taken on people, especially once people went into quarantine and having to be isolated, it’s just not normal for people that have to deal with. So there’s a lot of different emotions and things going on. I think that was the biggest thing that I noticed is people kind of wigging out. And so it was cool. A lot of clients were checking in on me and make sure like, I’m doing well. My family’s doing well, too. I think the most impactful thing that actually was relevant is the job losses. So starting to see that pretty substantially about 20% 30% of my clients have either been laid off or are in some type of transitionary type period due to everything going on.

Nick Armstrong  04:14

That’s a great time to talk to your financial planner to I suspect.

Lucas Casarez  04:17

Yeah, yep. And that’s one of the interesting things about my business model and how it shaped is, like, I people pay me kind of on a monthly subscription, and it’s not tied to investments, specifically. And so when when they lose their job, lose your income, I did have to be a little bit more proactive as far as how I was gonna make this work. So basically, we’re allowing clients to hit the pause button on paying me But obviously, that’s when they need to speak with me the most so they’re probably getting a lot more service. They’re not actually pay me right now. And what we’ll do is we’ll kind of share up things once they get back on their feet. So that’s one of the things that I’ve had to be proactive about, and it’s something that it just makes sense to do. Like I I enjoy work with my clients. And so I’d hate for them. hate to have to turn them away during like one of the biggest times of need that they’ll probably have in the foreseeable future.

Nick Armstrong  05:09

You mentioned that you had an email list, you started creating videos, how did you get the message out to your clients and your community that you were providing these services.

Lucas Casarez  05:19

So I use MailChimp for kind of sending out those mass emails. So then I have them. There’s definitely some things that were more specific client messages. So I have my segments for clients specifically. And that’s gonna be worded differently because it’s like I know more about their situation. Then there’s kind of just the Mass General email list that I have like 300 people or so on there. And one of the big things with everything going on is there was a lot of changes a lot of new information flying around. And so that’s, I think, something that I was able to do really proactively and hopefully is. Now there was the Cures Act, which had a lot of unique features, both with retirement account With the stimulus for paychecks, or just the stimulus checks, and there’s unemployment, there’s student loan forbearance, there was so much going on. And there was so much bad information and false news to kind of early on. And so I think that was the biggest thing where I was like, I need to learn stay up to date on what’s actually real and then triple check it to do it for its validity. Because Yeah, there was one thing I did jump the gun on, on my text business that I also created this year. And it was with the extension, being going to July 15. I announced that like one day before, it was actually official because of something I read that said it was official, but it wasn’t wasn’t too big of a deal because it was official within like 24 hours. So it actually looked like as master diamonds there.

Nick Armstrong  06:49

It’s always good to be prescient, I think. What kind of help Did you seek out and where, if any, and where and why did you seek it out?

Lucas Casarez  06:59

Yeah, so I’m a part of a few professional groups on Facebook, that’s been helpful. Also just have professional membership groups that I’m a part of. So just getting, having those kind of safe places to go and kind of see like, oh, we’re not the only ones thinking this stuff. We’re not crazy for feeling this way about what’s going on. So that was helpful. I then I think the biggest thing is just knowing where to go for the accurate information. Because that’s, that’s what my clients needed. That’s what anyone that I want to communicate with. I don’t want to give them false information. I want to make sure that they know like, Oh, this guy is gonna try to give us information, try to lighten it up a little bit, try to make it a little bit more fun than maybe some of the other outlets that they might have access to.

Nick Armstrong  07:44

We’re still early on but have you seen any results so far in terms of your pivot and how your clients or customers are interacting with it? So

Lucas Casarez  07:53

I know I saw your first interview that you did, I saw they had like crazy success. I haven’t been quite so. Luckily with that, so no new clients, which is ultimately like as a business owner, what a lot of people would consider success. But what I do like to kind of hang my head on and focus on the things I can control is kind of that value. I’m working with my clients so much more in depth right now. Gaining even more trust and authority head gaming, strengthening relationships, to the point where like, a lot of my clients that I’ve been talking with, they’re like, oh, you’re like, that’s why I have you around. You’re my go to you. Whenever I have a financial question. A client saying that Yeah, like you. You’re stuck with us Your life is something I’ve been here so I obviously wouldn’t when people are fearful of their jobs, but they’re still saying that stuff to me. Makes makes me feel good about what the future looks like. So I think a lot of what I’ve been doing is building kind of long, longer term, kind of potential, not only with my clients, but with referrals. And then a lot of lot of the people on my email list and followers on social media is like they’re getting some The same information. Obviously, it’s not pinpoint personalized, but at least they have that resource and they know who to go to once they are ready to kind of dive in and get their financial life in order.

Nick Armstrong  09:11

Yeah, customer retention is nothing to shake a stick at,

Lucas Casarez  09:15

especially during these times for sure.

Nick Armstrong  09:17

Do you have any advice for business owners who are looking to pivot or just not quite sure what to do yet,

Lucas Casarez  09:24

at least from how I’m situated, it’s definitely gonna vary based off of kind of your business model and kind of where you’re at. I think my business had just hit a point where two and a half years into starting this thing out where it’s like, oh, we’re not operating like in the red, like, we have a good we’re able to make payments. We don’t necessarily need to grow at racket speed. And so that’s been nice to not have to worry about that because of growth. As I mentioned, that hasn’t occurred in the last two to three months. But what it’s allowed me to do is be able to To think more long term and that’s what I’ve tried to do from the very beginning, like a lot of my clients in the first place or sometimes in their early 20s. And in all reality, I’m probably not making a profit off of them compared to what I would be if I was working with that more traditional clients. So everything I try to do, as painful as it is, is usually thinking like long term not not, oh, I want to have this client for a year, I do want these clients for five years, 10 years for the rest of their life, basically, if I’m able to hold up the value on my end. So I think thinking long term is always an aspect. And it is painful, especially during these times. But the thing I like to think about is there’s there’s only so much I can control. I did have a lot of prospects that had verbally committed before all this happened. But I could I could dwell on that I could keep kind of hounding people but that’s not my, my style at all. And so what I’ve chosen to do is just focus on the things that I can control and some of these things are going to be very long term plays, but it’s something I’m adding value and I’m still kind of enjoying the process of creating all this content and, and being there for people and whatever capacity they allow me to be there for them.

Nick Armstrong  11:07

Do you think that some of the changes that you’ve made to your business during this crisis are gonna stick with you afterwards?

Lucas Casarez  11:14

I believe so I, I’ve had the thoughts, just because I haven’t seen it, reuse them because they kind of been so well, with tech constantly growing, there hasn’t really been layoffs for the longest time. But I do know that that’s just kind of built into how tech expands then they have to cut off some of the excess fat and stuff like that. So I’ve already had that in the back of my mind, like, what happens if someone gets laid off. So that helped me put this actually more firm in place, that being able to pause there’s payments, but still be able to receive value when they needed the most. And so I think some of it is actually putting into place some of the things I’d mentally thought of, but yeah, it’s at a much, much grander scale and it’s definitely gonna be something that I keep around Because even the clients that are worried about unemployment, but you’re not actually unemployed when I share this with them, I see them like that like, oh, okay, awesome. Like, hopefully you’re like cross their fingers. We don’t have to go through that, that process with you. But it’s good to know like, you’re not going to just disappear because because we’re gonna have trouble trying to pay you over the next month or two until we get situated again,

Nick Armstrong  12:23

Where can we find out more about your business and level up financial planning services?

Lucas Casarez  12:27

Yep, so level up financial planning comm you’ll find services, you’ll find different forms of content, I have my video, even though it’s on YouTube, I have everything kind of portaling through to my level up page. And so I also do strategy guides and cheat sheets and so lots of free educational informational content. And yeah, if you want to work with me, then I love working with people that want to work with me.

Blue Moose Art Gallery – A COVID19 Small Business Pivot Story

Today we get to explore the COVID pivot of Blue Moose Art Gallery.

Because of the unique structure of this particular business, hopping on a Zoom call to conduct an interview wasn’t going to be productive, so… the 21 owners and leads got together and answered some questions for you.

Can you give us some background on Blue Moose Art Gallery?

The gallery is comprised of 21 owners and we represent approximately 80 Colorado artists. Our ownership model is unique in that our owners are not employees – but volunteers. Each owner brings a wealth of knowledge to the table ranging from CPAs, journalists, nurses, social media, designers, teachers, technology, social workers, marketing, nonprofits, and, of course, artists.

With this many seasoned professionals in the room, we’re very proactive and quick to make decisions. And then there’s our Board of 5 and 16 committees who keep the gallery running smoothly every day. Plus, we all play very well together that is oftentimes unique among 20 women and 1 man! After all, we’re not your typical art gallery – we have fun!

What were your first reactions when COVID began to impact the Gallery?

Originally, it was uncertainty. On March 15th we closed for two weeks, but once the state guidance was released, we completely shut down, postponing (not canceling) classes, and put a sign on the door. The owners held a Zoom meeting on March 24th to plan our strategy. And that’s when our multi-pronged approach began.

What was the reaction from your customers?

Of course, they understood. We heard from customers expressing how much they enjoy the gallery and how they’re looking forward to our reopening. Many of our customers consider the gallery their “happy place” and oftentimes come in to just hang out and chat with whomever is in the gallery that day.

What services did you begin to change or what did you do differently in response to COVID?

Since staff and customers weren’t allowed to physically be inside the gallery, there wasn’t anything we could do about traditional selling and holding classes. So, we increased our communications, upped our social media presence, and decided to sell online gift certificates with an altruistic twist (for every gift certificate sold, the gallery donates to Direct Relief). We gathered the team to make this happen, went live on April 3rd, communicated everywhere, placed our gift certificate on USA TODAY and Visit Fort Collins websites, and it’s been very successful.

How did you connect/communicate these changes to your community and/or customers?

We are lucky to have a marketing & communications machine! We regularly send out eNewsletters to our Customers and to our Artists so these communities have been kept well informed. For a more personal touch, we’ve called customers to say hello and to see how they’re doing (very well received). Since we’re offering Curbside Pickup starting on May 5th, we’re personally calling every artist to check in and to let them know we’re starting curbside.

We also maintain a robust social media presence and post daily. We continuously engage with our customers by posting pics of artwork, artist stories, how-to videos hosted by our artists, and (in normal times) class information, and event details.

What kind of help did you seek out? (if any)

None. Since we don’t have paid employees, we didn’t apply for the PPP.

What have been the results so far?

Very successful. We’re doing well with our gift certificates, good engagement via Facebook, and the customers that we’ve spoken to were so appreciative of the call and can’t wait to come in once we reopen. Since feedback is the most important gauge we have to learn how our business is best serving our customers, we’re currently developing a customer survey.

Do you have any advice for fellow business owners who are looking at pivoting to something new?

Blue Moose Art Gallery (and fellow business owners) pivoted by adapting some of the new into our new normal.

For example, maybe start online classes, start offering curbside as normal, provide personal shoppers, beef up communications, or look into developing an eCommerce site. What specific combination works for you will be unique to you and your business.

This has been a time for pause, reflection, collective innovative thinking, and angst for our businesses. But don’t you think we’ll all come out of this stronger? We do.

Where can we find out more about your business?

To purchase a gift certificate, please visit www.BlueMooseArtGallery.com
Donations benefit Direct Relief https://www.directrelief.org/

Blue Moose Art Gallery
4032 S College Ave, Fort Collins, 80525  |  970-825-5704
We’re not your typical art gallery – we have fun!


Local Business Books by Local Authors

If you’re finding yourself with a little bit more time to read these days, it might be worth diving into one of these amazing local books by local authors (many of whom are also speakers at Fort Collins Startup Week!). Most of these books can be ordered for curbside pickup at Old Firehouse Books!

Beautiful Badass: How to Believe In Yourself Against the Odds

by Chrysta Bairre

You can do anything you set your mind to! Just be happy! Remember, someone else has it worse than you.

UGH! This type of advice isn’t always helpful. When you’ve experienced real hardship in life, positive thinking will only get you so far.

Beautiful Badass: How to Believe In Yourself Against the Odds is an essential guide for women who are tired of being told to “think positive” and instead want to take command of their destinies and stop falling prey to the hardships that previously defined them.

Unstoppable: A Recipe for Success in Life and Business

by Betsy Craig

For Betsy Craig, her journey began when she got sober at the age of 20 after years of alcohol and drug abuse, then beat the odds against the autoimmune disease scleroderma that wanted her dead and now she’s the CEO of her own million-dollar company, MenuTrinfo, LLC. Through her determination and spirit, Betsy became a leader in the food service industry protecting lives and health through nutrition and food safety training showing all along the way what it means to be unstoppable.

My Life in Comics (a Memoir)

by Ron Fortier

My name is Ron Fortier and for most of my adult life I’ve written those wonderful little magazines in which stories are told not only with words but also with beautiful illustrations drawn by talented artists. Comics are an art form created here in America back in the late 1920s and today they are published around the globe. My hope is the stories you are about to read will inform and entertain you but most of all amuse you. After all, when they first came on the scene they weren’t called comics; they were called funny books.

A Misfit Entrepreneur’s Guide to Building a Business Your Way

by Ariana Friedlander

Tired of getting in your own way? Don’t like being told what to do? Want to be successful while being true to you? This is the book you’ve been waiting for.

A Misfit Entrepreneur’s Guide to Building a Business Your Way will make you laugh, think, and reevaluate everything about your entrepreneurial journey, while showing you that you’re not alone. Most importantly, it will guide you in charting your own path from where you are to where you want to be.

Please Validate My Existence: Essays & Stories From a Twentysomething Pseudo-Intellectual

by Jessica Manuszak

A manual for making the best of squeezing dogs’ anal glands for minimum wage. And a huge, heaping handful of reassurance when you’re ready to smack yourself and/or the nearest passerby with a raw fish because you don’t know what you’re doing, where you’re headed, or what in the hell you actually want.

Life’s a Buch – A COVID19 Small Business Pivot Story

Rachael Walker, owner of Life’s a Buch Kombucha shares her COVID-19 pivot story along with some tips for small business owners to survive and thrive during this crisis.

Transcript

Nick Armstrong 0:00
I’m Nick Armstrong from Fort Collins Startup Week and I have been really fascinated by so many amazing local business owners and we’re here with one today talking about her response and her pivot to the COVID-19 situation.

It’s impacting all of us in various ways and some more than most, and getting some really good advice from local business owners, I think is one of the best things that we can do for each other right now to help each other survive through this crisis.

I’m here today with Rachael Walker from Life’s a Buch kombucha. Rachael, why don’t you tell us about your business?

Rachael Walker 0:36
Life’s a Buch is a small craft kombucha company located here in the heart of Fort Collins. We are small craft so that means we ferment in two-gallon glass jars that really helps keep the flavor profile and the authenticity of the kombucha. We have six very very unique flavors ranging from pineapple mint to blueberry chai and in the summertime, we have a fireballer, which is cayenne, cloves, and cinnamon. It’s really good. And we have been in business for over two years now and are offered in almost 30 locations all around the Front Range region.

Nick Armstrong 1:12
What were your first reactions when the COVID situation began?

Rachael Walker 1:16
Honestly, I was freaking out a little bit, kind of just – you know, it’s a roller coaster of emotions. And especially when this first came out, no one really had any idea what was going to happen. There was a few days there where I wasn’t quite sure if we were going to be counted as an essential business. And so that was very stressful for me. As soon as I figured out we were, we were considered an essential business, you know, kind of 360’d my attitude a little bit knowing that we could stay open for the month. Definitely a few worries there at the beginning, but everything is going amazing, now.

Nick Armstrong 1:54
What was the reaction from your customers?

Rachael Walker 1:56
Our customers, honestly the second – no, I wouldn’t say the second this happened, but – pretty [soon], you know, as this moved on, customers wanted kombucha. Kombucha is full of probiotics. It’s full of antioxidants. It’s full of enzymes. And it’s really, really good for your gut, which are all things you need when fighting off, you know, any sort of sickness. And so customers reached out and they wanted kombucha – they voiced that they were in need.

Nick Armstrong 2:26
How did COVID start impacting your business? What were some of the things that you noticed?

Rachael Walker 2:30
The first and foremost thing that happened was we lost over 80% of our stores when the stay at home or went into place. That being restaurants, bars, breweries, gyms, salons, everything closing. So, we only have about four stores that are still currently open – grocery stores – that we are available in, so I mean, we lost 80% of our business.

Nick Armstrong 2:53
How did you pivot? What did you do next?

Rachael Walker 2:55
Kind of just had to put my head on straight and kind of 100% re-do our business model and how we operate things. And we started offering home delivery, contact-free home delivery. No delivery charge which has also been really good. I feel just everyone is trying not to go to the store right now trying to do whatever they can to get their hands on healthy local food. So for the past five weeks now, we’ve been doing home delivery and our sales have doubled in the last month with doing that home delivery.

Nick Armstrong 3:28
Doubled from prior to COVID?

Rachael Walker 3:30
Yeah. We are doing numbers that we usually do in July and August right now. And you know, summertime is really is the busy season for any sort of manufactured beverage, especially kombucha. So it’s pretty amazing that our sales have doubled considering you know, the times that we’re all in.

Nick Armstrong 3:50
Did you seek out any sort of help or what you know, did you if you did, where did you seek it out from?

Rachael Walker 3:55
Aside from reaching out to you guys at the Larmer SBDC which has been a huge help – they are offering free consultation sessions right now, so that was really helpful. What I also did was kind of look at my competition around town to see what they were doing. I always like to recommend you look at your competition, see what they’re doing see things that you like that they’re doing, that you don’t like that they’re doing, look for areas of opportunity for yourself. And it just kind of seemed obvious, literally every single business around town was offering home delivery. So it was kind of an easy choice to offer that.

Nick Armstrong 4:29
You said that your sales have doubled from prior to COVID. What other things have you seen so far happen for your business?

Rachael Walker 4:35
More customers – a bigger following, honestly. I got a couple of magnets for the side of my car that says we’re now offering home delivery. I have so many friends that are sharing my business on social media and reaching out to their friends to reach out to me for kombucha. So if anything, we just gained more exposure which has been really beneficial for us. Like I mentioned earlier, we’re heading into the busy season. So this is kind of the time we want more exposure now more than ever, so it’s been nothing but good to us.

Nick Armstrong 5:06
Not only did you shift from primarily B2B because you were running taps at restaurants and other locations, you shifted to primarily B2C. And you’re you started up a delivery business. So you added logistics, what sort of support mechanisms did you have in place before COVID? Did you have like an email list or anything else like that?

Rachael Walker 5:25
I did not have an email list before COVID. No. And honestly, most of my accounts are wholesale. So aside from my direct relationships, I have with my account managers, aside from social media, I don’t really have anything else. And so with all this happening, it’s also just bettered my relationships with my customers and my exposure to my customers

Nick Armstrong 5:52
Do you have any advice for fellow business owners who are looking at pivoting to something new during this time?

Rachael Walker 5:57
First and foremost, reach out to the Larimer SBDC. Reach out to other fellow business owners. You know, like I mentioned earlier with your competition, but it doesn’t have to be your competition who you reach out to. Reach out to other business owners and see what they’re doing, see what works, see what doesn’t work. Also, some advice I would have to give is, do not say no to the customer, find a way to make it happen. Whether you have to tell them, it’ll be three to five days until they can get the product, figure out how to make it happen. And then if you need help, reach out to your fellow business owners around town to see what they can do. You guys can all rally together to make a game plan to get your product on their front porch.

Nick Armstrong 6:36
So where can we find out more about you and your business and how can we get ourselves set up for home delivery of kombucha?

Rachael Walker 6:41
Yes, good question. So our home delivery we have an online store right now on our website, www.LifesABuch.com. You can also visit us on social media. We’re on Instagram and Facebook.

A Guide to Library Resources for Starting Your Business

Not everyone thinks of the public library when starting a business. Yet, it’s the radical collaboration among entrepreneurs, libraries, and community partners that helps foster local economic development.

Poudre River Public Libraries have just about everything a 21st century entrepreneur might need: work space, Internet access, reference materials and research databases, and professional guidance through dedicated Business Librarians and strategic partners like the Larimer Small Business Development Center (SBDC) and the City of Fort Collins Office of Economic Health.

“We’ve invested in quality resources and expert staff aimed at helping businesses, entrepreneurs, and nonprofits throughout their development,” says David Slivken, executive director, Poudre River Public Library District. “By collaborating with the library and our partners, local innovators see lower barriers to market entry and benefit from a strong, supportive ecosystem.”

Before you open your business’s doors or website to customers, educate yourself and determine if your idea is viable. Here’s how the Library and Business Librarian Matthew West can help you prepare for success.

1. Research your market

Before you get too far along in the startup process, you need to do some preliminary market research. Is there demand for what you’re offering? How large is your market? What is the industry forecast? Who are your competitors?

The answers to these and other critical questions will determine whether your startup idea is feasible, needs refining, or, in some cases, should be dropped altogether.

Among the many market research services provided by the Library are industry overviews and trends, competitive analyses, demographics, lifestyle statistics, and more. Online reports and statistics can be accessed for free using Library eResources like Statista, First Research, Reference USA, DemographicsNow, and others.

2. Write your business plan

In addition to the many business planning books and eBooks, Library staff can help you navigate the Business Plans Handbook Collection, an online resource that includes business plans compiled by, and aimed at, entrepreneurs seeking funding for small businesses. Sample plans are taken from businesses in the manufacturing, retail and service industries and serve as examples of how to approach, structure, and compose business plans.

The Business Source Premier database features SWOT analyses of major businesses across a variety of industries which can also be useful as you create your business plan.

3. Determine your funding plan

If you’re exploring funding options like debt financing or equity financing, a Business Librarian can point you in the direction of finance resources from books and eBooks like “Finance Your Business: Secure Funding to Start, Run, and Grow Your Business” and research lists of potential investors. If you’re operating as a nonprofit, then grant funding is open to you, and the Library’s extensive grants databases will be extremely useful.

4. Form the business

The legal and financial aspects of forming a business should be researched carefully before putting everything together. Among the important tasks ahead of you are:

  • Choosing the right type of business entity
  • Registering your business with the CO Secretary of State
  • Getting your Federal Tax ID Number
  • Opening a business bank account and get a debit/credit card
  • Registering with the Colorado Department of Revenue for taxes
  • Getting any necessary licenses or permits

The Library can help you access registration forms and point you in the direction of digital resources to guide you in forming your business. One of the most useful resources is “Colorado Business Resource Guide” which is available at the Library and online. Another frequently-used database is the Legal Information Resource Center which includes legal guides and forms for ownership structure, accounting and audits, and more.

5. Determine your business space/location

For some entrepreneurs, working from home or at the Library might suits their space needs, but others will need to identify the most lucrative yet affordable place to set up shop. The Library provides access to demographic and geographic data to inform your decision. One of the online tools is Census Business Builder, which builds reports containing demographics, consumer spending data, and workforce date for a geographic area.

6. Develop your product/service

As you plan your product or service rollout, consider how the Library can help. Our Legal Information Reference Center is a great resource for patents, copyright, and trademarks. And our Business Librarians can use research databases to help identify potential supply chain partners for manufacturing, warehousing, and distribution.

If you’re a service provider, you’ll want to ensure that you have consulting and contracting agreements ready to use with clients. The Library has reference books on business contracts and the Legal Information Reference Center provides templates.

7. Identify staffing needs

The Business Librarian can use a variety of databases to compare employee numbers among similar businesses in your industry to give you an idea of how you might staff your startup. Additionally, eResources like the Legal Information Reference Center and others offer information on employment law, creating your own employee handbook, and other topics.

8. Promote your business

For some startups, marketing duties will fall to the owner while others may seek out help from a marketing consultant or agency. Either way you go, the Library offers resources focused on sales and marketing to help you strategize your message and target customers. In addition to a number of great books and eBooks covering marketing how-to’s, there are databases like First Research and Reference USA that allow you to examine demographics, consumer trends, and other useful customer data.

While there are other important steps in establishing a business, these are some of the key areas in which Poudre River Public Libraries can help, whether you’re a B2B or B2C startup (or something not even imagined yet). Visit the Library’s online Business Center to get started or request an appointment to meet with Business Librarian Matthew West.


This guest post is by Katie Auman of the Poudre River Public Library District.

Authenticity: A Key Sales Ingredient

Many people commonly associate “sales” with stepping out of their comfort zone. But, as I’ve learned, “sales” are less commonly associated with one key ingredient that actually makes sales successful.

Can you guess it?

Hint: It has to do with connection.

*drum roll please…*

Authenticity.

Maybe this seems obvious. But let’s just get curious for a moment: How often is “authenticity” the first thing that comes to mind when you think of the next sales conversation you’re prepping for?

The idea of selling has a tendency, all too often, to feel scary, intimidating and nerve-wracking. Which is exactly why I love helping entrepreneurs actually experience sales as something fun—and not so scary.

This journey of marrying “authenticity” and “sales” in the same sentence, and living it, has been nothing short of eye-opening and diverse.

And it’s been a journey, let me tell you. One that’s taken me totally out of my wheelhouse and walking along spectacular views. And, one that began when I decided to step away from the career in HR that defined me since my freshman year of college.

Working in HR taught me a lot about communication, and how the way we show up in our communications makes a world of difference. Little did I know, the universe was setting my stage for the work I’m doing now helping clients have authentic, enjoyable and fruitful sales conversations.

When I left HR I knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur. So I started my own business. And failed. I started again. …And failed, again. This happened again. And Again.

Four failed launches.

So I changed directions. Numerous times. I became well-acquainted with stepping out of my comfort zone:

  • I was asked to be part of the opening team (as restaurant manager) for Fort Collins’ dazzling Elizabeth Hotel. What began by staring at an empty lot of concrete and steel transformed to a team collaboration that created an integral and amazing aspect of the Fort Collins community today.
  • Constant Contact offered me a job. I took it and learned a wealth of information about email marketing.
  • I moved to Idaho, turned around and left four weeks later—because I wasn’t afraid to get honest with myself and recognize what was truly best for me, letting go of expectations.

In hindsight, it became clear that all these seemingly disconnected experiences were actually perfectly interconnected, and leading me to a beautiful part of the journey I now find myself on: successfully owning the Proffit Coach, helping others shift their sales experience.

What did all parts of this winding, interwoven journey of mine have in common? What allowed me to successfully launch the Proffit Coach and pay my bills (plus some) during the first 3 months of launching my business? (I spent zero on marketing these first 3 months, BTW. I know, it’s nuts. And yes, you read that double “f” in Proffit right–I’m lucky enough to have ”Proffit” as my last name 😉 ).

As I’ve reflected on a common thread, this is what I’ve noticed:

  • I wasn’t afraid to step out of my comfort zone and make a change (even when other people thought it was crazy). I was willing to trust myself.
  • I made authenticity the tone for all of my business (and personal) communications.
  • I’ve learned to be open to possibility.

Being committed to authenticity and open to possibility, and experiencing this firsthand, allows me every day to help clients apply these ideas to their own business.

What’s amazing is that sales (and most of business) isn’t just about stepping out of our comfort zone. It’s also about being committed to authenticity.

As you become more comfortable sharing your incredible gifts with the world, get curious and ask yourself:

  1. How do most sales conversations feel to you? Do they feel authentic, or does the conversation feel awkward?
  2. If you’ve experienced a truly authentic-feeling sales conversation, can you think of one important thing that made it feel so natural? (Get specific! 😉 ).
  3. If not, what is one thing you could do to help future sales conversations feel more natural? (Hint: check out this post for some tips).

When we communicate authentically, we have an incredible potential to transform our business engine (sales) from experiences in which we forget to breathe, to experiences that feel so natural and energizing that we detach from outcomes, and confidently receive what our journey has to give us.


This guest post is by Alison Proffit, the Proffit Coach.

Alison Proffit teaches small business owners how to become more effective in the sales aspect of their business. Her work focuses on becoming more clear on where the breakdown is, creating a sales process that resonates with them so that they can go into sales conversations more confidently and then have a plan to follow through on the connections that have been made.

Freelancers: Shape Your Success at the Library

Do you have friends who ask you to proofread their reports? Or maybe they want your help designing a logo or building website? Do people ask you to photograph their wedding? Perhaps you’re the go-to person for tech help among family members?

Whatever your skill set, these friendly requests could be highlighting opportunities for freelance work.

Fast Company reported that 35% of the U.S. workforce is now freelancing, around 57 million people, with income that “currently makes up almost 5% of the country’s GDP, or close to $1 trillion.”

Before you go and quit your day-job for the world of freelance work, there are few things to consider to make sure the decision to go solo is right for you.

And the Poudre River Public Library can help! In addition to having a dedicated Business Librarian and Career Librarian available to do research and work with you one-on-one, the Library has a variety of resources and materials to help you take those first steps toward freelance success.

1. Research

Some quick market research will tell you whether or not your freelance business is viable in your area.  Is there demand for what you’re offering? How large is your potential customer base? Who are your competitors?

The answers to these and other critical questions will determine whether becoming a freelancer is feasible.

Among the many market research services provided by our Business Librarian are industry overviews and trends, competitive analyses, demographics, lifestyle statistics, mailing lists, and more. Online reports and statistics can be accessed for free using Library eResources like Statista, First Research, Reference USA, Encyclopedia of American Businesses, and others.

2. Plan for success

Start your freelance journey off right with a plan. You probably don’t need a 25-page structured document, but spending time writing up your goals, financial needs, and plans for growth is helpful for keeping yourself accountable and for measuring success. If you’re anticipating moving from a freelancer to a solopreneur and expanding your business, then a business plan is useful

In addition to the many business planning books and eBooks, Library staff can help you navigate the Business Plans Handbook Collection. Sample plans serve as examples of how to approach, structure, and compose business plans.

3. Forming the business

Are you forming a business or just doing a side gig for extra cash? As you’re planning, you’ll need to determine the type of entity to establish and register with the CO Secretary of State: a sole proprietorship, a limited liability company (LLC), or something different.

The legal and financial aspects of forming a business should be researched carefully before putting everything together. You’ll want to ensure you have any necessary licenses or permits and are appropriately set up with the CO Department of Revenue for taxes.

The Library can help you access registration forms and point you in the direction of digital resources to guide you in forming your business. One of the most useful resources is Colorado Business Resource Guide which is available at the Library and online. A frequently-used database is the Legal Information Resource Center which includes legal guides and forms for ownership structure, accounting and audits, and more.

4. Work space

Where you’ll work is a big consideration in planning your new venture. Do you have space for a home office? What about leasing co-working space?

Did you know the public libraries have available space for you to work? In addition to the open work spaces at all three Poudre Libraries, there are also collaboration and small group / study rooms that can be reserved for free at Old Town Library. These rooms are useful for connecting with clients, holding meetings, and even conducting conference calls and video calls.

5. Marketing

If your freelance gig is marketing, then you’re probably set to promote your services to potential clients. But not everyone has marketing skills and strategies up their sleeve. The Library has a number of great books and eBooks covering marketing how-to’s including social media strategy, creating a website, and email marketing. There are also databases like First Research and Reference USA that allow you to examine demographics, consumer trends, and other useful customer data to find and target potential customers.

6. Contracts and agreements

The Legal Information Reference Center offers an entire section on consulting and contracting, including samples forms for specific services like bookkeeping, social media consulting, and others. These contracts are useful for project-based and hourly services.

There are also useful reference books like “Contracts: The Essential Business Desk Reference” that can guide you in setting up work agreements.

7. Taxes and finances

It’s always important to consult a professional in legal and financial matters. But to help you understand some of the critical concepts, you’ll find library books and eBooks on topics from basic accounting to QuickBooks how-to.

The Legal Information Reference Center will also help. It includes the eBook “Home Business Tax Deductions” and also has resources for business accounting and audits.

For other legal and financial questions, our Business Librarian can help you get in touch with local professionals and consultants, and find additional support through our partnership with the Larimer Small Business Development Center (SBDC).

To get started on your freelance journey, visit the Library District’s online Business Center or request an appointment to meet with Business Librarian Matthew West.


This guest post is by Katie Auman of the Poudre River Public Library District.

Meet Matthew West, Business Librarian at Poudre River Public Libraries

The Poudre River Public Library District welcomes Matthew West to its team as the new Business Librarian. Matthew comes to Poudre Libraries from Loveland Public Library where he managed various library services, programs, and outreach initiatives.

“I truly appreciate the spirit of entrepreneurship throughout our community,” says Matthew West. “It’s a testament to a business ecosystem that understands and values startups and small businesses. I’m excited to be part of that system and help people successfully create and grow their businesses.”

Matthew brings a deep knowledge of data and market analysis, strategic planning, and research to his work as a Business Librarian. He is located at the Harmony Library and is available for one-on-one meetings to discuss business research and analysis and to teach methods for effectively using the many free business resources available at the libraries.

In addition to providing business services and programs at the libraries, Matthew will lend his expertise to the Larimer Small Business Development Center where he’ll work with clients interested in industry and market trends, and customer, demographic, and competition research.

To learn more about the Library District’s various business resources or to request an appointment with Matthew to discuss your small business or startup, visit the Library’s Business Center webpage: PoudreLibraries.org/business.

You can meet Matthew at Fort Collins Startup Week 2020, where he’ll be on-site for the Scale-Up Week sessions.