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MARCH NIBJ: Workshops help set businesses on path to success

by CAROLINE LOBSINGER
Staff Writer | February 27, 2024 1:00 AM

When Brent Baker first thought about holding economic development workshops, his vision was to help businesses in Bonner County be better versions of themselves.

Baker, who has lived in the community since 1977, was semi-retired and offering business consultations on a part-time basis. With a career that also includes owning and operating his own construction company, stints in real estate, resort management, ranching, forestry, and investment. 

He'd ended up a successful business coach after working for a major corporation and his plan was to offer the occasional workshop at low or no cost to area businesses.

"I had thought to make money, I have to work elsewhere, not here," Baker said of the genesis for launching the workshops. "But then I thought what a shame it was [to think that] and I had to see what I could do to help out."

When he logged onto the website of the Bonner County Economic Development Corporation — the former name of Pend Oreille Economic Partnership — only to find the group was struggling after not being able to find a viable director. They'd had several people interested but for one reason or another, neither worked out.

One thing led to another and soon, Baker had committed to helping the economic development group get back on a firm foundation.

"Traditionally I was working pretty much everywhere but here and then I just kept thinking that I ought to do something for the local community," Baker said. "There's got to be some way to help out, just kind of from being here for so long and then when I became executive director … I just found there was a need … [and that] although I would make less money but I wouldn't have to travel and could just be right here helping the local community."

A quick version of the information he teaches paying clients, the workshops are designed to teach businesses everything from having a clearly defined vision to knowing your customers to everything in-between. The information has been gleaned from decades of running his own businesses to serving as a consultant to businesses around the country.

Instead of a success rate of 10-20%, Baker said he's found that businesses that know and employ strategies such as those he teaches see survival rates of 50-80%. Baker said the strategies help entrepreneurs make the most of their ideas and investments while minimizing frustration and lost time.

"Some of the things we talked about, it's making sure you really understand and define your vision, your purpose, your vision, and your core values," Baker said. "It's knowing your unique value proposition, your unique selling proposition, to get all of that really, really clearly defined. And then, from there, you can move into developing a strategy and a business model. Those tend to be the things that people overlook and don't do and that's why they run into trouble in business."

While there is no guarantee for success, Baker said that he's found that businesses that know and employ the strategies teaches tend to see survival rates of 50-80% instead of 10-20%. Baker said the strategies help entrepreneurs make the most of their ideas and investments while minimizing frustration and lost time.

The ideas he shares aren't secret, and Baker freely admits didn't invent any of them. However, throughout his business career, he's been in positions where he's been able to learn from and absorb that information. 

He's worked with industry experts, picked their brains, and absorbed coaching strategies. The strategies are well-known and employed by many, from those who run successful businesses to those who work for big corporations. 

Baker said what he wants to do is take the information known by mega-businesses and taught in MBA programs and share it with local businesses and entrepreneurs.

"If you don't have a purpose, you don't have a strategy, you don't understand your books, and you don't know how you differentiate from your competition, you are shackled," Baker said. "You could succeed with all of that happening, but the odds are you will not."

And, while the weather might not have been the best for PEP's first workshop, Baker said it was a big success, with roughly 33 people turned out for what is, essentially, a Business 101 course. He hoped for a dozen but hoped that at least eight people would brave the cold.

“What was interesting was that we had everything from people thinking of maybe starting a business up to people who have a locally dominating business in their industry and have been going for five or 10 years,” Baker said.

Baker plans to continue the workshops, possibly alternating between ones focused on entrepreneurship and others on leadership.

Information: Pend Oreille Economic Partnership: online, pepidaho.org; by email, brent@pepidaho.org; or by phone, 208-290-7752