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Small Business Development Center

As a Western graduate student and employee, there has been little time for a break or vacation. However, over the last few months, some of my MBA cohort and myself have been working with a sustainable eco-tourism company in Costa Rica. I have recently been given the privilege of going down to visit and experience their business while continuing our relationship as student-consultants. There is one message from this trip that I’d like to share. When travelling, practice cultural immersion as best you can to support the local small businesses.


The problem with tourism isn’t the tourists, it’s the way the money is spent. Travelling and staying in the resort for your whole trip gives little added economic value to the area while still draining their resources. In many places, the local economies have shifted to rely on tourist income. In some hot-spots in Costa Rica, the economy is 95% tourism-based.


So next time you are travelling and going out to dinner, consider spending your money outside of a resort or a large conglomerate, and instead try to support local business owners as best you can while still staying safe. It makes the trip more meaningful and gives you a look into the place you are visiting! Even if you don’t have the best service experience on your first try out, don’t worry. You’ve only just dipped your toes in the pool. Everyone is different, and to judge a whole local economy after a testing sample size of one isn’t fair. So give it a shot, support small businesses here in Bellingham and wherever your travels take you!

Post date: 201903

Some of the best businesses around the world, today and historically, have been praised for their ability to stand out in their own individual market space. And for a lot of them - their success can’t be explained or put into words. In the business world, we always discuss the businesses that are able to create a “competitive advantage”, or be different from their competitors. However, when asked to share their competitive advantage, or when its studied in a classroom, most of it boils down to something along the lines of, “well they have great people who inspire creativity and innovation.”

For example, some competitive advantages are less complicated to imitate. If you are a cost-leader in your industry, a competitor could enter your market and undercut your one advantage, cost. Likewise, if you have a new technology that only you own, eventually a copycat may come into the marketplace and potentially replicate your technology. In order to sustain a long-lasting competitive advantage, an extremely hard to replicate advantage is in fact your corporate culture.

Here are some examples of unique corporate culture in the business world:


Patagonia has made its wave in the apparel industry with their distinct corporate culture. Patagonia strives to have an employee-focused corporate culture where surfing, casual dress, and rebellious spirit are all encouraged. Their Ventura office also features a full child care service, and locks the headquarter doors at 8pm every night. By giving their employees more flexibility in their workplace, Patagonia has enjoyed numerous awards and recognition for their efforts, and as a bonus have seen steady growing profitability in their industry.


Netflix also has a quirky corporate culture, and from the outside can seem intimidating. Netflix allows complete flexibility with their employees’ work schedules. Netflix gives full control to their employees. They don’t care if you come into the office, work from home, take a sick day, etc. Netflix follows a deadline focused management style, and care most about if you get your work done on time. You would think that employees would take advantage of this management style, however, Netflix has only seen positive results from this change in corporate culture. Their employees actually work longer hours, and take off less sick days.

Warby Parker

Warby Parker understands the idea that team unity is at the core of every initiative. They try their best to follow a flat organizational method, and have new hires engage with employees from all department levels. Warby Parker also has an entire team dedicated solely to enhancing the culture of their workplace. They put together regular events including lunches, unique programs, and even surprise company outings. They will even send random employees out to lunch together, increasing the level of connectivity in the work environment. Good team engagement leads to happier employees, which means higher retention, more efficient teams, and higher revenues.

How you can implement aspects of these corporate cultures into your workplace:

Although these three examples are all large scale companies, there are some ways to try and address corporate culture at a smaller level. Small steps can be taken to ensure your employees hold intrinsic motivation for your organization and work towards the success of your business.

First, management styles can play a large role in how your employees interact in their work environment. Although traditional management styles are widely used as the norm, micromanaging and strict hour requirements can lead to employees feeling overworked and unappreciated by their employers.

Second, show appreciation for your employees, in big ways and small. Work/life balance is essential. Being a flexible boss about scheduling and vacation can help your employees feel an unspoken trust, and leads to increased motivation. It can be costly to add more paid leave or vacation time, however, there are other small tokens of appreciation that can be shown. Whether that be bringing donuts to your employees on a Friday, letting your employees work from home every once in a while, or even a simple acknowledgement that you value their time and efforts at your business.


An important thing to remember is that your people are your best asset. They are the ones who run your day to day operations and ensure the success of your business. The more intrinsic motivation your employees feel, the more motivated they will feel to keep your business thriving.

Post date: 201903

Have you ever met someone who has been dreaming about starting a business for years, yet for some reason (or multiple reasons) they have just failed to launch?

What I've noticed in many people who say they want to start a new they get stuck in the tiny moments of feeling overwhelmed, caught in indecision and inaction. What follows are some tips to encourage those dreamers to finally take action.

How to Overcome Your Fears And Finally Get Around to Starting a New Venture

Feeling overwhelmed: 
The key to overcoming this sticking point is to break down seemingly large and overwhelming tasks into bite sized chunks. Once broken down into manageable chunks you simply need to pick one bite-sized piece, one tiny action, and just start. Remember the old saying, 'Rome wasn't built in a day.' You can only take one step at a time. So focus entirely on the first step — and only after that momentum is started can you then focus on the next one.

Not sure how to start: 
Frankly it doesn’t matter how you start. What does matter is taking action and getting moving forward. Once you start, you can always make a course correction if it becomes clear you need to do something different. 

To overcome this, just go with your best gut feeling. Now, if you have a history of making bad 'gut decisions' it would probably be a good idea to seek some wise counsel to get a second opinion:-) There is always the chance you might be making the wrong choice, but by making a choice and taking action, you’ll learn whether this choice is right for you or not. You’ll gain that real world experience of learning by doing.

Inventors in particular struggle with this. They keep tinkering with their creation and worry that everything has to be perfect right out of the gate. It rarely, if ever, is...or has to be. As one of my favorite gurus Seth Godin likes to say 'Just Ship It!' You can always correct and improve things over time.

Waiting for the right time: Just more excuses. You'll never know when things are 'just right'. Businesses are like babies, there is never a perfect time for either to be conceived and brought into the light of day.

Fear of failure: Who doesn't fear failing? We all do. To overcome this obstacle, allow yourself to feel the fear and recognize it for what it is. Then from this place of understanding, start to move, start to take the smallest action possible. As you start moving along your start-up journey you will learn to develop a trust that you’ll be OK. Even if things don't go according to plan, you will be alright.

Delaying the hard work of starting by reading everything: This is usually just uncertainty causing you to procrastinate. Paralysis by analysis is the state of over-analyzing (or over-thinking) a situation so that a decision or action is never taken, in effect paralyzing the outcome.

If you find yourself struggling with any of the above sticking points, the SBDC has a team of advisor who can help you get unstuck and moving forward. We greatly enjoy helping entrepreneurs realize their dreams of launching and running a successful business.

Post date: 201903