This article was written by Eric Urstad, a Whitman College student intern with the Walla Walla SBDC for the Whitman College Student Engagement Center.
This fall, I have really began to realize how daunting the Good Ol’ American Dream has become. 50 years ago… even 25 years ago, the ability to start one’s own business and be successful was the norm. Fast forward to the tail-end of 2015, it couldn’t be harder to have one’s dream business become successful. This has nothing to do with people’s work ethic, a less creative culture, or a lack of innovation, it has come down to a system that just won’t let the little guys win. That is, if they don’t have help.
Over the last few months of working at the Washington Small Business Development Center in Walla Walla, I have been able to experience first-hand, the struggles of starting, operating, or changing a small business. Yet with the SBDC, Joe Jacobs, my advisor, and I have been able to help numerous clients with the guidance necessary to make their dream business become a reality. Whether it is through creating contracts, discussing loans and payments, creating marketing/advertising plans, or just helping create a business plan, we are constantly in a situation where our best judgement can help a client’s business thrive.
One of the interesting parts about being a part of the SBDC is actually getting the opportunity to work with real people that have strong emotional ties to their business. Counter to large consulting firms who work predominately with large businesses and could percolate amongst many different channels of the business, with SBDC you get the whole business experience. Being that many of the businesses that are our clients are your traditional Ma’ and Pa’ stores or small start-ups, we get to be a part of the whole operation. This has allowed for us to not only help guide them along all facets of their business, but has also been an invaluable experience of learning the complex nuances of our modern business system through the lens of many different industries.
Although I am legally bound to withhold any information about clients, meetings, or any related material, I can take you through an average day at the SBDC. Upon showing up for work, Joe and I will spend the first half hour to hour getting caught up on all of our clients and data and then start prepping for the day’s clients. We will then either host our clients in the Walla Walla office, or we will actually travel to the client’s site, depending on the situation. We will then go through the objectives of our meetings, discuss the nitty-gritty details, break the conversation open and talk about options, and then turn it over to the clients for questions. From these meetings, usually ranging from 30 minutes to an hour, we then outline a course of action and means to measure success. Then we part with the client, leaving them a to-do list and schedule a follow-up meeting. This process usually happens between 2-4 times each day that I work.
Working at the SBDC has been an invaluable experience. Not only have I had the opportunity to work in a field that I am very passionate about, but I have had the ability to enact real change in people’s lives. The best part of the whole encounter is that it is completely free of the client’s charge. The SBDC doesn’t charge any of its clients for any services provided as they are funded externally. This makes the environment a warm and cultivating environment where the notion of the American Dream can still be achieved with the right help.