• Company
    La Pera Radio and TV
  • Owner
    Rafael Aguilar
  • Location
    Wenatchee, WA
  • Website

Amplifying dreams: how SBDC advising empowered online business to soar

WENATCHEE, Wash.–Legacy media has incredible barriers to entry; new media, not so much. Just ask Rafael Aguilar, owner of La Pera Radio and TV, based in Wenatchee. The challenge is how to create a sustainable business.

La Pera Radio and TV broadcasts live online through the La Pera app from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday, and recorded music fills out the rest of the schedule 24/7. For four hours every weekday morning, Aguilar provides news and information in Spanish and English. The live program is a mix of news, paid content, public service announcements and music.

“Rafael is passionate about providing accurate, timely and relevant information to the Hispanic community and to small business owners,” said Ursula Sanson, a business advisor with the Washington Small Business Development Center (SBDC), who has been meeting with Sanson since 2022.

The La Pera morning show has to be lively and fun to keep an audience, Aguilar said, but he is dead serious about giving his listeners access to the information they need to improve their lives. He is especially committed to those like himself who are improving their lives and their communities through small business entrepreneurship.

Rafael Aguilar, owner (left)

In addition to promoting community events, business breakfasts and business roundtables, he invites representatives from state agencies such as Labor & Industries and the Department of Health, from federal agencies such as Census 2020, and from other organizations to come on his program so that listeners can get the information they need to make informed decisions.

Aguilar said his goal is to become the indispensable resource for news and information to empower Hispanic business owners across the state.

Aguilar first launched La Pera radio back in 2013, but selling ads and developing complementary revenue streams to sustain the business was difficult. In late 2015, he reached out to the Washington Small Business Development Center (SBDC) for assistance.

The Washington SBDC is a network of more than 40 business advisors who work with entrepreneurs and small business owners who want to start, grow or buy/sell a business. SBDC business advisors provide no-cost, confidential, one-on-one technical assistance on just about any aspect of small business development, from managing cash flow and getting a loan, to creating a marketing plan, expanding into export or developing better business systems.

Washington State University is the statewide host of the Washington SBDC and SBDC services are funded through a cooperative agreement between Washington State University and the U.S. Small Business Administration.

Jim Fletcher, the SBDC advisor in Wenatchee at that time, visited Aguilar at his home studio several times to better understand how the business worked. “I was in the middle of the ocean, paddling, but with no strength,” Aguilar said.

Fletcher was encouraging about his prospects, Aguilar said, but advised him to hire someone to do bookkeeping or other office work so that he could be out in the community, meeting people and selling ads. Working with Fletcher made a big difference, Aguilar said, because he had someone else to talk with about his business. “It was like night and day,” Aguilar said. “He saved me from going under.”

When Fletcher retired in 2018, Aguilar started working with SBDC business advisor Ron Nielsen, who brought in SBDC advisor Mia Johnstone to provide additional assistance. Aguilar worked with Johnstone on marketing, while Nielsen advised on cash flow management and building new revenue streams. Early on, Aguilar’s primary revenue stream was radio ads and a supplemental newsletter that highlighted his radio advertisers, but then Aguilar hit on the idea of organizing community events and selling sponsorships.

Aguilar was gaining momentum with event planning and sponsorships, but then COVID hit and public gatherings stopped. Still, Aguilar knew there was a need for the service he was providing to the Hispanic community. According to Data USA, about 30 percent of people in Wenatchee identify as Hispanic. Statewide, the percentage of people who identify as Hispanic is about 13 percent, but that number is much higher in counties in central Washington, including Chelan (28%), Douglas (32%), Grant (42%), and Yakima (49%).

COVID put a damper on Aguilar’s ability to organize community events, but there was silver lining, at least from a business perspective. State agencies and other nonprofit organizations wanted to reach Spanish-speaking residents with COVID-related information, and La Pera Radio was perfectly positioned to reach that audience. In 2022, his gross revenue was about $120,000, which was double what he had made in 2021.

In late 2022, Nielsen asked Aguilar if he would like to work with a Spanish-speaking business advisor, and when Aguilar said sure, Nielsen introduced him to Sanson, one of two SBDC advisors located in Spokane.

“We clicked,” Aguilar said. “She is the best. She sees what I do as a service to the community.”

At their first meeting, Aguilar talked about his journey and where he’d like to see his business in the next five years. His goal, he said, is to reach one million listeners in Washington, which is roughly how many people in the state identify as Hispanic.

Sanson helped him get his ideas down on paper and prioritize what needs to be done first. That revised business plan became indispensable. “This is my GPS, this is my map,” he said.

In addition to selling radio ads, Aguilar is back to organizing events and selling his services as a master of ceremonies or event host.

Building La Pera Radio and TV continues to be a challenge, Aguilar said, but it’s worth the effort.

From the very beginning, he said, his mission was to provide a forum for news and information serving Washington’s Hispanic community. La Pera, which means The Pear, is a nod to Washington’s apple industry, but it also stands for Promoting Empowerment with Assistance and Resources.

“That is the mission,” he said, for all families to share resources that will help others improve their quality of life.

As he continues building his business, the SBDC will continue to be a resource for him and the community he serves. “If it weren’t for the SBDC I wouldn’t be here,” he said. “This is good for me and it’s good for the community, too.”

For more about La Pera Radio and TV, go here.

For more about the Washington SBDC, go here.