SBDC advising helps long-time business owner focus on what matters

TOLEDO, Wash.—Cyndi Philbrook has been self-employed for most of the past 30 years, relying on her resourcefulness, growth mindset and grit to navigate successful careers in construction, finance and insurance.

She had been the owner of Philbrook Insurance in the tiny town of Toledo, Wash., for more than a decade before she reached out to the Washington Small Business Development Center (SBDC) for one-on-one technical assistance. It was a game changer, Philbrook said. She only wishes she had reached out years earlier.

“Being a small business owner can be lonely,” she said. “I was looking for a coach to get me to the next level. Someone to run ideas by, help with accountability, talk through business systems and discuss ideas for improving the overall business.”

Today, a little over a year after starting to work with SBDC business advisor Lorena Lowell, Philbrook said revenue is up, systems are more streamlined, and she has more time to spend on outside interests, including the Toledo Community Foundation, which she co-founded in 2020.

Cyndi Philbrook, owner

All of that, without a decline in customer satisfaction. In 2023, she was voted the best insurance company and best financial advisor in Lewis County by readers of The Chronicle, a local media outlet.

Philbrook said she first became aware of the Washington SBDC during COVID, when she attended several online webinars. Then, in July 2022, she reached out again for one-to-one assistance.

The Washington SBDC provides one-on-one advising, online and in-person training and market research to help small business owners and entrepreneurs start, grow and buy/sell a business.

The Washington SBDC network is hosted by Washington State University and includes about 40 business advisors and three international trade business advisors working in more than two dozen communities across the state. SBDC advising is also available in Spanish and through one-on-one teleconference, making it easily accessible to any small business owner in the state, regardless of location.

SBDC services are provided at no cost to the business owner through funding agreements with multiple federal, state and local entities, including the U.S. Small Business Administration, institutions of higher education, economic development agencies and business and civic groups.

Philbrook said she didn’t have a single goal in mind when she started meeting with SBDC business advisor Lorena Lowell. Instead, she had a whole list of ideas and concerns she wanted to discuss.

“Nothing was crossed off the list until we both agreed it was done,” she said. “Nothing was overlooked, either.” Philbrook said she really appreciated the way Lowell was able to break tasks down into bite-size pieces, so that over time they made incredible progress.  

One large job they tackled in small pieces was to look at every task that needed to be done to keep the business running, and then decide roles and responsibilities for herself, her two employees and outside contractors. Once she was able to delegate more responsibilities, she had more time to look at options and figure out what she wanted to do next. “It gave me the space to make good choices,” she said.

Philbrook said she was surprised by Lowell’s depth of knowledge and her willingness to research what she didn’t know so that they could figure things out together.

“The SBDC could not have matched me with a better coach,” she said. “Having a person look at your business from the outside is very valuable. It takes the emotions out of it. When you’re in the grind of the day-to-day, it is hard to step away and work on your business.”

Over the past year, Philbrook has been able to grow her business and she’s also had more time to spend on community events and the Toledo Community Foundation, a non-profit that raises money to help children in need. In 2023, the organization raised more than $60,000 to support local schools and meet the needs of struggling students and families.

“I would encourage others to reach out to the SBDC to learn about resources available to business owners,” Philbrook said, “and it’s free!”

For more about Philbrook Insurance Agency, click here.

For more about the Washington SBDC, click here.