Creating massive change with few resources is not easy, but the Chamber of Commerce of Greater Vancouver proved last year that it is possible.
For 2022, the Chamber received a $75,000 grant from Clark County out of the nearly $95 million the federal government provided to the county through the COVID-19 Pandemic Assistance Program.
“When communities are hit by a pandemic, it’s clear that there are companies that need the Chamber’s support, but we also realize that no company should be at risk because after a week or two of a pandemic or any crisis Had to close for sorting,” said Janet Kenefsky, the chamber’s vice president of membership and operations.
With pandemic relief funds in place, the Chamber has expanded its “Business Pathways to Opportunity and Growth” program.
“We want to make sure that every company is equipped to withstand a pandemic. And, in a non-pandemic time, in a good economy, how do you apply those skills and thrive?” Kenfsky said.
The program provides free educational seminars, ad hoc consultations, individual coaching sessions and group coaching sessions to business owners, Chamber members and non-members.
Kenefsky said the program is designed to allow businesses to meet their needs when and where they need them.
“If an educational seminar would be useful to you, we’ll give you the opportunity to attend the seminar, hear the speakers, and practice programming,” she said. “You have homework to do and you can tune in on your own time or join us when they’re live.”
The most popular element of the program is the individual coaching sessions. These sessions allow business owners to sit down one-on-one with a coach who can walk them through various aspects of the business, Kenefsky said.
“It gives business owners a chance to raise their hand and say, ‘Hey, listen, I don’t know how to do this well. I need help.’ They can do it in a confidential manner,” she said.
Taking a hands-on approach to helping businesses is an important part of the program. For example, Kenefsky said, instead of directing someone who wants to start a new business to go to the Secretary of State’s website for answers, the coach strives to provide those answers.
“Doing business in Washington State is cumbersome and often confusing. We sit down and we walk you through why, and we walk you through whether you should be an (LLC) or an S Corporation or B Corporation – Taxation What are the strengths, what are the weaknesses? They do their homework,” she said.
Once these questions are answered, the coaches move on to topics such as identifying who the business is targeting, building a brand, learning how to maximize resources and focusing on marketing.
“Like other organizations, the Chamber of Commerce wants to provide opportunities for small businesses, micro-enterprises to learn and grow, and possibly fill a void in their business minds,” Kenefsky said. “If you’re a chef and you own a restaurant, we can help you with the management.”
This help can include bringing in a financial advisor to help with basic skills — tracking income and expenses, creating profit and loss statements, and reporting those numbers to the government.
Cohort coaching sessions are similar to individual coaching sessions, but they group businesses together.
“That’s where we started building the community,” Kenefsky said. “We’re going to put you in the same space as 8 to 10 other businesses, and you’re building a community with them. Now, you know you’ve got access to 8 to 10 other companies over the years.”
She said creating the network would allow businesses to share their experience and skills and allow owners to seek advice.
The popularity of cohort coaching sessions has led chambers of commerce to create nonprofits, food courts, and health and wellness cohort groups.
When the “Business Pathway to Opportunity and Development” program was launched last year, the goal was to have 40 companies or businesses registered.
“We ended up attracting over 200 companies, and companies were registering every day,” Kenefsky said.
The Chamber now has companies from nearly every city in the county participating in the program. It is hoped that a second round of grants will be secured, which will allow the chamber to expand the program.
“We want to target the refugee community. We do have some Afghan refugees and others who are on the program. They were business owners in their own country, but come here, a lot of them are now working in retail just to find a job work,” Kenefsky said. “We’re working with them on how to properly set up a company in the U.S. and in Washington State.”
For more information on opportunities and the Growth Business Pathway program, visit www.vancouverusa.com/business-owners/businesspod.