5 Seasoned, Local Business Owners Give Advice on What It Takes to Run a Business

Wednesday, April 04, 2018

Building a business is tough. As SBDC consultant Steve Imke says: “It’s not for everyone. There are easier ways to make money.” It can also be one of the most rewarding experiences of your life. The Pikes Peak SBDC is committed to helping businesses of all sizes in the Pikes Peak region grow. So we decided to tap the experts, asking them for advice on what it takes to run a business in this current Colorado Springs environment.

We feature an all-star lineup of successful business owners in the Colorado Springs area. We tried to include a variety of businesses: businesses from the trades, digital, law, and education. If you are thinking about starting a business, or growing your business through the SBDC’s free consulting and affordable workshops, take notes from the pros.

Here are the 5 pieces of advice from successful, long-standing businesses in our area:

Warren Peacock

The WireNut

There are a number of factors in running a successful business.  First you must identify the market for your business.  Are your products or services needed?  If so, by whom, what and where?  Once you identify the need for your business you must do basic market research in order to build a business plan.  Creating a business plan helps clarify your strategy, gives you key areas to focus on and a road map to follow.  This plan will allow you to understand your gross margin, cost of goods and your end game, net profit.  From these vital areas you can identify your KPI’s (Key Performance Indicators).  Just like the gauges in a car tell us if the battery is charged or the engine is running hot or cold.  KPI’s allow us to monitor the strategic indicators of a businesses’ health.  Finally, one individual characteristic that I noticed with nearly every successful business person or individual that is great in their field…discipline!  Learn the art of self-discipline!!  This will help you push through the challenges a business brings.

Keri Williams

Becker Law Group

Succeeding in business in today’s climate is challenging.  Most industries are saturated with other businesses with the same target market and are offering the same product or service.   A business owner should determine early on what makes them special or unique and focus on those areas.  As with most things in life, this can be a very experimental and frustrating task.  Define what your core values are and then decide how to translate those values into the business.  Being a female attorney in a formerly male dominated profession, it has taken some time to determine what makes my business different from the many other law firms in the area and determine what value I can offer my clients.  Find your niche to stand out among your competitors and provide extraordinary customer service, some days will not seem like good days, make the good days count.

Hannah Ditto

Design Break Studios

Build your reputation with communication: Word-of-mouth is a powerful lead generator - or lead killer, and it's all based on how your client perceives their experience with your company. Great communication can mean the difference between a happy and an unhappy customer, and it relies on these three things: method, timing, volume. 

  • Method: Choose the method of communication that best fits your customer, whether phone, email or in-person. Don't know what they like? Ask them. Skip email for sensitive conversations. You can always follow up with an email summary if you need it in writing.

  • Timing: Proactive communication builds positive impressions. Touch base on a regular basis with clients, even just to check in. It's better for your business than waiting to hear from them.

  • Volume: Particularly in a high-tech field, we work hard to keep clients informed but not overwhelmed. Pay attention to how your clients react (or don't) to your efforts, and calibrate the amount of detail they get accordingly.

Quality communication is art, not science. Try new things. Admit when you didn't hit the mark. Don't let imperfections get you down. Like most things in business, your communication reputation is a long-term game.

Joey DeLorme

Jolly Plumbing

Being a company that has been in business since 1955, we have seen our fair share of volatility in our industry. The key to our success is having the ability to pivot to the need of our consumer based on the current economic climate.  In the most recent housing crisis we focused on building our service department as new homes declined. To keep our business running we kept our costs and prices low which attracted and retained new clients. The focus with new clients is maintaining a sterling reputation, which is accomplished by employing qualified candidates that have the same passion to provide consistent quality service that is expected of us.  To separate ourselves from our competition we encourage our employees to be creative and provide us with recommendations on how to improve our current processes. As a management group we always think long term but focus on what is necessary to be successful each and every day. 

Philip Hutcherson

SAGE Affordable Tutoring

The definition of small business success is debatable; however, there are some undeniable desired qualities. Successful business owners identify quality products/services that the community wants or needs, even if the community does not realize it yet. Next, the entrepreneur creates a detailed list of the reasons the “why” is more important than the “what”. This list/plan maintains the passion, excitement, dedication, and honesty necessary to be a successful business owner that community members will recommend. If a small business owner is not passionate about his or her product or service, how can he or she expect someone else to be enthusiastic about it? Successful small business owners are positive risk-takers that provide the best product or service at a reasonable price. A few additional necessities of a successful business are making smart hires, focusing on what the company does best rather than spreading too thin, and mastering the budget to avoid going into debt.

Remember, the SBDC is committed to helping you grow. If you’d like guidance or help growing your business—sign-up for our free consulting and affordable workshops.

We’d love to meet you.

Citation? Backlink? Whaaa?! 4 SEO Tips From COS Locals

Friday, August 05, 2016

Hello Small Businesses!

As you know, marketing is an essential part to owning a small business in Colorado Springs. However, as we all know marketing has expanded past traditional mediums (billboards, radio, television, etc…) and encompasses a variety of newer, digital methods (Facebook Ads, Adwords, Snapchat, etc…).

At the top of the digital marketing realm is search engine optimization, easily the most important… arguably the most confusing. We’ve assembled a team of the top SEO experts in Colorado Springs: Kainen Braun from Kainen Braun Marketing, Allan Todd from Page Cafe, Tyler Noe from Page Canvas, and Craig Mount from Classy Brain.

These individuals deal with search engine optimization and the Google algorithm daily. This means that they have a first-hand look at what they’ve seen drive rank for local search so far in summer 2016. They have kindly provided the top 4 SEO techniques that are currently working… just for you. 

Tip #1- Long-Form Content

Kainen Braun- Kainen Braun Marketing

Every day you use a billion dollar tool and you didn’t even realize it. Google Search is a savvy monster when it comes to information and the ability to deliver it in the form of results. Search engines are built for the user (so Google can sell ads to the user of course!), but with that in mind… Google is becoming very knowledgeable. It has data from every industry and every market in every nook and cranny of the United States. It knows what keywords and topics that make users happy because it can see results across markets and industries.  Bottom line: Google wants to make Google look good, so it's entire algorithm is built around one goal: connect users with the content they crave in one click.  If Google can do that, then people keep using Google and they make googles of money. 

This means that if you are a small business owner and you aren’t showing the search engine that you know what you are talking about with your business, it will never know! You can quickly establish relevance within search engines by creating web pages, blog posts and social media posts that describe your business and address your customer’s questions.  Better yet, create content that anticipates what users are, and will be looking for. A plumber, for example, would do well to create content via blogs and social media in the Fall about how to prevent pipes from bursting.  This approach places the plumber top of mind when people begin winterizing their homes as it gets colder. It's not enough to be awesome at what you do, you need to publish content that proves it. 

Pro-tip: Once again, search engines can only see what you show them. Take the effort to describe your services, as well as provide tips to show the bots you are an expert in your industry - 500 words minimum on each page. Having trouble coming up with ideas? Try using Buzzsumo, Quora, Reddit, Google Trends, Auto-suggest data on Amazon, or even your competitors content. 

Tip #2- Backlinks

Allan Todd- Page Cafe

A backlink” is a link to your website from another website.   Backlinks are a key factor in improving the visibility of your website in online search.  Google views backlinks as a "vote of confidence” in the creditability of your website and the more credible your website the higher your website will rank. However, not all backlinks are valuable.  Google looks at the creditability of the website sending the backlink and assigns a value to backlink.  If the website sending the backlink is not credible in Googles eyes, then the backlink is essentially worthless.  

If a backlink is from a highly creditable website then this one backlink can be much more valuable that hundreds of backlinks from low quality websites.  So the goal is to get backlinks from the most creditable websites possible.  

In addition, it really helps if the backlink is from a website that is in a similar category to your website.  For example, a lawyer should seek backlinks from other local attorneys or related legal services like investigators, mediators or court reporters.  A backlink from a travel blogger to a lawyers website is got going to impress Google. 

Pro-tip: Seek out links from customers, vendors, partners and even friends who have websites that are related to your business.  One more thing... NEVER purchase links.

Tip #3- Citations

Tyler Noe- Page Canvas

Citations are a listing of your name, address, and phone number on any website. For the most part, they live in online directories.  Ensuring that your business information is correct and that you are listed in the proper category for your citations is a positive indicator to Google Maps specifically that you are relevant option for your targeted keyword phrase. To check which NAP listings are most important for your industry, simply Google your primary keyword phrase and look at the top 20 directories that appear in the search results.  Begin going to each, try to find if your business is already listed, and either edit / correct the existing information or create a new profile and listing including all important business information.

Pro-tip- having trouble finding the right category? Look at whomever ranks on the first page for your keyword phrase and find them within the top 20 directories you just Googled. Copy their category and edit your business! Also, try using tools like Moz Local or Whitespark to help!  Researching your competition and where they succeed can help you find success within your own business.

Tip #4- Google Reviews

Craig Mount- Classy Brain

Make sure your online reputation is congruent with your offline presence. If you give dynamite customer service, ask people to share their experience on Google. Reviews are a great way not only to show other people interested in doing business with you how great your business is, it’s also a great way for you to show the search engines that you are a great business.

I see a lot of business owners confused about the multiple review platforms available– start with Google. Often, this will be the entry point people use to see your business online.

If you get a bad review, don’t worry! If you respond to the review in a professional manner it can actually benefit your business. You show other users you care about your customers and their experiences in your business.

Pro-tip- Use Whitespark’s free review handout generator! It is a flow chart that shows customers exactly how to leave a review at a business on Google Maps.


Citation? Backlink whaaa? If any of this was confusing we apologize! If you need help with the basics feel free to attend one of the SBDC’s regular digital marketing workshops or take advantage of our free consulting and meet with one of our SEO specialists. Otherwise, there you have it– the best SEO techniques currently working for local business.

We look forward to your success!

Small Business Week in Review

Tuesday, May 31, 2016
From the Pikes Peak SBDC Crew

With over 500 participants, the 2016 Pikes Peak Region Small Business Week was a HUGE success. Thank you to all of you who participated! Together we celebrated the tremendous impact of small businesses in the region starting with the wildly popular Food Truck Cook-Off, followed by three informative workshop and networking events, and finishing the week with the Small Business Awards Celebration.

We look forward to building on the best week ever and working with the thriving small business community in the Pikes Peak region to make next year's events even better!  Check out these highlights from your 2016 Small Business Week!

Congrats to the 2015 Small Business Award Winners!
  • Family-Owned Business of the Year: John and Beth Hughes, O'Briens Carpet One
  • Veteran-Owned Business of the Year: David Hollenbach, DSoft Technology Co
  • Young Entrepreneur of the Year: Clay Guillory, Titan Robotics
  • Small Business Champion of the Year:  Dave Van Ness, Old Colorado City Associates
  • Small Business Person of the Year: Mike Tipton, Integrity Communications Solutions
  • Small Business Development Center Volunteer of the Year: Darrell Fleck
  • Best Food Truck of the Year:  Mira Sol

Presenting Sponsor:

US Bank

Corporate Sponsors:

Media/Ad Sponsors: 

Small Business Week is Hosted By:

Sellers Cashing Out: Business for Sale Listings Reach 7 Year High

Wednesday, April 27, 2016



BizBuySell's Q1 2016 Report on small business transactions showed small businesses listed for sale reach their highest number since 2009. Furthermore, median revenue and median cash flow of business sold during this period reached their highest level since BizbuySell first started tracking data in 2007.

free valuation credits for brokers

Improved financials allowed sellers to ask for and receive hgiher sale prices, with median sale prices increasing 10 percent year-over-year. Learn more about what influenced Q1 2016 transaction activity.



3 Risk Levels to Becoming a Business Owner

Tuesday, March 08, 2016


By Steve Imke, SBDC Consultant and Small Business Specialist

Most of the clients I see want to start their business from scratch, but there are 2 other options to becoming a business owner. The first option is to buy an existing business and the second is to buy a franchise. Clients often tell me that these two options simply cost too much. They argue that they are choosing to start from scratch because it is the cheaper path.

At that point in the conversation, I often remind them that starting a business from scratch is by far the riskiest way to become a business owner. In fact, statistics from the US Department of Commerce say that 65% to 90% of start-up business are likely to fail within the first five years. In other words, only 10% to 35% will have a chance of success. The principle reason for this high failure rate is that most businesses take on too many fixed expenses early on. On top of that, their revenue ramps up slower than planned and the business simply runs out of money before breaking even and turning a profit.

One client who had previously been a pilot in the US Air Force summed it up when he said,

“I guess they had too much payload and not enough runway.”

Entrepreneurs that buy an existing business have a 90% to 95% chance of still being in business after 5 years. The principle reason for this higher success rate is that when you buy an existing business, you already have revenue from customers and have a predictable level of expenses. You know these expenses are less than the amount of revenue, which leaves the business some profit and cash flow to work with. Moreover, existing businesses often have employees that already know their jobs, are well trained, and the business has proven processes to capture customer value.

Entrepreneurs that buy into a franchise concept have a 90% chance of still being in business after 5 years. Although franchises need new customers to generate revenue, the entrepreneur is often buying brand awareness and a proven system. Moreover, most new franchises are able to reduce the cost of goods sold by taking advantage of the economies of scale established by the franchiser since they have franchise-wide buying power.

When you buy a franchise or another person’s business, you also have access to someone who knows both the business and financial model as well as someone who has a vested interest in your success. Obviously this is not the case with start-ups. Let’s not forget that the primary goal of business ownership is to make money for the owner.

Existing businesses make money on day one. A successful franchise will earn the owner income not too long after starting up. However, a start-up, even one that survives, may take months or years to begin to pay the owner a salary for working in the business.

When it comes to business ownership, have you considered buying vs. starting from scratch?

For more articles like this, visit Steve's Blog here!






The Hidden Value of Crowdfunding

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

By Steve Imke, SBDC Consultant and Small Business Specialist

Traditionally, entrepreneurs had 2 options to raise funds to start their business. They could either get a loan or give away ownership to investors. Because of the risk involved in the early stages of a small business, founders had to give up large blocks of equity to entice an early stage equity investor. On the other hand, having to make interest and principle payments for debt financing can, at best, slow growth or even cripple a company during it’s fragile early stages. Enter crowd funding, a viable option to preserve equity and eliminate the need for debt.

In a real estate deal a few years ago, a builder I know needed to raise capital to build a new residential tower in downtown Denver. With a mock-up of the finished building, some computer generated images, and some floor plan layouts, he pre-sold many of the units at a discount to come up with the seed money he needed to get the project off the ground. Crowd funding shares many similarities to the strategy used by the builder to raise capital and validate the concept.

In many cases, a product based crowd sourcing campaign allows people to pre-order the product before anyone else. This campaign accomplishes several vital steps for a company still in its early stages.

1. It provides the company with the capital it needs to build the first wave of products without either giving away equity, or pay back principle, or pay the lender interest. These benefits occur when equity is most under valued and capital preservation is most needed.

2. It validates the hypothesis that consumers are willing to exchange cash for the product. Proving the value of the product is a major tenet of the business model canvas and for business that employ the lean start-up methodology.

3. It can raise to the surface demand for new and innovative products that might be hidden without a large number of investors actually seeing the product.

4. It attracts early adopters who become social activists, evangelizing the product to their networks and raising product awareness.

5. Tiered raises create excitement. Excitement can create a valuable feedback loop to further product improvement by exposing the product to early adopters, the people who are most likely to provide feedback.

6. It provides funding for a particular product and not the company. It is like a direct investment in a single oil well rather than buying the diversified portfolio of an oil company, such as Exxon.

In addition to pre-order campaigns, some crowd funding campaigns allow for micro ownership of an early stage company. This creates a whole new class of investors who can buy into companies before they become large and go public.

Before crowd funding, only accredited investors (investors with more than a million dollars in net-worth or investors that earn over two hundred thousand per year in wages) could get involved with ground floor investments. Prior to crowd funding, companies who tried to raise money from unaccredited investors would run afoul with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). Crowd sourcing allows small investment levels that bypasses SEC oversight, opening the opportunity for micro investors wanting to buy into early stage companies.

These micro investors hope these businesses will grow substantially. They hope that these businesses will then give them a significant return on their investment when the company experiences a exit event such as being acquired or going public. Before crowd funding, even accredited investors would have to either invest large sums of money in only a few companies, which is very risky since there is limited diversity in invested capital, or find a venture capital fund to invest in and lose ultimate control over the specific investment allocations in new companies. With crowd funding, a small time investor with only a few thousands dollars can invest in dozens of hand picked companies and achieve investment diversification, a domain only previously available to venture capital principle investors.

Setting up a crowd funding campaign generally requires a good video demonstration of a sexy new product. Need a little help getting your idea from conception to a point where you are ready to begin a crowd sourcing campaign? No problem! Companies, such as Quirky can help get you there in exchange for micro equity stakes.

However, the funding of your venture may be the easy part. The real work comes when the new company or product gets funded. Now the owners must produce the product. To do that, they must now manage a long supply chain and learn to run a real business.

For more articles like this, visit Steve's Blog here!

A Colorado Lending Source Success Story

Wednesday, April 30, 2014
Special Times Limousine is Hudson, Colorado’s only locally owned and operated limousine and luxury sedan service. When owner Kevin Labonte realized South Weld County and Northeast Adams County were renting limousine and luxury sedan services from the Northern Suburbs and Denver, he knew he was entering a sizable market. As the company continues to grow, they now serve the Denver-metro areas as far south as Castle Rock, Colorado. Mr. Labonte offers affordable pricing on general local transportation for those “special times” using only the most dependable trained staff of chauffeurs with high-class customer service.

With help from Jesse Esparza from the Denver Metro Small Business Development Center, Special Times Limousine received financing under Colorado Lending Source’s direct-micro loan, the Colorado Main Street Loan Program. The funds assisted with start-up costs, and the purchase/renovation of a custom limousine. They currently have 4 vehicles and employ a staff of 9. With the capital provided, the company has expanded into new markets and has formed viable partnerships with other industries and several chambers.

For more information about Colorado Lending Source loans, you can contact Nicole Christianson at, or call 303.657.4813.

Has your business been affected by the recent floods?

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Across Colorado several businesses have been affected by the recent floods. The Colorado SBDC Network is here to help your business with the recent disasters including wildfires and floods. If you have questions, concerns, or need guidance please contact your local SBDC for assistance through the disaster loan applications, long term planning, insurance navigation, physical and economic loss estimations, business preparedness and more.

The NEECCO SBDC and several others across the state are partnering with the SBA Disaster Assistance to host Business Recovery Centers.

Greeley will have the Recovery Center at the Greeley Chamber of Commerce on September 26th (9:00 am- 6:00 pm) , 27th(9:00 am- 6:00 pm) , and 28th(9:00 am- 1:00 pm) .

Turn Your Financials into a Powerful Management Tool

Wednesday, April 30, 2014
How many of you have seen the ”Dave” Staples commercial? It shows “Dave” serving in all the positions of his company, asking “Dave” when “Dave” needs help.

As business owners we serve in so many capacities, it is difficult, if not impossible to do everything well. When we get pressured, we get stressed. Negative stress (yes, there is positive stress) can cause exhaustion and illness often follows. Most of us have experienced that sinking feeling when we realize we are “in over our heads.”

When it comes to our financials we try really hard to get everything not only in the system, but in the right bucket. Time is often our enemy. Invoicing gets behind which can cause a cash flow crisis. The ‘taxman cometh’ and we might not be ready.

Whether we do our own books or have them done, we are ultimately responsible for the result. Although responsibly managing the ‘books’ was probably not the reason we started our business, it will be one of the primary reasons we succeed in business.

It all starts with organization. Chaos has no place in a financial system. It starts with a Chart of Accounts that actually matches the business and more importantly you, the owner. The second step is imputing good information and most importantly getting the data in the right place. Once these steps have been taken, you can then produce various reports on a regular basis. Those up-to-date reports can provide the information needed to find the answers to the following questions and more:
  1. Are my products/services priced to make a profit?
  2. What is labor actually costing me?
  3. What are my true production costs?
  4. Are my overhead costs under control?
With this financial information, you are now empowered to make key strategic business decisions based on fact not hope. Having access to these answers put you in the driver’s seat of your business. That control alone can bring down your stress level. Take action today to get control. If you need outside help, get it. Make sure if you get help with your financials, you stay involved in the process. Learn what you need to know about financial management, so even if you choose not to do it yourself, you can inspect what you expect and know it is being done correctly.

This week’s tip brought to you by Nancy Barnett and the Denver Metro SBDC.

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