Forest Grove chamber starts after-lunch sessions

Jon-Michael Kowertz got his first business lesson when he opened a fireworks stand at age 12 and didn’t make any money.

“I shot too many fireworks off,” he remembers.

Fortunately for Kowertz, he got business tips from his grandfather, who happened to be a competitor of WalMart founder Sam Walton. Kowertz learned about signage, the attraction of special discounts and packaging, the importance of location and more.

Now, after years of business experience as an adult, Kowertz is bringing his expertise to Forest Grove through his role as an adviser with Portland Community College’s Small Business Development Center.

Beginning March 18, Kowertz will offer free business consulting from 1 to 4 p.m. every third Monday, following the Forest Grove Chamber of Commerce monthly luncheon.

Kowertz has advised six Forest Grove business owners since January, when he began offering his free services to Forest Grove chamber members.

Financing is one of the two main concerns he addresses. How do I plan, budget, secure a loan, grow my business?

The other area needing help is operations: “How do I create efficiency? How do I become better at what I do?” This can be particularly important for a self-employed businessperson wearing 10 hats, he said.

He also helps people with marketing questions: “How do I get more customers? How do I increase my sales?”

Technically, the Small Business Development Center measures success in five different ways, he said: number of businesses started (registered), jobs created, jobs retained, increase in sales and profit, and number of grants won.

Kowertz includes a sixth, seemingly incongruous sign of success: would-be entrepreneurs who give up their plans “because they research it and realize it’s not financially viable,” he said, or the product doesn’t fit the market.

Several people have already signed up for this Monday’s post-chamber advising slots, said Kowertz, who thought the post-luncheon time might make it easier for people to meet with him. Sessions could last an hour to an hour and a half and lead to more detailed followup sessions (also free) focusing on the business’s most crucial needs, he said.

Juanita Lint, president and CEO of Plum Hill Vineyards in Gaston, got a taste of Kowertz’s advising after she took a business class through the Small Business Development Center last summer.

“The access to the resources was phenomenal,” Lint said. “They delve down and figure your specific need” and then find an expert in that area to help.

Lint needed help with finances: cleaning up statements and reports, hunting for capital loans. “We ended up hiring an accountant, based on what they said.”

The accountant has barely started, “but even so far, her feedback and support has been better than what we used (before)” Lint said.

Lint said she also needs some help with Search Engine Optimization and website improvements. “They have pointed me to someone.”

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