Consultant also helps existing businesses

Owning a business — being one's own boss — may be part of the American dream, but the reality is that many startup businesses don't make it. Figures vary, but 50 to 75 percent or more new businesses will fail within two years.

People who seek startup assistance have a higher rate of success, according to Jason Cole, a consultant for Wichita State University Kansas Small Business Development Center, who is prepared to offer help without charge.

Based at the Cowley Outreach Center for Cowley College, he works with clients in a seven-county area on an individual basis, and also coordinates workshops offered through the Pratt Area Economic Development Corp. and Pratt Area Chamber of Commerce.

Success depends upon being talent savvy and business savvy — you have to have both, Cole said. He can't help a baker produce a scrumptious cake or a mechanic diagnose and fix an engine problem, but he can help with the business side — setting prices, managing cash flow, hiring employees and marketing strategies.

There are a lot of people wanting to start businesses in Pratt, Jan Scarbrough, executive director of the Chamber and Economic Development Corporation, said; Cole confirmed that "2 to 5 people shops are opening up everywhere" in the state.

"There's a lot of stuff going on in Pratt," Cole said. "I'd like to brag about it, talk about it, but I can't."

Confidentiality is guaranteed. Even if Scarbrough refers someone to him, he can't talk to her about any new business that might be starting, or expansion of a current one.

Bank loan officers, however, have told Scarbrough that loan-seekers who have worked with KSBDC come to them with better plans and projections.

Many people don't have a clear idea of what a comprehensive business plan entails, and sometimes when they find out, they decide they really don't want to do it, Cole said. But those who go ahead have a better chance of succeeding.

"Starting and running a business is hard work, but it's very rewarding, especially when it is successful," Cole commented. "We want to help people be successful."

The perception is that they only help startup businesses. That's not true, both Cole and Scarbrough stress. They also work with existing businesses and can help with expansion or even downsizing or selling a business.

Cole meets with clients in Pratt when needed, and he and Scarbrough are working to establish a regular schedule. A private conference room at the Chamber office can be available, if a client prefers.

Workshops, presented each quarter have been very well received, Scarbrough said. At least two people must be registered to hold a session, and sometimes they have had five or six registered, but as many as 20 people show up.

The Center offers several standardized workshops, or can customize one to meet local needs.

One of the most popular is the 3M workshop, focusing on money, management and marketing. A business plan workshop is also popular. On Thursday, Cole and Scarbrough were going over some potential first-quarter offerings in Pratt, including topics on people management, creating and interpreting cash flow, home-based business basics and possibly an on-going group sharing ideas about Internet apps.

Scarbrough encouraged business owners to let her know their needs. She can also facilitate a meeting with Cole, or anyone is welcome to contact him directly.

Cole was hired as a consultant last fall. Prior to that, he served as an adjunct instructor with the business and industry training branch of Cowley College. In 2010, he launched Centaur Solution to help business owners, CEOs, sales executives and human relations professionals identify and solve employee issues. He has a Master of Science degree in business education from Emporia State University.