Secrets to (self) success

Event offers skills, advice to those starting their own business

By Gordon Oliver, Columbian Business Editor



The opening thought at the “Self-Employment Conference” held Tuesday at the Hilton Vancouver Washington was that most business startups fail. But following that cautionary welcome, keynote speaker Mark Paul, business consultant and author of a self-help book for entrepreneurs, quickly offered a lifeline to the 200-plus actual and potential entrepreneurs in attendance.

“I want you to succeed,” said Paul, managing partner at Portland-based Synergy Consulting Group. “You’ll make the world a better place, and everybody wins.”

The all-day conference, sponsored by the Southwest Washington Workforce Development Council, was designed to offer skills and advice to those who are entering the challenging world of self employment. Clark County’s lingering economic doldrums have given self-employment more appeal, and the audience was heavily weighted to people at middle age or older, reflecting a demographic that’s been hard hit by layoffs and business closures in the recent recession.

When Paul surveyed to find out how many in the audience were merely thinking about starting a business, about half raised their hands. Fewer hands went up when he asked who had just started a business, and even fewer when Paul asked who had been in business for up to five years.

Paul offered six key tips for success for a business startup: Define a profile of your preferred customer; research potential customers, not “markets;” develop a sustainable competitive advantage; perform pricing research; try to sell something to test your sales skills; and finally, develop your products and services. A seventh “bonus” tip, Paul said, is to build a board of advisors for the business.

Gayle Beacock, co-owner of Beacock Music Co. in Vancouver, closed the daylong session with insights from her decades at the family-owned business. “Mostly I love the game of business, of figuring it out,” she said. “How can we make it better today than it was yesterday?”

Rusty Lee, owner of and a partner in, said he appreciated the conference’s self-help message. “One of the great things we can all do to secure our future is to start a business,” the Battle Ground resident said. “I think the focus here on helping them get a business launched is a powerful thing.”