Sierra Commons helps power county’s small businesses, entrepreneurs
When Grass Valley resident Mike Mooers founded Wicked Good Copywriting in 2010, he was primarily working out of his home to produce website and catalog copy for the outdoor industries — but the home office set-up just didn’t suit him.
“Being at home, being in the guest bedroom or wherever you are is not conducive to productivity and creativity,” said Mooers, 52. “No matter what kind of blinders you can put on, life gets in the way.”
Mooers heard about the coworking space available at then-recently-opened nonprofit Sierra Commons, and decided to give it a try. He’s been using the space five days a week ever since — and it’s been key for him as he operates his business.
“Being able to go into an office where people were working and business was getting done in a real kind of positive environment was a big step up for me,” Mooers said.
Since opening its doors six years ago, Sierra Commons has become a valuable resource for Nevada County’s entrepreneurs and small business owners, serving as a hub for mentoring, education and collaboration.
Nevada County residents — from artists to computer programmers to caterers — provide the ideas and creativity; Sierra Commons helps give them the tools to start, maintain or grow their business.
“People know that they can come to us with their questions and they know that they can get answers,” said Hilary Hodge, the organization’s executive director.
Leah Walsh had a lot of questions about opening a business after she relocated from Alaska to Nevada County a couple of years ago. She originally began applying for jobs after moving to the area, but wasn’t finding a fit.
“With the energy in this community, it became real in my mind that I could actually start my own business,” said Walsh, 30.
She enrolled in the business ignitor course at Sierra Commons — a multi-week course that takes entrepreneurs through the essentials of starting a business, from creating a business plan to building a website to filing taxes.
More than 100 small business owners have graduated from the program to date.
She stepped out of the class to solidify her business concept before re-enrolling last spring; she recently completed the course.
“I got so much out of that, I can’t even imagine having started a business without it, honestly,” Walsh said.
She’s still working on the concept of her business, but said the spirit of it will be focused on local food movements and “connecting people with food.”
She’s focused on something that was emphasized in the business ignitor course — doing market research around her concept to judge its viability.
The ignitor course helped her see that taking time to lay those kind of foundations is crucial.
“You’ll save yourself so much time, money and energy in the future by reflecting and getting more strategic and (getting) mentorship around the areas of the business that are ready to grow,” Walsh said.
Hodge said the organization strives to help entrepreneurs tackle those issues that can seem intimidating or overwhelming when developing a business.
Sierra Commons offers a range of classes and workshops, most costing between $20 and $50, on topics like WordPress, search engine optimization, public speaking and more; recently, Hodge’s 14-year-old niece led a workshop on how to use the social media network Snapchat.
The organization tries to be responsive to the needs of the community. A monthly lunch for women business owners, for instance, was developed after a female business owner expressed the need for a forum to discuss challenges specific to women entrepreneurs.
When it comes to planning classes or events, Hodge said, either “a community member comes to me and says, ‘I really need to learn about X,’ and then I find a person who can teach ‘X,’ or a teacher comes to me and says, ‘I can teach ‘Y,’ and I find students to want to learn about ‘Y.’”
Providing those connections between members of the county’s small business community is one of the key functions of Sierra Commons, Hodge said.
“You can’t do a business by yourself even if you’re doing it by yourself,” Hodge said.
Abe Miessler is a software engineer who works remotely for his company; he’s been using the co-working space at Sierra Commons five days a week for about two and a half years.
He enjoys that he’s been able to develop work friendships with others, and often relies on their professional expertise.
“If I have tech questions, I can kind of lean over and ask the guy next to me,” said Miessler, 33. “It’s something you lose if you’re working out of your home office.”
Mooers called the professional networking that occurs within Sierra Commons “the most powerful thing” about the organization.
Those peers “may not be as dialed into my industry, but they’re definitely dialed in with ideas and knowledge and that definitely helps me get work and I’m sure I’ve helped other people get work,” Mooers said.
Small business owners face a lot of roadblocks to getting their business off the ground, Mooers said. The support system created by Sierra Commons makes it easier for business owners to find success.
With that support, “one can easily navigate around those little land mines, those little bumps, and keep moving forward,” Mooers said.
For more information about Sierra Commons, call 530-265-8443 or visit sierracommons.org.
To contact Staff Writer Emily Lavin, email email@example.com or call 530-477-4230.
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