By Hope Belli Tinney, Washington Small Business Development Center
TWISP, Wash. – It’s a truism among small business consultants everywhere that if you want to grow your business beyond the equivalent of subsistence farming, you need to work on your business, not in it.
Jennifer Tate has always done both at her marketing and graphic design firm, Earth and Sky Studios in Twisp, Wash., becoming the go-to professional for tourism marketing for nearly two decades.
But, after buying the real estate website design powerhouse Cevado Technologies in February 2016, she knew she’d have to step up her game.
“I knew I was going to have to change from being a marketing consultant with a small team, to being a leader on a whole new level,” she said, and so she has.
Today, Cevado Technologies has nearly doubled its staff, providing good jobs for 20 people in rural Chelan County and it is poised for significant growth over the next five years.
Within months of buying the company she partnered with Nick McLean, owner of Nick McLean Real Estate Group in Wenatchee, and he joined her at the helm of Cevado to provide expertise on real estate technology needs and opportunities. In January 2017, Cevado added a new real estate product, a home evaluation tool, to their portfolio, and in 2018 they are poised to launch a full new suite of products. Tate believes these new products could be a game changer for real estate web tools, not just in Eastern Washington but across the country and abroad.
This wouldn’t have happened, she said, without the assistance of Lew Blakeney, an expert business advisor with the Washington Small Business Development Center (SBDC). The Washington SBDC is a network of more than two dozen business advisors working in communities across the state to provide one-on-one advising to small business owners and entrepreneurs who want to start, grow or transition a business.
The Washington SBDC is hosted by Washington State University and receives funding from the U.S. Small Business Administration, as well as other institutions of higher education and economic development. Blakeney’s work is supported by The Economic Alliance in Okanogan County and his offices is in Omak.
Tate was raised in the Methow Valley and returned there after graduating from Western Washington University. She opened Earth and Sky Studios in 1999 and began meeting with Blakeney for business advice soon after that. Over the next 17 years, she built her business into a successful graphic design company focused on tourism marketing — both digital and print — while raising two daughters.
Buying Cevado, she said, was a leap of faith. “The whole thing was terrifying at every point,” she said.Fortunately, Blakeney was there to walk with her through the process and help her meet one challenge at a time.
“I know I wouldn’t have bought Cevado without Lew’s help,” Tate said. “There were so many things that I needed to do, and he helped me with every single one. He’s just such an incredible resource.”
Tate had been friends with Cevado’s founder, Chris Raines, for many years. So, when he approached her about buying the business, with the offer that he would stay on as an employee — while also running his own design company, Sun Graphics — it seemed like a win for everyone.
“He really enjoys doing the work, not orchestrating the entire symphony,” she said.
Tate, on the other hand, thrives on the orchestration. Her strengths, she said, include strategic planning, creating and communicating a vision and building a powerful company culture.
Tate is still in the trenches when she needs to be, she said, but she tries to keep focused on the business itself — making sure Cevado stays at the forefront of the industry, and that the company is able to attract and retain high-quality employees who can keep pushing the company forward.
Over the past two years, she said, she’s probably read more than 100 books on leadership and how to create a dynamic, innovative company.
Failure is not a mystery, Tate says. All it takes is a few bad decisions added to the passage of time. The real mystery, she said, is success. Hard work is a given — determination, persistence, tenacity and grit — but even then, things can go wrong. Tate is keenly aware that what you don’t know can bite you.
That’s why SBDC advising is so important. “Lew is a huge help with the technical stuff,” she said. “He makes sure that I dot my i’s and cross my t’s. I know that I don’t know what I don’t know. Lew is one of my resources to help me see those areas.”
Learn more about Cevado Technologies.
Learn more about the Washington SBDC.
Jennifer Tate, owner of Cevado Technologies, 509-997-0055, firstname.lastname@example.org