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Advising helps woodworker grow business, financial acumen

By Hope Belli Tinney, Washington SBDC

OLYMPIA, Wash. – Custom cabinetry shop Beech Tree Woodworks grew out of owner Nic James’ passion for wood and appreciation of quality craftsmanship. Then it grew out of its location in a 2,200-square-foot shop under his apartment.

He had a four-month waiting list and was turning away new projects. His employees had to work around each other in tight quarters or wait in line to use certain tools and machines.

Still, taking the next step was a risky proposition and one James had put off. He’d been in business for more than a dozen years when he decided it was time to find a new workshop. That’s when he began meeting with Ron Nielsen, a certified business advisor with the Washington Small Business Development Center (SBDC).

The SBDC ( is a network of more than two dozen business advisors working in communities across the state to help small business owners start, grow or transition businesses. It provides one-on-one, confidential advising at no cost.

The SBDC receives funding from the U.S. Small Business Administration, Washington State University and other institutions of higher education and economic development. Nielsen’s office in Lacey, Wash., receives funding through the Center for Business and Innovation at South Puget Sound Community College.

Financial facts bolster confidence

Nielsen asked James for three years of QuickBooks data, and SBDC associate Natalya Putt created a spreadsheet that allowed them to review the company’s financial history. Meeting weekly, James began to understand financial statements better and how to use spreadsheets to drive his decisions about Beech Tree Woodworks (

He realized that he needed to invest in his business – in space, equipment and personnel – to capture the growth his company was capable of. Advising “gave me all the confidence in the world,” he said. “It’s just black and white.”

It is critical that business owners have accurate financial data and know how to read statements and spreadsheets, said Duane Fladland, state director of the Washington SBDC.

“That’s what sets entrepreneurs apart,” he said. “They are optimists and they are willing to take risks, but the truly successful ones have the data to explain why they are optimistic.”

Investing in space, tools, employees

James took the spreadsheets to his banker in October 2015, showed him three years of projections and got a loan. In December, Beech Tree Woodworks moved into a new 6,000-square-foot shop with a 1,000-square-foot office. The loan allowed him to double tools and equipment and upgrade to some high-tech, precision machines – including a computer numeric control machine that cost $76,000: “I call it my Tesla,” he said.

While he initially sought help to find a larger shop, the scope of his work with the SBDC has grown to include other business decisions and systems.

“I’ve been in business for over a dozen years,” James wrote in a testimonial for SBDC advising. “One may think that much of this would be review, but this is not the case.

“SBDC advising has been tremendously important to me,” he said. “I feel like a legitimate businessman now. The fact that this resource is available and free is simply astounding.”


Nic James, Beech Tree Woodworks, 360-349-1558,
Ron Nielsen, Washington SBDC in Lacey, Wash., 360-709-2050,



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