When Robert Rigo enrolled in SNAP’s Small Business Success Workshop two years ago, he hoped the curriculum would serve as a springboard for his latest venture — raising and selling organic products from his West Plains farm. The six-week course covers the essentials of establishing and running a startup business, including financials, licensing, taxes, marketing and legal issues. While Robert had been in the farming business for eight years before venturing into the organic market, he said the instruction he received through the workshop provided a valuable foundation for his new enterprise. “I would recommend it for anyone starting from scratch,” Robert said. “The speakers were able to answer any questions I had. It was definitely beneficial.” Robert added that the outside contacts he developed through the class helped him market Rigo Ranch as he worked to identify the demographics for his newest inventory. These days, the business is thriving. Cara Weipert, a business development specialist with SNAP, facilitates the workshop at the agency’s Fort Wright campus near Spokane Falls Community College. The weekly classes run 6 to 8 p.m. over a six-week period. “What I like best about it is that we take folks who know nothing about something like bookkeeping or taxes and bring them to a level of understanding,” Cara said. Cara, whose background is in accounting, said she tries to be “encouraging about each person’s ideas” while also outlining the rigors associated with running a business. She counsels students to be prepared to spend plenty of time in two areas: numbers and marketing. The classes are free and, unlike the micro-enterprise loans offered by SNAP, there are no income guidelines for those who attend. The last workshop produced 23 graduates in fields that included furniture restoration, dairy farming, the restaurant industry, nonprofits and more. Ben Cabildo, a business counselor for the past 15 years and someone who has built organizations for four decades, speaks to workshop students about strategies related to marketing. No stranger to supporting the entrepreneurial spirit, Ben founded a nonprofit called AHANA (African, Hispanic, Asian, Native American) that works to improve the economic status of minority residents through the development of business and employment opportunities. “SNAP has a wealth of resources for small businesses,” Ben said. “They are helping those people who really need it.” Ben stays in contact with many who have gone through the classes. He advises students not to underestimate the importance of effectively promoting any commercial endeavor. “Marketing is one of the critical elements of being successful,” Ben said. “You can have the best product in the world and if you don’t have the right kind of marketing, it won’t matter.” Cara also brings in speakers from the insurance industry and attorneys from the law firm of Paine Hamblen to talk to students and answer questions. In addition to the workshop, Cara said a number of students access SNAP programs that help with credit building or additional business counseling. Ben said the agency’s network continues to represent a critical source of support for aspiring business owners. “SNAP is one of the best resources,” he said. “They’re taking people from dependency to self-sufficiency.” To learn more about SNAP Financial Access and micro-enterprise development, call Dave Heyamoto at 456-7106 Ext 110. Story by Craig Howard. Originally published 10.17.13