BY AHMED HAQUE Chairman of the Board CARLSBAD CHAMBER OF COMMERCE Knowledge and discipline. Anyone who has endeavored to get in shape or learn a musical instrument knows that both are essential to success. A trainer or instructor can teach you the how, but they also drive the discipline to show up for workouts or to practice playing an instrument. It’s no different in business, with evidence in the growing demand for business coaches or courses and seminars with practical exercises. Now the Chamber’s SPARK program can provide you a comprehensive platform to develop and implement a strategic business plan with a group of fellow business owners and the expert advice of facilitators and subject matter experts. SPARK stands for Stimulating Profit, Accountability, Resilience & Knowledge. The program is the creation of Immediate Past Chair of the Carlsbad Chamber of Commerce Deb Beddoe of Your Ops Manager and Board Member Don Sando of Strategic Results Group. “My business benefitted greatly from my participation in the Chamber’s similar Pathways to Success program as it transformed my company from ‘growing a revenue stream’ to ‘growing a business’. I was determined to bring back a program like Pathways,” explains Beddoe. Sando adds that “we’ve created a more robust curriculum based on what businesses need at the various stages of development. It’s not identical to but rather an improvement on Pathways to Success.” Each SPARK group will be limited to eight participants, with no more than one from an industry to ensure participants aren’t matched with a potential competitor. The group will meet twice a month for two years, the first year being devoted to development of a strategic business plans and the second to execute and refine the plan. In addition to facilitation by an experienced business consultant, the SPARK group will host subject matter experts on topics such as banking, HR, accounting, legal matters and others. But participants will also benefit greatly from their accountability to, and the collective experience of, their SPARK peer group. “Often, small business owners are left alone to brainstorm their own problems. Having a group of business owners who understand your business, who have their own business experience, and whom you trust is a great resource when you feel like you are tackling your problems alone,“ says Beddoe. Sando explains that “studies indicate accelerated growth for small businesses that operate from a strategic plan; other studies show accelerated growth for those who participate in a guided peer group.” The program is paced over two years in recognition of the competing day-to-day responsibilities of participants. “There will be exercises between sessions such as analysis of competitors or investigation into customer needs, but there are things that business owners should do in order to create a growth plan for their business,” adds Sando. The first SPARK group will launch this October, but additional groups can begin at any time if there are enough participants. Costs are a fraction of what one could spend on a business coach or a myriad of courses whose subjects will be covered in the SPARK program.