Dr. Sean Harry is a Senior Advisor and Instructor who has worked with the PCC Small Business Development Center for over seven years. Each year he helps more than 150 small business owners turn their dreams into reality. Sean works with businesses at every stage of the small business growth curve, from start-up to mature businesses with more than $10m in sales.
Why do you do this work?
What is your real world experience?
I’m one of those people who has done a little bit of everything. I started out in the ministry and moved to non-profit management. After leaving the ministry I went back to Portland State University and got a Masters degree in International Management. Then I worked for a couple of fortune 500 companies -- one of them was an online University where I helped recruit students and then went on to manage groups of Admissions Advisors. That wasn't a great fit for me, so then I started my own Career Coaching company - helping people figure out what they want to be when they grow up. Back in 2009 and 2010 when the economy hit the skids there were no jobs, but plenty of need. My career coaching clients started asking if I could help them start their own business. Since I had started 2 businesses in my life and had a Master's degree in business I said, “Sure! Why not?!” I’ve been helping small business owners ever since.
What is your favorite part about being an advisor/instructor?
I love it when the lights come on. When a concept clicks and I can see it in a client's face as they really understand what we are working on. Many of our early stage clients are trying to make a shift from being an employee to being a business owner. It's a completely different skill set. I love watching them realize and take ownership of their business. I love watching them lay the groundwork and then cheering them on as their business grows! The more advanced clients experience issues around taking their business to the $1M plus level and need additional skills to get them there. When the light clicks on in their mind you can really see it as their revenue and profits soar!
Tell us about a time that you were most proud in your role as an instructor.
Last month I had a client come in an tell me that they had just purchased a new building. I've been working with this business nearly a decade, and it was super exciting to see where they have been and be a part of where they are going. I can't wait to join them for the ribbon cutting in early 2019.
What kind of transformation do you see in your clients?
The people we work with are smart and ambitious. They know how to do the "thing" that is their business (make the thing, bake the thing, fix the thing. . . ), but most of them don't know how to run a business. We help them build a business around their "thing." Watching them move through the different stages of business growth is pretty cool. I've been here long enough now that I've seen clients come in with an idea (or many ideas), place a stake in the ground and start a business with a couple hundred dollars, then grow it to $500k to $1M in just a few years.
How do you think the work you do at the SBDC affect students' lives and/or careers?
Small business owners have a dream. They are not just doing a job. Their business is their life. Everything we do helps them turn their dreams into reality. One of my colleagues likes to say that we help small business owners create both joy and wealth. I like that idea!
What skills are needed in order for someone to achieve success in small business?
Small business owners need to be able to be creative and take risks when they start a business. Not big risks. Calculated risks. Sometimes the biggest challenge is to get out of their own way and allow their employees to do their jobs.
What do you think clients struggle with the most?
Fear of failing. I've learned that most small business owners are afraid of someone finding out their "dirty little secret" -- they feel like they don't really know what they are doing. A big part of my job is to talk them off of that ledge and help them realize that none of us really know what we are doing, so why not go for it and enjoy the ride?!
How do you help them with this?
It’s a proven fact that when you start a business you will fail, and fail, and fail again. I help them fail fast so they can move on to the next step. Sometimes my clients need a swift kick in the rear. Sometimes they need a shoulder to cry on. Sometimes they need to learn a new skill. My job is to help them (and me) figure out what they need and where they can find it.
If you could give one piece of advice to all your future clients, what would it be?
Have fun! Life is short, so let's make it fun! The work you are doing here is your legacy to the world!
How do you keep yourself knowledgeable and up to date on trends and industry standards in order to deliver the best quality of education?
I try to read a book on some aspect of small business about every two weeks. I go to a one or two day long training at least twice a year. I attend national conferences whenever I get the chance. I also try to take a PCC class at least once or twice a year as well. One of the most important ways I keep the saw sharp is to learn from my SBDC colleagues. They are some very sharp people who have valuable knowledge and experience.
What do you do for fun?
I enjoy riding bikes and building a doll house with my 12 year old granddaughter. I try to go hiking in the Gorge or Mt. Hood as often a possible. We just bought a house, so there is plenty to do in the yard. My "go-to" is either reading or napping.