Providing a Full Scope of Learning to Organizations Statewide
For three and a half years, Northern Initiatives has had a powerful ally in West Michigan.
Leandra Nisbet, owner of Stingray Advisory Group in Grand Rapids, is a contract business coach who has worked with scores of Northern Initiatives customers. Now she’s providing technical assistance for entrepreneurs across the state of Michigan through Optimize Main Street.
The Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) and Northern Initiatives have partnered on Optimize Main Street, a pilot program that is helping place-based businesses build resilience through the use of digital resources and technology upgrades. Grant awardees receive up to $2,500, one-on-one coaching, and access to resources through Initiate, Northern Initiatives’ small business learning portal.
“She’s our ‘coach on the ground’ in West Michigan,” said Amanda Blondeau, Chief Strategy Officer for Northern Initiatives. “She’s an extension of what we do. Plus, when I ask, “Can you take on more?’ she always says, ‘Yes, we can.’”
The focus of the Optimize Main Street program is on implementing or upgrading technology systems, but the scope of the technical assistance within the program is limitless.
“It’s a unique program,” Nisbet said. “It has a grant award, but it’s tied to a technology improvement component and one-on-one coaching. We work directly with the small business owners to talk through challenges, how they’re going to use the funding, but even doing things that are outside the scope of this program. We’re having holistic conversations with the awardees.”
Nisbet was talking to one small business owner, who has been in business for years, about streamlining the online process. During the conversation, Nisbet asked about their pricing strategy and the business owner admitted she had never increased prices or even reviewed her pricing.
“She was nervous about alienating people or backlash,” said Nisbet. During their 1-on-1 coaching session, Nisbet was able to explain how to leverage messaging and utilize options, like new prices for new customers, as well as how to review prices in general – including assessing the business owner’s own expenses and increased costs on what she is buying.
The owner opted for a price increase – and there was no backlash. “I had explained that her customers weren’t going to volunteer to pay more. The owner said she thought about me when she got a note from one of her clients who positively respsonded and said, ‘I have been expecting this’,” Nisbet said.
Having served as a contractual business coach for several years, Nisbet says one of the benefits of contracting with Stingray Advisory Group is that “here, you’re contracting with a team.” Stingray employs six people and is a:
• NMSDC-Certified Minority Business Enterprise (MBE)
• US Black Chamber-Certified Black-Owned Business
• WBENC-Certified Women’s Business Enterprise (WBE)
• Certified Women-Owned Small Business (WOSB)
• Certified Micro-Local Business Enterprise (MLBE)
Stingray Advisory Group is a two-time Grand Rapids Business Journal Top Women-Owned Business honoree and a Corp! Magazine Michigan Economic Bright Spot honoree. She has been recognized as one of the Grand Rapids Business Journal’s 40 Under 40 leaders. Additionally, Nisbet and members of her team currently volunteer with the Women’s Resource Center, Opera Grand Rapids, Michigan Women Forward, and the Alzheimer’s Association Michigan Chapter.
“I would love to engage with other mission lenders to find out how we can be of service,” she said. “Besides our business support, we’ve also done content development for Northern Initiatives, such as creating resources for Initiate. I love marketing and content development and the creativity that goes into that.”
Nisbet is encouraged by seeing an increase in women-owned businesses, and more businesses being owned by underrepresented people. “Collaboratively, as more people are working on supporting these businesses and being intentional about that, we’ll see more shifts in a positive direction. It’s moving in a good direction, but there needs to be more momentum.”
She’s also seeing encouraging trends coming out of the pandemic. “The climate of business is shifting to more positive; people are willing to make investments in their businesses,” she said, and she’s excited to be helping them.
“I really love being able to educate and empower people and open their eyes to new things,” said Nisbet. There’s a lot of nuances and different considerations that can overwhelm people. Making those topics approachable is my favorite part.”