By Bridgett Harris

Carrie Clarke stresses innovation, agility and strategic planning in her work with Springs business owners.

They’re also tenets the small business consultant and coach abides by in her own career ambitions — which are plentiful. With a background as an attorney and risk advisor, Clarke co-founded Next Level Consulting & Coaching to help entrepreneurs, business owners and professionals succeed in their business goals. She’s also a certified consultant for Peak Startup and the Pikes Peak Small Business Development Center, and is a regular contributor to Thrive Global, where she shares advice on topics like goal setting, productivity and business science.

She’s made a name for herself as a disruptive innovator by co-founding Hangar Tonight, a database that helps pilots find places to park their planes. Clarke’s husband, a pilot with a military and commercial flight background, noticed that when he began flying smaller planes, it was difficult to find a place to park them safely out of the elements — particularly in smaller locations. Parking a plane outside is perfectly feasible, but also risky.

“The idea came up after the massive hailstorm we had a few years ago for Colorado,” Clarke said. “So many people lost their planes.”

The Hangar Tonight database works like the Airbnb model, letting people to rent out their empty hangars to pilots who may only need to park their planes for a night or two, generating income from unused space.

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A Colorado native, Clarke earned her bachelor’s in English and psychology at the University of Kansas and lived in New Zealand for five years, where she completed a certificate in journalism. She spent time in Guatemala and England before earning her JD at the University of Denver’s Sturm College of Law. She started her career as a staff attorney and judicial clerk in the Jefferson County District Court.

In her business coaching, she draws on her background as an attorney and her work in international management consulting, as well as her own experiences as an entrepreneur.

Clarke spoke with the Business Journal about her work with small businesses and shared her tips for managing change during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Tell us about your work with Next Level Coaching & Consulting.

I usually work with the business owner or someone on the C-level staff of an organization. I help people create a long-term plan for their business and find the smaller steps to get there. A CEO or an owner often doesn’t have a manager or anybody with whom they can talk or who will hold them accountable. I often end up serving in that role, like an on-demand board of directors.

What are some common challenges that business owners bring to you?

I’ve helped people do everything from open new locations, to consolidate and close locations and assist in hiring. But often, it’s answering that overall question of where do they want to take their business? It results in a lot of marketing and business strategy.

What work do you do with the Pikes Peak SBDC?

I do exactly what I do with my own business, but for clients that are just trying to start or grow their business. It’s totally volunteer and it’s a way for me to give back to the community and provide access to people who might not be able to afford to hire me otherwise. I’ve been super impressed with the caliber of all the consultants at the SBDC. We all want to help add to the small business network here in Colorado Springs. The organization offers a lot of workshops and webinars, everything from legal entity set-up and answering tax questions to SEO, social media and upskills.

Why do you think these are important services to offer to Springs small businesses?

I think there is a great deal of information online right now for small businesses. The question is, which information is good and where is it coming from? The SBDC is a one-stop shop for people in Colorado Springs and even reaches people beyond the city. It’s valuable to hear from true professionals so that you know that it’s relative information for your business.

What industries do you see growing in the city right now?

I think there have been a lot of service-based businesses and lifestyle businesses including nutrition, wellness, insurance and health care. There is an increase in hospitality, too. People are interested in offering new, different ways to provide a restaurant or bar experience for their customers.

Are there any industries you’d like to see grow more in particular?

I do think we need to increase our cultural experience and the city’s nightlife if we want to continue to bring young professionals here. Colorado Springs still has a bit of a gap in those areas and we need to keep moving it forward.

Given the current challenges with social distancing and the mandates related to the COVID-19 pandemic, what’s your advice for small businesses that are worried about surviving?

My first piece of advice is to see where you can pivot. That could be a decision to offer more online services like video. Local restaurants are a good example of pivoting with their shift to offer curbside pickup or delivery after the dining limitations came out. I know it’s going to be tough, but I think there’s also going to be a lot of great innovation that comes out of this. My advice is to figure out how can you still access your clients in a way that doesn’t involve them having to come to you. So many people are going to be at home and online and there is a lot of opportunity for messaging and offers that you can do while you have a captive audience.

I think it’s also important to see where you can add value to the community. There is going to be a lot of goodwill that comes out of a business doing something kind or helpful for the community — whether it’s for a week, two weeks or a month. That goodwill is going to come back tenfold when things improve. So if you have extra supplies, extra capabilities or even just information, use it to add value and help everyone around you get through this.

What steps can a business take to prepare as the situation evolves?

This is the time for everybody to evaluate their business. For example, what kind of insurance do you have? Business interruption insurance is going to be very relevant for most businesses right now. Sometimes we don’t realize whether or not we have good insurance until we need to use it. Make sure your financial documents are in place and examine your contingency plan — or create one if you don’t have one.

For businesses that have the ability, consider remote work. Many employers think that if you let people work from home, they’re not going to work, and the studies don’t show that to be true. It’s also a good time to upskill or train your employees or yourself. If there are classes, certifications, online webinars or any other tasks that you have been putting off, this is the time to get them done.

What can consumers do to support these businesses?

Frequent anybody that you can within the limitations provided. In particular, focus on small businesses. A lot of them are delivering and able to provide the exact same services as the big box stores. Think about buying some gift cards from your favorite restaurants or your favorite retailers that will give them an injection of cash right now. Then you’ll have prepaid access at a later date. Most of these people are going to weather it and they’re also giving a lot back to the community. Go buy a $25 or $50 gift certificate from your favorite restaurants, retail stores and health places, then you can enjoy it later.

Any parting thoughts for the challenges to come?

I think bottom line is to do the right thing. People are really paying attention to the companies that are doing the right thing right now and when this does pass, those will be the first businesses they want to frequent.

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