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Small-business coach gives start-ups a boost

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- You can call him "coach." But Marmet native Brian Canterbury won't show you how to throw a split-finger fastball or how to execute a screen pass.

No, since October 2011, he has worked as one of several state business coaches through the Small Business Development Center of the West Virginia Development Office.

"It's pretty interesting. Some folks will call every time they kind of have a major decision. I am honored because it makes me feel like I'm part of their team," said Canterbury, who has a master's degree in business from the University of Charleston and is a veteran of several business ventures.

He can sing too, so he's a player-coach, so to speak, but we'll get to that.

At age 34, Canterbury helps to coach more than 50 people running businesses in various stages of launch, development or expansion. "I don't meet with all of them every week. Some are once a month or a quarter -- some have developed into a phone call or text message on demand," he said.

A fundamental service state business coaches provide is accountability, he said.

"What we do is work with existing or early-stage businesses to help them stay on track. Someone will agree that 'I am going to accomplish X this week.' And when we meet the following week we ask: 'Did you accomplish X?'"

His coaching can also get very hands-on.

"I've worked on strategy and worked on human resources and have even gone out in the field to help people execute their sales calls more effectively," he said.

The program came about through funding from the Small Business Jobs Act of 2011. Kristina Oliver, state director of the West Virginia Small Business Development Center, decided to hire more coaches, who are on contract and not paid by clients they coach, said Canterbury.

"Her strategy was to actually pick some people that were either exiting businesses or had a career track of entrepreneurship," he said.

Canterbury, a self-described "career entrepreneur," has had stints as everything from an information technology director to a controller. His most recent full-time entrepreneurial venture was Mountaineer Packaging, which provides industrial packaging to regional manufacturers such as Toyota.

"Toyota would buy protective covers -- every engine that comes out of there has a protective cover that we worked on, designed and provided," he said.

His coaching contract with the state is up in October and in preparation, Canterbury has laid the roots for his own coaching business, called Boost: Small Business.

"The idea is to provide small business the boost they need to improve. What I like to do is be out ahead of the trends -- partake of the learning, see what people are doing worldwide to be better and import that to West Virginia."

His hands-on business advice will continue. For instance, Canterbury will lead a Boost workshop Feb. 7 and 8 on the use of QuickBooks, the popular business accounting software by Intuit (to register, visit www.boostsmallbiz.com).

Meanwhile, you might also catch him, guitar at the ready, at a Charleston open mic or club, singing country tunes. He recently returned from a trip to Atlanta to audition for "The Voice," a music competition show.

His version of Garth Brooks' "Rodeo" didn't woo the judges enough to pass him on to the next round. But it was a personal triumph for Canterbury, who as a teenager was a regular singer in a program called STARS (Students Taking a Right Stand), which sent high school kids around on tour with an anti-drug, anti-alcohol message.

Singing meant a lot to him then, and after going through some recent personal trials, he is trying to get back into it, said Canterbury, who has three young children with a wife who is a music teacher herself.

"It was a big part of my life at the time. I dabbled with it through college. I kind of hacked around on guitar. Somehow I lost track of it all," he said.

"So, I've had this experience of sort of recalibrating my life over the last six months. Sometimes, working for yourself you end up working 80 to 100 hours a week. You sort of lose yourself. One of my goals was to get back to things I like to do. Music was kind of sitting there, waiting on me."

So, while he'll not be moving on to win the favor of Shakira, Usher, Blake Shelton and Adam Levine, this season's judges on "The Voice," the experience invigorated him.

"I gave the best performance I could. I didn't advance, but I feel really good about it being the beginning of having music back in my life.

"I feel really good about where I am right now. I've learned a lot. I've had some ups and downs in recent history. But a lot of it is about kind of getting to this place where you can sort of be your authentic self.

"That's sort of a cliché. But certainly the music is part of that. And working for oneself and helping other people is part of that."

Reach Douglas Imbrogno at douglas@cnpapers.com or 304-348-3017.


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