Local business owner Thom Baker seeks to leave Columbia a gift when he retires. Tucked away in his equipment-lain home office, Thom Baker of...
Director, Missouri Women’s Business Center, Central Missouri Community Action
I lead the Missouri Women’s Business Center program: coaching clients, planning and teaching business classes, connecting our program and clients to community partners (and vice versa), and meeting the requirements of our cooperative agreement with the U.S. Small Business Administration. I also have three side hustles: documentary writer and producer with my husband, Chad (our latest film is called The Experimental City); owner of an online travel agency called Romp Travel; and adjunct instructor for MU teaching a class about the nonprofit sector.
I feel so lucky to have worked for Mark Palmer at Woodhaven for so many years. He was my direct supervisor for 10 years and did so much to develop my career. He taught me about leadership, both through his example and also coaching me in the times I was challenged as a leader. He showed me the right way to lead a nonprofit — with integrity, a clear vision, an open door, and the highest value placed on one’s employees at all levels of the organization. My whole career path is a result of the opportunities I was given at Woodhaven, primarily by Mark, but by many others too.
Many people think that there are grants to help people start small businesses. It’s a myth! But I get calls every week asking about grants. Another is that we only work with women at the MoWBC. While we focus on and target women, we’re open to everyone.
I don’t know if this qualifies as a project, but I’m sincerely devoted to my church, Rock Bridge Christian Church, and our message of joyful welcome and radical inclusion. We recently amended our statement of calling to include gender identity (transgender people were always welcome, but I think there is power in stating that specifically and publicly). Even more recently, we voted to become a sanctuary congregation in order to share space and be in solidarity with people at risk of deportation. It’s an incredible faith community filled with passionate people committed to sharing God’s love and also where I give a lot of my volunteer time.
Failing in business is not the end of the world and may actually lead to something great. You can do absolutely everything right in a business and still see your business fail. But that doesn’t mean that you failed. You learned, you grew, you contributed meaningfully to the economy for whatever amount of time you had your business, and you did something that very few people ever have the guts to do — create something yourself.
“All in Startup” by Diana Kander. A lot of my approach to working with clients — challenging them to talk openly to their current and prospective customers — comes directly from that book.
I would fund the city’s CARE program to be able to provide every teen who wants a summer job with one that will grow their skills and experience while helping small businesses and nonprofits by giving them free labor for the summer.
My goal is for my business, Romp Travel, to grow to serve at least four clients per month. I created the business to indulge a passion and become a better business coach and teacher by applying the concepts I promote. I plan on carving out more dedicated time each week to focus on the business and to do more to promote it.
The thing that makes my stomach sink to the ground is finding out that I have hurt someone’s feelings. It’s always unintentional and I absolutely hate that feeling. I’d love to make myself more thoughtful and gracious to ensure my words and actions never make someone feel bad.