A little nudge goes a long way: RCCC Small Business Center aids couple’s outdoor vision

Published 12:10 am Sunday, August 6, 2023

SALISBURY — When a Rowan County couple began exploring pathways to bringing their vision of a fly-fishing service to life, the Rowan-Cabarrus Community College Small Business Center proved the perfect catalyst.

Today, newlyweds Sara and Nick Freeman own and operate Rivers and Ridges, a fly fishing guide service and outdoor adventure company. However, they have both been avid adventurers and outdoor enthusiasts since before they met. In fact, an outdoor backpacking trip was one of their first dates.

Sara studied abroad in New Zealand, where she loved to hike. If one was looking for Nick, a good place to start was on the river fishing. 

“It all kind of fed off of each other, and we just combined all of that into what we really want to do in a fulfilling way for our careers,” Sara said. “We had an entrepreneurial dream and thought, what do we love? Being outside with people, so that is kind of how it all took shape from there.”

That bend toward entrepreneurship drew Sara to the role of Community Manager at the Cabarrus Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship in 2021. 

“I interact with entrepreneurs on a daily basis, and they have this mindset of problem-solving and thinking outside of the box,” Sara said. “I love being here because the people I’m surrounded by have given me community, inspiration and the drive to move forward.”

Nick did not want to start a business just for the sake of it. He wanted to start a business where he would be fueled by the work every day. Turning their love for fly fishing and exploring nature into a business was a no-brainer.

“My goal with Rivers and Ridges was always to educate people on fly fishing, but it was also to create a fulfilling career,” Nick said. “I never saw myself as a teacher, but it is so rewarding to see clients progress throughout the day as they learn the techniques we teach them.”

While the business is up and running now, it was not so long ago that it was just a distant dream on the horizon. Sara became familiar with Meg Smit thanks to her role at the Cabarrus Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. 

“Meg is the director of the Small Business Center, “Sara said. “Being one of our partners, I was already acquainted with what she does. I thought, hmmm, this is something we are starting. This is something I should probably take advantage of. That is how we got plugged in.”

Sara and Nick’s Rivers and Ridges dream became a reality with Smit’s guidance and encouragement. 

“When we first started this, we didn’t really know what we wanted to narrow down on,” Nick said. “We knew what we really wanted to be our end goal, but we didn’t know how to really start it. Meg gave us some key points on how to get out into it.”

Smit’s methodology featured various means of motivation.

“She was the first person that said to us, ‘what can you do today to make this happen tomorrow,'” Nick said. “‘What can you do right now to make this become something in the next two years?’ That kind of kicked our butts into gear.”

Sara added, “The most important thing to me that Meg did was say ‘this is attainable. This is a cool idea.’ Having someone there to encourage you as an entrepreneur when you are not really sure what you are going to walk into is really helpful.”

The Freemans said Smit’s guidance also made the vision more manageable. 

When the Freemans approached Smit with their idea, she said she was immediately drawn to it. She already knew about Sara and how she and Nick loved the outdoors. 

“What they wanted to do aligned so clearly with who they are and the experience they have,” Smit said. “I can’t say if it was the clients or the idea I was more excited about because it was so cohesive. It just made sense. I see this coming together for them step by step.”

The Small Business Center pairs entrepreneurs, like the Freemans, with resources and programs to assist with their vision. 

“We provide counseling, education and connection to community resources,” Smit said. “When I realized they were focusing on an outdoors adventure company, it made me look over at a program in Western North Carolina, so I shared that with them as a resource.”

Through the center, the Freemans also used templates for creating a business plan and attended informative workshops. The expertise and tailored assistance the Small Business Center provided enabled them to navigate their business’ early stages with confidence and clarity.

“I don’t think everyone understands starting something from scratch,” said Sara. “Meg has been in our corner from day one. When we have questions, Meg goes back to her desk, makes phone calls and finds resources.”

No matter what a person or team’s vision may be, Smit knows they can find a way to make it work so long as the entrepreneurial spirit is there. 

“When it comes to these conversations, we say ‘come as you are,'” Smit said. “That is the only way we can show up. A lot of times, these conversations start around ‘what are your skills and your experience. Are you equipped to bring this idea to life? If not, where do we need to grow and strengthen?’

“If you are serious, we make a plan. You wouldn’t go to the grocery store without a plan, so if you are going into business, you need some form of that on paper, not just in your head.”

Sara added, “It’s about the tools they can put into the hands of the entrepreneurs for the founders to take from there. Being able to bounce ideas off someone is so helpful and such a resource. If anybody is willing to put in the time and the work, it is certainly worth it.”

Now fully operational, Rivers and Ridges focuses on providing memorable experiences for newcomers and families with both half-day and full-day fly fishing trips, all gear provided. While catching fish is an important part of the experience, their secondary goal is to immerse their guests in nature’s beauty in all seasons and create a lasting impact on the next generation.

To connect with Sara and Nick, go to their website, follow them on Facebook and Instagram at @nc_riversandridges or you can email them at info@ncriversandridges.com.