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  • Writer's pictureMagdalena Alvarez

Story of the Grand Mesa Business Guild

To tell the story of how the Grand Mesa Business Guild came into being, we must abandon any expectations of a tidy, linear plot.  Founder Cassie Fortman likes to say that becoming an entrepreneur is like building your plane as you are jumping off a cliff. This is a pretty good description of how the flagrantly fun, yellow-splashed, imminently inspiring Grand Mesa Business Guild was constructed.


Cassie was enjoying a relatively peaceful life in her small Cedaredge home, which she shares with her 165-pound pet pig, Hennessey, and where she ran her graphic design, marketing & photography business, {Sassy Creative}.  It was 2022, and like many business owners who had struggled to keep their equilibrium during 2020 and the “New Normal,” Cassie woke up one day and decided to do a sensible thing.


“I wanted to make a safe choice for a steady income, and I like kids.  So I became a preschool teacher.  The kids were wonderful, but I realized in a short time that I really, really value my freedom.”  She declined to sign a long-term contract and turned back to her first love, graphic design.  When the Town of Cedaredge hired {Sassy Creative} to do their marketing for the 2022 Applefest, she was off and running.


The first thing {Sassy Creative} needed was networking.  Cassie looked to already-established options, like the Delta Rotary Club and Business Buddies.  “They are great clubs,” she says, “but I had a hard time with 8 am meetings and needed a more affordable option.  And I wanted something much more local within Surface Creek.”


Knee-deep in a task so close to her heart–setting up her new home town for success–she began to weave strong bonds with many local business owners.  She celebrated their success and listened to their struggles. “I believe being an entrepreneur is one of the bravest and most noble things a person can do,” Cassie says often. She knew she had to find a way to create a brand-new, unique networking structure for all the brave and noble folks nearby. And of course, it would have to be built while jumping off a cliff. With snacks.

Spreading her trademark bright yellow sticky notes all over her house, the ideas began to come together for creating a space of friendly inclusion.  “What does everyone have in common?” she asked. “What does everyone love? Tacos, a nice drink, something cozy, and aspens.”


Aspens?


“Tell me one person who doesn’t like aspens,” she challenged. I could not.  Aspen trees are whimsical. They are lovely.  Standing tall and serene, they extend their roots deep under the soil to forge connections for miles and miles, in one unified front against the elements.


The pieces were coming together in her head, and would soon be a reality.


The affirmation Cassie needed came in an unexpected place: a patch of dirt halfway to the front range. She was driving to visit family for Thanksgiving, and was suddenly struck by the sign announcing the Grand Mesa National Forest.  With graphic designer eyes attuned for “dope shapes and readable yet cool typography,” she immediately pulled over and took a picture of the sign.  She felt, just by looking at the sign, welcomed and adventurous.  That weekend, she sketched out the logo design for the Grand Mesa Business Business Guild.


Things escalated quickly after that.  Cassie spread the word that a fun, new networking platform was coming to the Surface Creek area. A local lawyer was happy to trade services in exchange for setting up the GMBG as a business and applying to have not-for-profit status. The Lucky Shot Restaurant at the Cedaredge Golf Course agreed to host the very first MeetUp, which Cassie was planning at lightning speed. “I knew I wanted to meet monthly, which meant that I had to launch in January.  I just kept thinking to myself that if even ten people showed up, it would be worth it.”


On January 23rd, 2023, more than ten people showed up.  A lot more.  The Lucky Shot was full to bursting with curious, excited people as Cassie shared her vision for a network built on kindness and integrity, and the motto of the Grand Mesa Business Guild: “We’re all just walking each other home.”  The crowd responded with cheers, then one by one local business owners held the Magical Feather and spoke aloud their dreams and intentions.

As the food and chatter and energy carried into the evening, Tara Fitzgerald of New Fork Foodie found a dusty vase behind a counter somewhere and plunked it down in the middle of the room. “Let’s take a donation!” she called.  Cassie at first protested, but Tara waved her off, reminding her that hopes and dreams don’t pay the bills.  Evidently, the attendees all agreed, because the vase was soon stuffed with $200. Casie was overjoyed by the support. 


The next meeting was held at the Yarrow Tap room in Austin, CO, a ticketed event that sold out, and this time donations were stuffed into a delightfully funky box (with bright yellow messages, of course) labeled “Chip in for chips!  Donations for snacks and dreams (instant karma points).”  The donation-only policy drove the Grand Mesa Business Guild into the next month, and the next.  Cassie decided to give it one year and see where it took them.


A focus at each MeetUp was the opportunity for business owners and non-profits to take the microphone and share something about themselves.  It can be scary, but there is something very powerful about speaking aloud your intentions into a room of attentive, supportive people.  The standard for snacks was set very high with each passing meeting, too, as some of the most talented foodies catered their mouth-watering fares.  In 2023 we enjoy fare from the Yarrow Taproom, the New Fork Foodie, Psycho Pig BBQ, Yellow Table, Cedaredge Food Town, A&M Creations on Main, Molly’s on Main, and Sugar Mama’s Bakeshop.


“One of the most fun and effective things we did to boost business,” Cassie remembers, “was to issue a challenge to each person to post 10 positive local business reviews on Facebook and Google.  We held a Mini Meetup at Molly’s that we called Review Jam.  She served us jam and toast, and we taught everyone how to post a review on their device.  It was a lot of fun, and we not only boosted each local business, but hopefully the SEO of the whole area.”  Participants who reached the goal of 10 were entered into a raffle for a goodie basket of local items.

Following those successes, the Guild then arranged a ribbon-cutting for Aspire Pilates. As the months passed, one business after another (seven so far) was honored with the chance to cut the ribbon in a cheering crowd.  More merrymaking marked the Guildie Awards, inspired by the Dundee Awards, during which blushing attendees received shiny golden Guildie trophies for distinctions others had written in: “Most likely to serve pickle shots. Biggest personality in a small body.  Bringing Austin back to life.”


Cassie was having the time of her life, feeling lucky and loving her role.  And she was also burning out. She was pouring her own money into the Guild and orchestrating many behind-the-scenes magic tricks to pull off the monthly MeetUps. Three to five times per week, she held appointments at her house, overseen by Hennessey the Pig.  “I was starting to see an unhealthy work-life balance in myself, and my relationships were hurting. So it was time to get serious in planning how the Guild could move forward in a more sustainable way.”


In true Cassie fashion, she spoke aloud her intention on a Wednesday, and the following Friday was shaking hands with the landlord. The Grand Mesa Business Guild had an office! 


2023 was quickly drawing to a close, and members of the Guild decided to team up with Cassie to become…well, real members.  Eight smart and determined people stepped up to be Guides, a board of directors was formed.  “We did a lot of research, pulling ideas from the Chambers of Commerce in Delta, Fruita, and Palisade.  We’re different in many ways from a chamber, but it was a good starting place. We came up with something true to us and valuable.”

The news spread fast and paid memberships began to pour in.  When a business or non-profit chooses a membership option, they have a variety of benefits to select.  All options will include a listing on the website. Other bonuses in membership options range from professional photo shoots and write-ups in the monthly blog by yours truly, business coaching, social media sharing, stickers (who doesn’t love stickers?) all the way up to stay at local lodges and Air BnBs, catered meals, massages, wine tours…roughly anything a person could want to feel like a millionaire.


Another unique membership offering is that of “Connector.” Connectors are those who don’t own a business, but who enjoy cheerleading local success.  This is seen as a sign of how great the MeetUps ups can be, that even those who don’t own a business can’t stand to miss out on the fun and community.  Hearing “I got a guy!” became such a frequent occurrence that the Guild decided that all members, but especially those magical Connectors, deserved a custom-designed “I Got A Guy” zipper pouch filled with everything an impromptu referral needs.


The iconic “I Got A Guy” bag was one of the favorite pieces of swag passed around at the very first GMBG Meet Up of 2024, and members greeted all the new plans with enthusiasm: Meet- Ups, Mini Meet Ups, Workshops, and countless other schemes in development have already filled the calendar for 2024.


The bedraggled donation box is now tucked away at the cozy and classy office space of the GMBG, alongside professional photography equipment, Cassie’s desk is strewn with yellow Post-It notes.  The new space is located at 110 SE Greenwood #2 in Cedaredge, Colorado. Hennessey the Pig is enjoying some peace and quiet back at home, and Cassie can breathe freely when she thinks about the future of the Guild.


“It’s kind of amazing when you think about it,” she muses.  “ You take a hobby or a dream and you turn it into a business, and your community supports you, then you turn around in your community and buy tires and lattes and handmade jewelry and all that.  And everyone benefits. I think it is one of the most American things we can do, and this area has a lot of veterans who fought for us to do just what we’re doing. Following our dreams honors them.”

Cassie can be reached at  970-417-3093, or through the beautiful aspen-rich website, grandmesabusinessguild.org, or by email at grandmesabusinessguild@gmail.com.


Those interested in checking out a MeetUp can find the schedule on the website and attend their first one for free.  Join us for meaningful connections, always snacks and typically too much fun, and to see how we’re all just walking each other home.









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