This Course Changed My Life & How I Think About My Business

I want to tell you some news that I am so proud of. I just finished a business course called 10,000 Small Businesses. It’s run by the Goldman Sachs Foundation and has support from Bloomberg Philanthropies.

The curriculum was developed by Babson College which has one of the most respected MBA programs in the country. Warren Buffet is on their Board. In fact, at our graduation on August 2, Warren Buffet will be present, along with: Catherine Pugh, the Mayor of Baltimore: Lloyd Blankfein, the CEO of Goldman-Sachs; Michael Bloomberg; and a representative of the Harvard Business School. Are you getting the message yet? It’s a big deal. And: It’s free!

I found out about it by chance. I am on an email list for Baltimore small manufacturing businesses and get updates about courses and opportunities and this was one of them. I actually didn’t know what it was. I imagined it was a weekend workshop and figured I would just apply, clicked the link, wrote the essays, and then didn’t think much more about it. Little did I know.

You have to make at least $100,000 gross, have 2 employees, and they are especially interested in businesses that are minority and women owned. Getting in is competitive. You write essays, submit your financials, write more essays, have an interview, and then hope.

The course has 9 modules and runs over five months. We didn’t have class every week, but usually had two back-to-back in one week from 8am – 5:30pm. (Breakfast, lunch, and snacks in the afternoon were catered and were healthy and delicious with salads, whole grains, vegetables, several protein options, fruit, and dessert. As you can see from the list, vegetarian options were available at every meal and all of you paleos would have been just fine too.)

We covered money, marketing, personnel, leadership skills, negotiation skills, bankability, funding, operations. And unlike many business courses that focus on developing a business plan, this course focuses on what they call a Growth Plan. You have to develop a new opportunity and come up with a feasible and actionable plan for engaging that new opportunity in order to grow your business.

10,000 Small Businesses emphasizes that if you are doing what you have always done you are shrinking, you are dying, slowly going out of business. All businesses have to keep innovating in order to grow and in order to do that you can’t do it part-way. You have to be all in.

This course talked about the difference between a good idea and a growth plan, research-based decision making versus emotions-based decision making, business decisions based on the financials, not gut feelings.

I didn’t know what inventory turnover rates were. I didn’t know what break-even points were. I didn’t know how to figure out my shop rate. How do you know what is cost of goods sold versus overhead? Now, those of you with business backgrounds may judge me. Please don’t. I ended up doing this business by accident. I never planned to be here.

I have learned on the hoof. I was trained as an anthropologist. I’m a designer. I never had any training in accounting or business and have berated myself over the years for being a bad business woman until I decided I didn’t have to take up brain space daily by castigating myself for not being up to date on the books. I decided I could do better. Now my books are up to date (and they need to be if you are going to apply for 10,000 small businesses because it’s part of the application). Despite winging it, I have been able to make a living and support myself as a single mother with sole responsibility for my son – no child support ever. I have a house. I have a beautiful studio space. I have 2 full-time people in Indonesia who the business supports. I work with many artisans there, Fair Trade, and they rely on the business we do together to support their families. I have a half-time person here in the United States.

I have survived. But survival is always only just enough. And right now it’s not quite enough.

So I have developed my growth plan – which is to create a line of ‘affordable luxury, branded silver jewelry for a broad customer base that extends beyond the niche market of home knitters and needleworkers I currently serve.  I have begun to implement it, as you can see from my last blog post, and for the first time I can see past survival. I can imagine JUL as a bigger design company (and they say being able to visualize it is the first step). We did visualization exercises in class it’s so important! And I now have the tools to make that vision a reality. I have to admit I’m scared right now. But I’m also excited and exhilarated.  The new design work I’m doing with Agus (in the picture below) is what I really love about what I do.  And as we go along in this new direction, I will add more categories of designs – housewares, wearables, and bags again once it’s financially feasible and I have the right infrastructure to make you beautiful bags at an affordable price without losing my shirt.

I am so thrilled to be entering this new phase!  And I’m so excited I can share it with you through the new designs we are working on!

Below you can see me with my creative partner in Bali, Indonesia.  His name is Agus.  I have worked with him for 10 years as my co-designer and collaborator.  Since Agus’ father died suddenly of a massive heart attack a year ago, he has been the head of the family, responsible for taking care of everyone and for most of the income that supports the household.  His wife assists him with his work on JUL by sharing management of production and overseeing quality control and book keeping.

Author: Laura Bellows

Designer, Anthropologist

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