Mell Goldman, who runs Amityville-based remediation and restoration firm All Boro, Inc., had been in business for more than 15 years and was running a successful firm. But he didn’t have one thing that even the greenest start up typically has. “I never had a written business plan,” Goldman said. “Only in my head.”
That changed three years ago when he enrolled in a free business education program funded by Goldman Sachs. The plan, which included the goal of growing revenues to $30 million in five years, turned out to be more fact than fiction.
“I doubled my revenue after my first year and purchased a building the second,” Goldman said of goals he achieved as he grew from 14 to 18 employees. “They teach you a lot of lessons. You learn negotiation, dealing with bankers, putting an interview process together to find qualified employees.”
Babson College crafted the curriculum in Goldman Sach’s 10,000 Small Business program which is taught by staff at numerous colleges and universities around the nation. The 11-week, 100-hour course is offered free to businesses with annual revenue between $150,000 and $4 million in business for at least two years and with four or more employees.
“I never really went to graduate school to learn about business,” said Karen Tenenbaum, owner and managing partner at Tenenbaum Law in Melville. “This program is like a miniature MBA.”
The program, offered at 33 sites in the United States and United Kingdom , is helping transform companies from Miami to Dallas, San Francisco to Los Angeles. Long Islanders attend the program at LaGuardia Community College in Long Island City. More than 8,000 small business owners have gone through the program from all 50 states, Puerto Rico, and Washington, D.C.
“It gets you to stop and look at your business and where it’s currently at in every facet and refocus on what was working,” Goldman said. “I didn’t have a metric and I wasn’t using technology.”
The program brings together small business people for a crash course even if, on the surface, they have little in common. The idea is that, regardless of the industry, business people face common problems.
“It was a positive,” Goldman said of the variety. “Basically, we all had the same goals and challenges, just in differing industries. Growth, funding, employees, culture.”
Tenenbaum’s group included an electrical contractor, optometrist, IT professional, pest control executive, as well as people in the hospitality, construction, video, fitness, staffing, limousine and law industries.
MELL GOLDMAN: Different businesses often face the same challenges, letting diverse industries learn common lessons.
Photo courtesy of All Boro Inc.
“Here’s what you learn: Every business is the same,” she said. “The focus is on growth of your business and job creation. It’s a very hands-on program. It’s not like someone stands in the front of the room and lectures. They engage you.”
Tenenbaum said she wrote a more than 60-page growth plan and did homework every night, although it was called “bridgework” at the program. She remembers practical advice as well as team building exercises involving building a pyramid with cups. But attendees apply everything to their company.
“You want to work on your business,” Tenenbaum continued. “One way to do that is to develop processes and procedures that run without you.”
Goldman said learning negotiation skills and how to analyze profit and loss statements let him better understand his own company.
“You learn to read a P and L and the story it tells,” Goldman said. “It’s what’s working, what’s not, why and what do we do to make it work better.”
Tenenbaum said the program teaches business people metrics to get a clear picture of what’s driving the money.
“They want you to understand the money, break it down,” Tenenbaum added. “If you want to earn $1 million, how do you get there?”
She said learning to look at her business through flow charts and otherwise break down and change processes made a big difference.
“You create not just your processes and procedures,” she said. “You create a dashboard, key performance indicators you need to run your business.”
Not everything business people do after taking the course works perfectly. Tenenbaum tried to grow her business in Florida, which didn’t work as well as she had hoped.
She also created a free online brochure about residency as it relates to taxes that attracted a lot of traffic and some business.
“If you’re looking for a tax attorney, you get my free book,” she added. “We get a lot of downloads.”
The proof of the program is in the performance: Tenenbaum in 2015 grew her firm’s revenue by 40 percent, by following through on her plan and investing in her company.
“I know exactly how and why. They make you analyze everything,” said Tenenbaum, whose firm employs 16. “I hired a full-time marketing person for the first time.”
Marketing helped, growing from 500 incoming calls to 700 a year, which translated into more business. Tenenbaum said her group still meets periodically, sometimes doing business with each other.
“I got business from three or four businesses that were there,” she said. “They hired me as their tax attorney. And I hired them.”
Business people also have to learn to let the company run without them. Goldman promoted a secretary to assistant, hired a full-time, in-house book keeper and created a structure so the company would operate with him away.
“That was extremely scary,” he said of spending Friday at the course and not the company. “After changing my title from president to CEO and not answering the phones on Friday, I’ve come to learn that my business can run without me with the right people in place.”
While not every company that takes the program grows or succeeds, business people often come away with big goals and a desire to grow – and not just continue business as usual.
“We’re hoping to expand nationally eventually,” Jeff Hargrave, president of Mahogany, a contracting firm in Baltimore, said during a TV interview about his experience. “The goals are endless. It taught me to think big, think bigger.”