Dreams. Missions. Visions. All entrepreneurs have them, but the ones who succeed have something else: discipline.
In the business world discipline means a commitment to functions and processes that often have nothing to do with dreams, missions and visions, but have everything to do with maintaining efficient operations, financial stability and a steady stream of paying customers.
Baldwin-Wallace College’s Emerging Entrepreneurs program aims to help promising African-American entrepreneurs in Northeast Ohio with the skills and knowledge they need to keep their entrepreneurial dreams alive by mastering the “business” side of their businesses. For some participants, the lessons in accounting, marketing, and other topics are new; for others, they are reminders that they must wear two hats – that of dreamers and that of doers.
“It’s not so much about what I’ve learned but what I’ve forgotten, such as asking for referrals,” says Richard Stewart, a program participant and owner of Digizoom Media, which provides video production services for clients such as City Year and the Cleveland Sight Center. “You can get so busy that you forget that you need to be working on the business and not just for the business.”
Baldwin-Wallace administers the program as an educational partner for the Presidents’ Council, which connects executives from Northeast Ohio businesses that are owned and operated by African-Americans with area African-American entrepreneurs. Baldwin-Wallace’s role is to administer an intensive 10-month training program for the entrepreneurs, who must have a three-year track record and have demonstrated a high potential for growth.
Meetings alternate between the Berea and Beachwood campuses. A Baldwin-Wallace professor is paired with each executive, so participants learn both theory and real-world application of business practices and systems. Topics include accounting, finance, marketing, sales, leadership,
business systems management, human resources, organizational structure and entrepreneurial thinking.
This year’s program began in January
and includes businesses that provide childcare, design and sell clothing, offer environmentally responsible painting, serve martinis
Robyn Jones, owner of R.A. Jones PLLC, a boutique CPA and management advisory firm, says she joined the program because of its reputation and because it supported her goal of taking her business to the next level.
Jones, who grew up in Cleveland, worked for General Motors in Parma after graduating from Kent State University. She has been an independent consultant over the past seven years. Three years ago, she began dedicating herself fully to her business, which maintains offices in Cleveland and Austin, Texas.
She is the sole proprietor and owner of R.A. Jones PLLC but works with five strategic partners to deliver services to customers across the country.
“For the most part, I love the model,
but expanding the business can be difficult,” Jones says.
Indeed, one of the biggest challenges for entrepreneurs is growth, because with growth comes complexity. At certain points of expansion, creation of standardized processes and ongoing process control become essential. The Dreamers don’t have to do it all, but they do need to understand the processes on a deep enough level to determine where they are strong, where they are weak, and how to turn weaknesses into strengths.
“Marketing was the weakest area for me,” Jones says. “Now my marketing is more formalized, and I know I need to be more aggressive in social media.”
Both Jones and Stewart say learning from experienced executives has been a highlight of the program.
“One of the big advantages is that you have access to people who have been successful and who are willing to help you,” Stewart says. “You don’t get that with networking alone.”
Jones, who has an M.B.A. from Michigan State in addition to her Kent State degree, says it’s also helpful to get candid information from the executives and the other entrepreneurs.
“It’s a different perspective, you get more candid information in the dialogue of the lessons, and there’s a free flow of dialogue.”
While the knowledge and lessons of the Emerging Entrepreneurs program focus on the tactical aspects of success, participants still maintain the enthusiasm for the dreams that got them where they are today. For example, what does Stewart identify as his ultimate business goal?
“I just want to be able to do this the rest of my life,” he says. “And someday have a documentary on HBO.”