In October I received an email from a colleague of mine, Richard Swart, with an intriguing title; "What is better than an MBA and free?" An email with that title obviously gets clicked and read right? So I opened the email and here is what I read:
I wanted to let you all know about a FREE resource for businesses owners - one which can significantly boost your revenues and help you grow your company.
The Goldman Sachs Foundation has committed $500 million to train 50,000 small business owners to grow and scale their businesses. There is no catch, you don't owe them anything.
The program is better than an MBA - you study your own businesses, not someone else's. It is 100% focused on identifying and executing on opportunities for growth.
I got pretty excited and clicked on the link. I read the reasons to apply and the eligibility requirements and was thrilled to find out that I was eligible. I then saw that the application was due in four days so I got cracking. The application was not a fill-in-the-blank type.
It had some serious thought-provoking questions that got me even more excited about the possibilities that this program might offer. I got the application done and found out a month later I had been selected as a finalist and would need to do an in person interview.
I had the interview and thought it went well but you really never know with those types of things. Two weeks later I got an email congratulating me on being accepted as one of the individuals that Goldman Sachs decided to give a scholarship to. I was pretty happy for a lot of reasons.
Why did I apply?
I applied to the program for several reasons. The first thing that attracted me to the program was the opportunity to sit in the same room with the people they were looking for. In summary small business owners that want to grow = my wheelhouse.
I love entrepreneurs; it is as simple as that. To be sitting in the same room with these people was a huge opportunity to learn from their experiences and to grow my network. I also loved the amount of time they were asking these small business owners to commit.
Up to 20 hours per week of class time and outside work is a lot for any small business owner to take on. I knew this requirement would weed out a lot of people that were not serious about growing their business. The last reason I was attracted to this program was the learning experience.
What sets it apart from a traditional educational experience is the requirement to actually work on your own business. You are expected to develop a growth plan for your specific business, present it at the conclusion of the class and then implement that plan in the real world.
What have I learned thus far?
I learned in the interview process that I need this program. The following question stopped me in my tracks during the interview: "What do you want your business to be in the next 5-10 years?"
My response after thinking for about 10 seconds was: "It is easier to tell you what I don't want my business to be. I don't want to run a huge business in some fancy office building downtown. I don't want our firm to be so big that I don't know the employees and our customers intimately. I don't want it to be a business where employees can hide. I want our employees and customers to shine and fulfill all of their dreams."
It was what came out at the time and I stand by it.
What do I expect to get out of this?
I expect to have a vision and action plan when I complete the program. You don't learn everything you need to know about running a small business in school.
You can look around the internet for advice but there is a lot of noise and bad advice. You can tap your network, employees and friends for advice but some questions will remain unanswered.
I also expect to be held accountable for developing and implementing a growth plan for our business. Things like long-term goals, budgeting and forecasting are so easy to push to the back burner when you are running your business.
When your business is growing nothing seems more important than maintaining that consistent growth. However, having a long-term plan is very important. Many business owners look at forecasting and budgeting as non-growth oriented tasks because they don't directly affect sales and growth.
However, operating your business without a plan that you can compare your actual performance to is like running a business blind. I expect this program to hold me accountable for developing a solid growth plan.
Lastly, I expect a business process. My goal lately has been to build a business where if I drop dead one minute from now our business doesn't skip a beat. I know that must be a weird statement to read but when you think about it that is the ultimate goal of scaling a business.
If you die tomorrow and your business suffers in the least bit then you have failed as an entrepreneur. How can you exit the business unless you have this mindset? So I expect to develop a very detailed business process and exit plan.
The Goldman Sachs 10,000 small businesses is a worldwide program. If you are serious about growing your small business then you should look into the program. I will give you an update in 5 months after graduation.