WOMEN@WORK

It takes a community to raise a business

Posted July 07, 2011, at 4:19 p.m.

My colleague Susan Duffy, a professor at the School of Management at Simmons College in Boston, says “entrepreneurs see the gap between ‘what is’ and ‘what should be’ and they create something of value to make the world or some part of it better.”

This forward-thinking definition certainly describes the entrepreneurs that I work with on a daily basis. Entrepreneurs are driven by a dedicated passion — a key ingredient for success. Developing and maintaining a support system is another important factor that fosters success for the entrepreneur.

According to the U.S. Census, 51.6 percent of all U.S. businesses are home-based. This fact makes the entrepreneur susceptible to isolation and can create an impediment to growth. The basis for Women, Work and Community’s efforts with small business owners is more than giving entrepreneurs the skills to run their businesses. We also are able to help create an extensive support network for the individual entrepreneur.

A support system can be made up of family, friends, partners, a business class, other business owners or hired professionals (i.e. bookkeeper, accountant, attorney) that help support the operation of a business. Developing and maintaining a support system is crucial for entrepreneurs to foster success, avoid isolation and create business growth, and it links the entrepreneur to the broader community and economy.

The Small Business Administration has found that businesses that procure advice or regular business counseling have a higher rate of success than those that do not. Many individuals find their support system within the context of a business class, like Women, Work and Community’s 12-week business class New Ventures.

Jennifer Burns, a recent graduate who is starting a college counseling and coaching business called Dynamic Directions, explains “The New Ventures course has supported my transition from seeing my business as a hobby to setting goals and developing it as a solid business. Being in a class of women and men with a similar drive to create an excellent business has been really motivating; there has been a sort of ‘no excuses’ atmosphere where we face the hard facts about running our own businesses. As a person who works solo, the input and support I received from my classmates has played an essential role in helping me produce a realistic and flexible business plan.”

Through such classes, small-business owners are also put in touch with professionals within their own communities: bookkeepers, accountants, insurance agents, bankers and attorneys. In New Ventures classes, alumnae also stop by to offer their own words of wisdom. These professionals, all business owners themselves, give their time and valuable knowledge to help support the new entrepreneur on her journey to becoming successful. Class participants/new business owners learn the importance of hiring professionals for the work they cannot do or do not want to do themselves.

According to Jennifer Temple of Clean Bee Laundry in Camden and Belfast:

Indeed, it is having a solid support system that can enable a business to “take it to the next level.”

“As a business owner for the past six years, I have grown in so many ways. When I first started, I was based out of my home and just about everything the business did was dependent on my own mental and physical labor. Now, I am at the point where I am shifting away from being the front person to being more of a manager of the work flow,” Temple said. “I now have two locations, staff, payroll and workers comp insurance. My business growth was a natural progression and I was able to grow my business because of my support system: friends, business associates, hired professionals, consultants, and my husband and business partner, Broo.”

The pedagogical model that Women, Work, and Community employs is a cooperative model that brings community members into the classroom to help entrepreneurs launch and grow their business. This model has proven to be a win-win. Entrepreneurs learn that creating a network of professionals is a necessary part of their support system and crucial for their business success and growth. In turn, the exchange creates a leadership opportunity for those professionals and other successful small business owners, thereby contributing to the economic and business development of the local and state economy.

Jenn Dobransky is the microenterprise coordinator for the Midcoast for the Maine Centers for Women, Work, and Community. She can be reached at jenn.dobransky@maine.edu.

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