Matt Cookson gets schooled, Vol. 4

A survey from 2019 on the ‘State of Small Business’ by Guidant Financial and LendingClub reported that 53{a965bd5f02350c1bb0f1dba5e8fbf5866a7ee82ea489bba16c7da5a42788092e} of business owners ranked their happiness at nine or above on a scale of one to 10. Other statistics that jumped out included the following: 78{a965bd5f02350c1bb0f1dba5e8fbf5866a7ee82ea489bba16c7da5a42788092e} of small business owners are 40 or older, 26{a965bd5f02350c1bb0f1dba5e8fbf5866a7ee82ea489bba16c7da5a42788092e} started a small business to be his or her own boss and 23{a965bd5f02350c1bb0f1dba5e8fbf5866a7ee82ea489bba16c7da5a42788092e} wanted to pursue his or her own passion. Additionally, 78{a965bd5f02350c1bb0f1dba5e8fbf5866a7ee82ea489bba16c7da5a42788092e} of these businesses have reported being profitable.

We can see a trend here – most people are well into their career path as small business owners and took this path because they wanted to be their own boss or follow their passion. And most are running profitable businesses. Put these items together and this is one happy group!

Small businesses need constant nurturing

At the same time, most small business owners are also very aware of their competitive landscape. They realize that they must review, adjust and enhance their product or service offerings in order to have business growth.

As part of the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program (10kSB for short), I am one of 37 small business owners in New Hampshire that are taking deep dives into our businesses with while looking towards future growth. 10kSB uses a curriculum developed by Babson College that is delivered by the Community College System of NH. The 12-week program aims to help us get on a systematic pathway for business growth. We are currently in the process of developing detailed growth plans.

53{a965bd5f02350c1bb0f1dba5e8fbf5866a7ee82ea489bba16c7da5a42788092e} of business owners ranked their happiness at nine or above on a scale of one to 10.

– the ‘State of Small Business’ by Guidant Financial and LendingClub, 2019

This is the fourth column in a series that I am writing to track our progress in the program. We are now in week 10 and just completed:

  • Developing key growth assumptions
  • Making financial forecasts
  • Conducting and operational audit
  • Going through process mapping exercises

With a background in English and journalism, these MBA buzzwords seemed like a foreign language to me. But after diving into the actual work of understanding a process map, for example, I realized that I could actually do this work on a daily basis. I just might not have known what to call it, let alone document it!

Testing your business assumptions – are you ready to grow?

To recap the past two weeks, we focused on refining assumptions about our business and how these could drive business growth. We documented why these assumptions were critical for our growth strategy and what data we had to support them.

I can give my opportunity as an example because it is straightforward. My public relations, marketing, and design company, Cookson Communications, has also been running the NH Tech Alliance (Alliance), a local nonprofit organization, for nearly nine years. This organization has grown significantly in recent years, so we’re now relaunching it as a standalone organization and hiring full-time staff. As of September, I will be stepping down as the executive director of the Alliance. I will no longer have two titles and will be able to focus on running Cookson Communications. As a result, my Cookson team and I can reinvest our extra time and energy into focusing exclusively on our company to support business growth.

Our business assumptions fuel the next key component – the financial forecast. All of the members of 10kSB were tasked with building these forecasts and then sharing our assumptions with our colleagues. The online “water cooler” was very active and many of us received highly relevant feedback from our colleagues who have had a chance to learn about our businesses for several weeks and are now able to provide excellent advice.

Are we operating our business in our heads?

Next, we conducted an operational audit to help determine if we have the resources, systems, and processes in place to support the growth model. We then reviewed processes that our businesses perform on a regular basis and mapped them out on a grid. This elicited some great feedback from the group during one of our online group meetings. One colleague said that we “allow our organizations to exist only in our heads,” meaning that we have key staff who know what needs to be done but there is no documentation. This resonated with others in the group who realized these processes do need to be captured. They can then be taught to others as businesses grow and face possible staff transitions.

We are now entering our last two weeks of the program as happy business leaders. We’re refining our growth plans (and wondering how we’ll present to our colleagues in three slides under three minutes)! We are very excited about applying principles that we’ve learned to our own businesses. We are fortunate to have this opportunity through the 10kSB program to “get out of our business to get into it” (I know, said it before, but it is so true).

Missed the last article in this series? Catch up on Vol. 3 here.

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