All businesses must take the same steps to succeed, and the Ohio Small Business Development Center’s E-Cubed workshop at Lorain County Community College shows them how.
On first impression, the list of budding businesses that Lisa Hutson recites from memory could hardly be more different: An audiologist opening a new practice. A property management company. A hybrid coffee shop/wine bar. A building inspector. A photographer.
Yet as diverse as these enterprises are, they all have something in common: Each has participated in the E-Cubed workshop, a six-week program for entrepreneurs offered by LCCC through its Small Business Development Center.
“It doesn’t really matter what type of business comes through, because they all need to take the same steps,” said Hutson, the center’s director.
In six two-hour sessions, E-Cubed walks prospective entrepreneurs — as well as established business owners — through the fundamentals of starting a new commercial venture, from creating a business plan and making financial projections to mastering accounting practices and recordkeeping. The center introduced the quarterly workshop in 2016 as a replacement for a free business basics class it had previously offered. While that class taught many of the same concepts, it lacked the workshop’s hands-on structure.
“People weren’t really doing their business plans. They learned about it, but they didn’t really do it,” Hutson said.
As a result, the E-Cubed workshop provides both basic instruction and built-in opportunities to apply what students have learned — with the added benefit of one-on-one attention from the center’s advisers and collaboration with a half-dozen fellow workshop attendees.
Upon completion of the program, Hutson said startups could begin serving customers the next day.
“It’s almost like a business-in-a-box type of concept,” she said.
A lot of people fantasize about owning a business — of being their own boss, setting their own schedule and taking a kernel of an idea from daydream to reality. But as romantic as it sounds, launching a new enterprise is a major undertaking, with plenty of hurdles along the way.
E-Cubed, which stands for Empowering Entrepreneurs through Education, helps those who are serious about taking their business from fantasy to fruition navigate the minefield that many new entrepreneurs face.
“For the most part, it’s people who are beyond that ‘just thinking about it’ stage,” Hutson said. “They really want to do it but haven’t started taking customers yet.”
In the first week, workshop-goers learn how to create a business model canvas, a more visual, interactive version of the traditional business plan. The canvas helps entrepreneurs focus and describe their business model in a format that can adapt as the business grows and evolves. In week two, students create a canvas specific to their business, with one-on-one help from advisers.
Weeks three and four, Hutson said, are where the rubber hits the road. Students learn about and execute financial projections and budgeting for their business, which can lead to some rude awakenings.
“When you’re doing projections and realize you’re not going to be making money for eight months, those numbers get ugly quickly,” Hutson said. “But it’s better to know that ahead of time.”
In its final two weeks, the workshop teaches students about accounting and recordkeeping and provides them the opportunity to establish their own business’s bookkeeping practices. For many, the trifecta of the business model canvas, financial projections and accounting procedures provides the jumpstart they need to get their business on the path to profitability.
“There are so many people that are trying to do something out of their basement, or maybe work full time and have that side hustle,” Hutson said. “They just don’t know how to take it to that next level.”
A community resource
Because E-Cubed is just one of many programs offered through the Small Business Development Center at LCCC, support for workshop attendees extends far beyond the six-week scope of the classes.
Advisers from a wide range of commercial backgrounds offer free coaching in a variety of business topics, from human resources and product development to marketing and alternative lending. Workshop students also gain access to an IBISWorld report (a marketing report that provides insight into the past, present and future performance of their industry), a fee-free business account at workshop sponsor Chemical Bank for one year, and a three-month membership to the Lorain County Chamber of Commerce — all included in the $99 workshop fee.
“It’s a great resource for the community,” Hutson said.
And while the goal is to help entrepreneurs reach their business goals and build successful companies, sometimes helping entrepreneurs realize they need to rein in their dreams can be the most helpful.
“Sometimes we have to show people that they need to narrow their vision until they’re better prepared,” Hutson said. “It might be an adjustment to the ‘dream big’ mentality entrepreneurs tend to have, but reaching incremental successes can be the win an entrepreneur needs to ultimately be a successful business owner. And to get to play even a small part in helping someone achieve their dreams is pretty cool.”
Contact LCCC Business Growth Services at (440) 366-4300 to learn more about our services to get your business off the ground.