CLEVELAND — 2020 saw a lot of change on the business landscape. With so many people out of work, they looked to rebound by opening businesses. According to Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose’s office, more than 171,000 new businesses opened in Ohio last year.
The trend continues in 2021 with 33% more filings in January of this year than last year.
But that's not to say starting a business is easy for everyone, so a group of women based in Cleveland are taking the lessons they've learned and sharing them with others through the Entrepreneur 180 course.
The course has helped women like Monica Wright, whose passion is making people smile with the jewelry she sells as a consultant at Paparazzi Accessories.
“When they purchase it, it's so much excitement and that joy of watching,” said Wright, who started with the company three years ago.
That’s why she decided to turn her part-time gig with the company into a full-time business this year. She also quit her previous full-time job to take on CEO responsibilities full-time at Truly Transformed, LLC, a faith-based private practice for adults with substance abuse disorders.
But she soon figured out that she was going to need a lot of help sustaining that venture.
“Things start to shake a little bit and they start to get a little difficult. You start to doubt yourself,” Wright said.
So she signed up for Entrepreneur 180. It's a course designed by Cleveland boutique owner Lisa McGuthry to teach women how to build successful and sustainable businesses.
“There's a lot of different processes that you have to go through. And being a seasoned business owner, I wanted to help other women to grow sustainable and growing businesses,” McGuthry said.
The course started last January with women getting hands-on training in McGuthry’s shop, Our Favorite Things Boutique. McGuthry taught the courses with co-facilitators and small business owners, Antoinette Jordan and Anique Russell.
“We have someone who does weight loss and meal prep, which is fantastic even right now during the pandemic, because most people are gaining weight, sitting at home, just eating. So she's gotten into the weight loss and the meal prep, which was fantastic. We have another skincare professional there as well. We have boutiques. There's a couple of people that are doing consignment shops and boutiques or they sell jewelry and we have someone that does like a little clinic where she goes and she helps people with abuse,” said Jordan, who works as a makeup artist.
But after the pandemic hit, the classes moved to Zoom and the lessons also changed to address the economic hardships that came with COVID-19.
Nicole Liatos, the director of the Women’s Business Center of Northern Ohio, said one huge barrier is access to capital.
“There are disparities with access to capital. That's definitely a barrier, especially among African American women. So we've seen a lot of influx of female entrepreneurs coming to us, getting access to capital,” Liatos said. “I think that it's systematically rooted. There are things that still need to change. We've come a long way. But when we do have some institutionalized racism, I think that is something that is still a barrier.”
Liatos said her team is helping business owners break those barriers by assisting them with PPP loan applications, and WBC’s companion and microloans.
She’s urging business owners to reach out for that help if they need it.
“One quality you should have as a business owner is that it's okay to ask for help. You know, you wear many different hats in a business, so you might not be the expert at everything, but just know that there are people out there and organizations like the Women's Business Center,” Liatos said. “And then there's a whole list of other organizations, small business communities, that you can really tap into and ask for that needed assistance.”
McGuthry and her team included solutions to capital barriers in their lesson plan, making sure her students know how to legalize their business, which is a big step towards securing federal loans and grants.
“A lot of times they're not prepared with the information that they need to have to turn into the government,” McGuthry said. “If you didn't have all your I's dotted and your T's crossed, it was tough.”
She’s also teaching them how to do the thing many seasoned business owners have done over the last year.
“Being able to teach them that they have to pivot. And if they have to pivot at any moment, they have to have strategy. They have to think about how they're going to get this done and know that it can be accomplished,” McGuthry said. “We're just wanting to change the world. One entrepreneur at a time.”
“The biggest thing that we're trying to teach this group of women. It’s great to have a passion. It's great to have a hobby. But literally, what problem can you solve through your business model?” said Russell, owner of Too Good Eats in Columbus. “And I think that has been such an important learning throughout the pandemic. You know, there's businesses who have thrived, and there’s businesses who haven't. And I think what it comes down to is -- are you fulfilling a need that your customers have? Are you being a problem solver? So that is what we're trying to really teach the women who are in this cohort.”
So far, 40 women have completed the Entrepreneur 180 course, with 8 joining from outside of Ohio. There have been six cohorts since the program began in January 2020.
The next cohort starts in April. Anyone interested should call 1-800-975-0731 or visit the Entrepreneur 180 Facebook page.
Contact information for the Women’s Business Center of Northern Ohio can be found here.
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