A piece of mail addressed to "Or Current Resident" was a fateful arrival for Sheila Johnson. It was an Evening at Emory catalog, the pages of which she flipped through one day and stumbled upon the course, "How to Start and Manage a Successful Small Business." The discovery was the beginning of Johnson's journey into self-employment.
Johnson, who owns a special events planning firm, is one of thousands of "graduates" of the jointly sponsored Evening at Emory/Small Business Administration (SBA) course, which will celebrate a 25-year partnership at the next session's beginning on April 7. Many course participants have gone on to start successful businesses, while others have saved themselves the money and anguish of a failed business attempt by deciding that owning a business was more than they bargained for.
"We often refer to this as the American Dream class," said Steve Stoffle, director of Evening at Emory. "Sometimes it's our job to temper the dream with some realism."
For Johnson, finding the course was coincidental; for veterinarian Joanne Roesner, it was the linchpin of a calculated plan to open her own clinic. Her Loving Hands Animal Clinic is now four years old, and Roesner will soon break ground in Alpharetta on a new, larger facility that can accommodate her business' growth.
"It is the platform I used to launch my business," said Roesner. "I feel very strongly about the course." She's so enthusiastic that she regularly speaks to other SBA classes. In fact, she spoke to Johnson's Evening at Emory class.
Roesner told Johnson's class that she had planned and saved for a year before starting her business, while another guest speaker was a woman who started her business with a $500 investment. "We got to see two entrepreneurs who took opposite approaches, yet both were successful," said Johnson. "If I didn't have thousands of dollars saved, it was okay; it was going to be a lot harder, but it could still be done."
For both Roesner and Johnson, the most valuable component of the course was the access to other people's expertise. Both women have taken advantage of other SBA courses and have relied on contacts made through their initial courses.
"I learned that I don't know everything," said Roesner. "I learned to ask for help, to be flexible. I seek out appropriate and experienced consultants for the areas in which I don't have expertise. Plus my husband, who came along after I opened the business, has been invaluable. He provides the management background I don't have."
For Johnson, a tax expert's explanation of the labyrinthine Internal Revenue Service code was invaluable. But more important was the moral support she found in her class. "I learned to never give up," she said. "You've got to have a burning desire, but know where you're going. Plan your work and work your plan."
Johnson and Roesner are just two of the more than 5,000 Georgians who have taken the Evening at Emory/SBA course. According to Stoffle, Evening at Emory's 25-year partnership with the SBA is unprecedented. "This is the longest-running SBA course in the state," he said. "It has been an ideal match between their ability to provide experts and support for the class, and our access to the smart, ambitious and well-educated Emory neighbors who take the class."
To register for "How to Start and Manage a Successful Small Business" or any other Evening at Emory course, call 727-6000.