THE BLOG
08/30/2013 06:14 pm ET Updated Oct 30, 2013

10,000 Small Businesses, Warren Buffett and a giant roller coaster

The past year has been one of growth for Blue Star. Significant growth. Growth on an incline of Millennium Force, you know, that gut-checking, 310-foot roller coaster our son is so fond of riding at Cedar Point. Normally, you'd think growth would be seen as a good thing - except, I am terrified of heights and absolutely hate roller coasters.

During the ascent up that first steep incline, I was fortunate to be introduced to a fabulous person who would become my mentor. A calm, fellow rider much too eager to point out, in her kind way, that there was no going back. I was, indeed, on a coaster full of hills and dips, and I should hang on and make the most of it. Sensing my unease (OK...terror), she offered these words, "Perhaps you could find some sort of business management course, one that could get you over your fear of heights, so to speak."

Fate Steps In
Later that day my business development manager, George, was waiting for me at the office with an application in hand to the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program. I knew I had no choice but to fill it out.

Out of 125 program applicants, I was one of 60 to be called in for an interview, and one of only 36 to be accepted.

Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses is a community investment program designed to help entrepreneurs create jobs and economic opportunities by providing greater access to education, capital and business support services, with a $15 million commitment to the Cleveland area. 10,000 Small Businesses is funded by Goldman Sachs and the Goldman Sachs Foundation. Its curriculum has been developed by Babson College, one of the most highly ranked schools for entrepreneurship in the world. And Tri-C hosts the course, providing business advisors to help guide and coach participants along the way.

The program likens itself to achieving a mini-MBA for entrepreneurship in less than three months. It's rapid, intense, and there's a tremendous amount of homework. But the course is amazingly rewarding and the experience has changed my life.

We're Not Alone
My first day in, I realized it wasn't just me (and my mentor) all alone on this crazy ride. Many of my fellow students had businesses that were different from mine, but all had the same concerns, problems and fears. I now had a network of people to turn to and rely on for advice, and to compare notes with when things went awry. The course encouraged peer learning, and some of the best ideas and solutions came from conversations with my classmates. By the end of the course, many of us either engaged in business with each other or offered significant referrals.

Attending all the classes and completing all of the course work was a huge time commitment, which was the most daunting factor of all. Being away too long from my business felt risky at first, too. But I have a great team and business got done - without me. They all pitched in to help me get my homework completed and encouraged me every step of the way. I finally had the time to work ON my business and not IN my business.

Learning How To Grow
The classes are taught in modules, dissecting the practice of business into nine parts. Each class focuses on one specific area: You and Your Business, Growth and Opportunities, Money and Metrics, You are the Leader, It's the People, Marketing and Sales, Operations and Processes, Being Bankable, and Putting it all Together.

For me personally, the most difficult - and beneficial - module was Money and Metrics. Being forced to bring order to our accounting system and practices allowed us to accurately project our earnings for the next 5 years, giving me great insight to all the possibilities for the business. It eliminated some of the guesswork and gave me the story about our success in facts and figures. I can now confidently communicate our plans to my advisors, employees, clients and the community.

One very important class requirement is to complete a growth plan - a business plan recognizing areas of growth and charting the course for success. It houses our mission and vision, growth opportunity, organizational chart, projections, competitive analysis - everything needed to keep us on track.

Blue Star... Meet Mr. Buffett
All the hard work was topped off with a classroom visit from Warren Buffett, who sits on the 10,000 Small Businesses advisory council. I am honored to have had the opportunity to meet and introduce my business to the billionaire investor. (And no he didn't offer to buy me out -- yet.)

The 10,000 Small Businesses program has inspired my team. It has made me a better communicator. It has provided valuable information that allowed us to confidently hire our eighth employee. It has given us the tools to evaluate how we had climbed that big hill in the first place and revealed new inclines for the future - which I now find intriguing instead of scary.

Capturing Opportunities
Before attending the program, I was a trained designer and a self-taught business owner. I did a pretty darned good job for being self-taught, but I wasn't confident in my abilities. And I realize now, it was taking me much longer to see and capture the opportunities in front of me.

Heights may still be a problem, but thanks to the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program, I am so much more confident riding this roller coaster that I call Blue Star. Bring it on.

This blogger graduated from Goldman Sachs' 10,000 Small Businesses program. Goldman Sachs is a partner of the What Is Working: Small Businesses section.