Long Island City, NY—Suddenly, Laura Catana’s life had changed dramatically. One minute she was a senior at Wesleyan College majoring in anthropology, and the next minute she was running the family’s landscaping business when her father, the founder and owner of City Gardens of New York, located in Long Island City, suddenly passed away.
Without any knowledge of running a small business, she helplessly watched as her father’s thriving landscaping business sank from $700,000 in revenue, the year he passed away, to $275,000. “I was totally liberal arts taking classes like West African drumming,” said Ms. Catana. “I had not even taken one business class.”
Strongly believing that the 27-year-old full-service company, which designs, maintains and installs outdoor residential and commercial garden spaces, had great potential, the 26-year-old-college-grad-turned-entrepreneur decided to make a go at it. Ms. Catana discussed her plan with her older sister who said she would run the business for 18 months while she enrolled in Columbia University’s MBA program in landscape design.
Ms. Catana came away from the program with a broad understanding of design and horticulture, but she still did not know how to run a business. So when she learned about Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses, a collaboration between the Goldman Sachs Foundation and LaGuardia Community College, which gives small business owners the vital tools they need to grow their businesses, she decided to participate.
“The program changed my life,” said Ms. Catana in her studio at NYDesigns, a business incubator located on the campus of LaGuardia. “I walked in there confused and left there with a plan.”
The business has seen a 70 percent increase in sales and she has gotten a slew of new clients. Also, her staff has grown. Along with her foreman, designer/project manager and crewman, her husband joined the business as the general manager, and she recently hired a part-time office manager/account manager. And now that she is the middle of the busy season she said she will be hiring two or three more crewmen.
What the intensive 90-hour program does is unlock the growth and job creation potential of its participants through greater access to business education, financial capital and business support services. Utilizing a specially developed curriculum in partnership with Babson, LaGuardia business professors cover every aspect of business that is vital to a small business owner’s survival—accounting; marketing and selling; negotiating; hiring, developing and retaining talented employees; and organizing a growth plan.
In each of the sessions, she came away with new insights. The biggest she said was learning how to analyze her business by figuring what was wrong with it, what she needed to do and how to make the necessary changes. “By analyzing the business, I learned how to change the entire structure of the business from being a one-man show that my dad ran to a multi-faceted business,” she said.
This meant hiring a new foreman, designer and crewman. “I now have three people doing the job that my dad did,” she said. “But I not only created jobs, I knew how to define the jobs they had to do.
She also moved out of her dad’s home office in Jamaica Estates and moved into her office in Long Island City. And she changed the pricing structure that her father had arbitrarily set.
The marketing session taught her how to get her company’s name out there. That meant creating a website, printing business cards and letterhead and repainting the plain white box trucks with the company’s attractive new logo. The negotiating session taught her how to confidently bid on jobs and the importance of follow-up and building relationships. And she learned how to present herself to prospective clients in such a way that they would take the young female CEO seriously.
“After every Saturday class my head would be exploding with so many things I had to do,” Ms. Catana said. “But now I knew how to do it.”
Business coaching was another important component of the program. Ms. Catana had regularly scheduled meetings with Rosa Figueroa, the Director of the LaGuardia’s Small Business Development Center. “In the beginning, I would cry at each session,” said Ms. Catana, “but Rosa would calm me down and say, ‘now you are going to call this person, you are going to make this list and let me know how it goes.’”
And this lifeline continues when the scholars complete the program. Ms. Catana had three post-program meetings with a business adviser who still keeps in touch with her. Ms. Figueroa has also maintained her relationship with Ms. Catana.
“I have never been connected with a program where the people truly care about you,” she said.
Other people who care are the 30 small business owners who participated in the program with her. “The group established an amazing network,” said Ms. Catana. “We learned from each other and really care about each other and each other’s businesses.”
One fellow scholar that she has established a special relationship is Andy DiMarino, a Queens landscaper who has been in the business for 30 years. She does not hesitate to call if she has a question, and the two have worked together on landscaping projects.
“I do not do construction work so I will sub out those jobs to Andy, and he does not have a designer so he will send that work to me,” she said. “There is no competition.”
Since taking over the business full time in 2010, Ms. Catana is happy that she stuck it out, but admits, “I do not think I would still be here if it wasn’t for Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses. I was at the point where I did not want to do it anymore. And now it is so exciting.”
“I look at the way this spring and summer are going compared to last year and the year before, and it so different,” she said with a smile. “I am still overwhelmed because there is a lot to be done, but I know what I need to do and I know how to do it. And if I don’t know how to do it, I know exactly who to call to find out. I have knowledge and guidance. There is a humongous burden lifted off my shoulders.”
To learn more about the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses initiative at LaGuardia Community College, please:
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About Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses:
Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses is an initiative to unlock the growth and job creation potential of 10,000 small businesses across the United States through greater access to business education, financial capital, and business support services. The program operates through a national network of public and private partner organizations including community colleges, business schools and Community Development Financial Institutions. The initiative is currently active in New York, Chicago, Cleveland, Houston, Long Beach, Los Angeles, and New Orleans, and will continue to expand to communities across the country. Community partners in New York City include The City of New York, LaGuardia Community College and Seedco Financial Services.
About LaGuardia Community College:
LaGuardia Community College located in Long Island City, Queens, was founded in 1971 as a bold experiment in opening the doors of higher education to all, and we proudly carry forward that legacy today. LaGuardia educates students through over 50 degree, certificate and continuing education programs, providing an inspiring place for students to achieve their dreams. Upon graduation, LaGuardia students’ lives are transformed as family income increases 17%, and students transfer to four-year colleges at three times the national average. Part of the City University of New York (CUNY), LaGuardia is a nationally recognized leader among community colleges for boundary-breaking success educating underserved students. At LaGuardia we imagine new ideas, create new curriculum and pioneer programs to make our community and our country stronger. Visit www.laguardia.edu to learn more.