Long Island City, NY–When Mercedes Cano, an immigration lawyer with a community practice in Jackson Heights, attended the first session of the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program at LaGuardia Community she felt she had made a mistake.
Sitting among entrepreneurs who headed janitorial, landscaping and construction companies, she wondered how this 11-week program that was helping small business owners grow their businesses could help her.
“I was not making signs or cleaning office buildings,” said Ms. Cano, who for the past 13 years has been the legal voice for this neighborhood’s diverse immigrant population, pleading for clients who were facing deportation; fighting for political asylum for others; and representing and obtaining green cards for those who were being abused by the system. “I was providing a service to the neighborhood’s residents. I never thought of my community law practice as a small business.”
By the second class, she discovered, to her astonishment, that her law practice was indeed a small business. “For the first time, I looked at it as a business,” said the CUNY Law School graduate. “All along I thought that I simply had to be a lawyer. 10,000 Small Businesses made me realize that I also had to be a businesswoman. It changed my mind and my perspective.”
Each session, which tackled a particular business topic–accounting, marketing and pricing out a product–opened her eyes to new and effective business practices. For example, during the finance workshop, she learned how to accurately calculate the fee for her services. Before the program she admitted charging a client based on a “hunch,” but now she and her staff carefully keep track of their billable hours.
“This is a program that not only benefited me, but my staff,” said Ms. Cano, who added that since participating in the program her operation has grown to include two lawyers, one paralegal and a receptionist. “After each of the daylong sessions, I would close the office for a couple of hours and sit down with my staff and share with them what I had learned.”
Following the program’s advice that its participants develop networks, Ms. Cano, who had not established any professional affiliations before, joined the New York Chamber of Commerce, Minority Women Chamber of Commerce and the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce.
Ms. Cano also developed another important tool for her business arsenal—the business pitch. She discovered just how important it is when she competed in Make Mine a Million $ Business, an initiative of Count Me In for Women’s Independence, Inc., a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping women grow their micro business into million-dollar enterprises. After making a persuasive pitch, she received $500 and six months of business coaching. That coaching complements the 10,000 Small Businesses advising that Ms. Cano still takes advantage of as a graduate of the program.
With her new outlook on her law office-business and the future direction of her growing practice, Ms. Cano said that she is ready to branch out. She has set her sites on a satellite office on Park Avenue South and is already cultivating networks in Manhattan to make that move possible.
“10,000 Small Businesses was a wonderful program,” she said. “It has opened up a whole new world to me.”
This new world is so different from the one she was living in when she immigrated to the U.S. in 1971 from Colombia. Then she was an undocumented 16-year old who did not speak English.
“Life was tough,” said Ms. Cano who shared an apartment with her aunt in the Bronx. Without legal status, she took any job she could get, including cleaning houses and factory work. When she finally was granted her documents, she drove a New York City taxicab for 10 years and went on to work at the post office for 10 years.
In 1991, while working in the post office, she began taking classes at Queens College and in 1996 graduated cum laude. The next CUNY steppingstone was CUNY Law School where she earned her law degree in 1999.
A semester before graduating from law school she founded Centro Comunitario y de Asesoria Legal, Inc., a non-profit organization in Jackson Heights that educates immigrants about their legal and civil rights. After running the non-profit for four years, she opened her law office.
Now, she is handling a busy law practice and spreading the word about 10,000 Small Businesses. “I tell my colleagues, some who are unfortunately seeing their practices shrink, that they cannot afford not to enter this program because it will make a difference in their ‘business,’ ” she said.
To learn more about the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses initiative at LaGuardia Community College, please:
• Visit www.laguardia.edu/10ksb
• Call our team at (718) 730-7400 or
• Email 10KSB@lagcc.cuny.edu
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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, Philadelphia, New Orleans, and Salt Lake City 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.
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.