A chance encounter in her commercial real estate broker’s office lobby helped Nashville entrepreneur Amy Tanksley put her business on the fast track.
It was in that lobby that Tanksley met James Fields, owner of Concept Technology and a member of the Nashville chapter of the Entrepreneurs’ Organization.
When he learned she also was a small-business owner, Fields invited her to visit the EO group, which targets high-growth entrepreneurial companies. The organization has more than 120 chapters worldwide; Nashville is one of the organization’s fastest-growing chapters.
Tanksley, owner of Uncle Classic Barbershop, was too small to join the group initially (companies need at least $1 million in annual revenue to join), but she seemed the perfect fit for the group’s new Catalyst program, an 18-month program aimed at helping grow fledgling startups into fast-growing companies.
She was interested right away, but also skeptical about what she could learn from other small-business owners like herself. “I wondered if this was just going to be a case of the blind leading the blind.”
Instead, she found a roomful of entrepreneurs who knew her struggles.
“Regardless of industry, we all were having some of the exact same problems,” Tanksley said. “I don’t feel like I’m out here on an island anymore.”
Most importantly, Tanksley said the program helped contribute to her bottom line. Overall, companies involved in the chapter’s first Catalyst program grew annual revenue by 53 percent.
Now, a second group of entrepreneurs is going through the program, and EO is taking applications for a third group that will start this August.
Bryan Ansley is co-chairman of the Catalyst program, which is unique to the Nashville EO chapter.
“If (entrepreneurs) take time to sharpen the saw, it’s going to definitely pay dividends,” Ansley said.
Still, Ansley said the program does require a big commitment. Over an 18-month period, a company must commit to about 100 hours of meeting time, and a fee of $2,500.
“That 100 hours is an intimidating number, but that’s what it takes. And if you asked most people, ‘Would you be willing to sacrifice 100 hours of your time to see your income grow by 50 percent?’ I think you’d get a lot of takers.”
He said the program’s participants had annual revenue between $250,000 and $1 million before the program started. By the end, more than 40 percent had crossed the $1 million mark.
He said the program’s fee was designed to be affordable, but substantial enough to make business owners get serious about the program. “If you just give something away for free, it’s not as appreciated as much,” Ansley said.
The Catalyst program begins with a series of classroom lessons with Michael Burcham, head of Nashville’s Entrepreneur Center.
“We are trying to teach them the habits that will allow them to work on their business, rather than just in their business,” Ansley said.
Following the intensive series of classroom sessions, the next several months focus on group meetings where entrepreneurs share their experiences and give each other feedback and support.
For Tanksley, entrepreneurship was an entirely new experience. As the daughter of a doctor, she always thought her path would be to get an education and go work for a corporation for her entire career.
“I grew up in a low-risk, no-risk household,” Tanskley said. “Risk was just not in my family’s DNA.”
But when she thought about returning to school to get her MBA, Tanksley and her husband decided to pursue a dream of opening up a barber shop. Instead of using the money for graduate school tuition, they used it as seed money to launch her business (her husband remained in his corporate job after the launch).
“We were moving forward, but going at a very slow pace,” she said. “I was making lots of insecure decisions.”
By the end of the program, Tanksley said she felt more confident as a business owner, and has even gained the momentum to open up a third location.
“It was worth taking the risk,” she said.