In his work, Will Holmes consults for major business and government offices in the Baltimore area. But although they’re not his clientele, he is passionate about supporting small businesses — so much so that for the past 11 years, he’s done it for free, conducting free trainings and hosting meet-ups for small business owners.
During the pandemic, that passion took a new form as the Baltimore Means Business program, a six-week entrepreneur growth program for businesses based in the D.C., Maryland and Virginia areas. The program was inspired in part by consultant work Holmes had done helping Goldman Sachs recruit for its own 10,000 Small Businesses program; he noticed many applicants did not meet the minimum revenue threshold the company set for participants, even once it was lowered from $100,000 to $75,000 during the pandemic.
“(That) made it available for smaller businesses, but there are a large number of businesses that are still under $75,000,” Holmes said. “We — meaning me and my other client, Morgan State University — decided to come up with a solution.”
This, combined with the heavy toll COVID-19 has taken on Baltimore’s small business, was what inspired Holmes to launch the Baltimore Means Business in partnership with Morgan State’s Graves School of Business.
Originally launched in October 2020, this week marks the graduation of the program’s second cohort; many members of the inaugural cohort have since reported increased revenue and the ability to hire employees. Several have also applied to the Goldman Sachs program.
The program is six weeks long and features lessons in business best practices delivered by Holmes, panels featuring three to five experts on various topics and homework assignments that help participants develop presentations on their businesses. Students also have access to a certified public accountant who answers the entrepreneur’s questions for an hour each week.
To Dakota Mitchell, who launched her consulting firm, Dakota 3 Consulting, after being laid off from her state government job at the pandemic’s onset, the panels were one of the greatest highlights of Baltimore Means Business.
“(Will) has partnerships that he’s been able to develop throughout the years,” Mitchell says. “So he literally rallies them and brings them on as panelists so that us newbies can … maximize that face-to-face contact with some actual individuals who have made things happen — not just in theory.”
Baltimore Means Business isn’t Holmes’s first foray into putting this curriculum into practice. In the past, he developed two other multi-week entrepreneurship programs — one aimed at applicants of the Goldman Sachs program that didn’t get in and a second that Holmes offered last spring, soon after the pandemic’s onset.
Eventually, he plans to release his small business growth curriculum as a book — though he doesn’t have a definitive release date yet (he keeps finding new things to tweak and additional information to add), he hopes it will be sometime this year.
He doesn’t believe in being stingy with the knowledge, resources and network he’s built up over the years.
“One thing I always try to be is the mentor I needed when I was getting started. So, I try to make it easy for them; I compile all the information, step by step, with links on where to go, people who to reach out to,” he says. “That took me like a decade to figure out and they get it on day one. That’s awesome.”
Thirty companies, from government contractors to cleaning services, graduated the program Monday night, bringing Baltimore Means Business’s total successful graduates to 60 since it launched last year.
Many came into the program looking to reach distinct goals or overcome certain challenges; Jacqueline Frierson, for example, runs a consultancy that opened in 2015. Her main struggle over the years has been finding the right audience for her business, which seeks to “assist clients in reaching their organizational goals and addressing pain points.”
Reflective assignments given as part of the Baltimore Means Business curriculum helped her to understand that her goal as a business owner should be trying to find clients whose needs she can truly serve, rather than trying to reel in any client who comes along.
“Not only did my perspective on my business change, my mindset changed,” she says.
Mitchell was also able to achieve the goal she set at the beginning of the program — to find a few key partners for her business, including an attorney — during the six-week program. But, she says, any business can benefit from programs like Baltimore Means Business, not just those looking to address specific challenges.
“In business, you can never know too much, plain and simple. You cannot, it is impossible,” she says. “Regardless of your level of expertise or longevity in business, it behooves you to find a program to keep you current, to keep you aware of the things that impact your business, good or bad.”