Learning the Business Behind Success

“I was very reluctant to add anything to my already overloaded plate,” said Jehan Azad, principal at American Specialty Paint in Greenville, which makes stucco paint, colored with sand that doesn’t fade. “However the Spiro program actually improved my workload because it made me step back to re-organize, delegate and automate in my business. Overall it’s an incredible value and ROI on both time and money.”

Spiro Sessions were organized by Clemson University’s Center for Corporate Learning and the McNair Law Firm to provide flexible and affordable professional development to busy entrepreneurs and business leaders. In a series of eight, bi-weekly, evening seminars spanning eight fundamental building blocks of business, professionals in a variety of fields share their expertise with participants.

In March, the residents of the Charleston area will for the first time have the opportunity to enroll in Spiro Sessions at the Lowcountry Graduate Center.

The two-and-a-half hour sessions cover marketing, sales, accounting, IT, legal, operations and banking, and former participant Kenny Reid says the time flies. “It’s action-packed and there’s good conversation.”

The structure of the course also fits the busy entrepreneur’s lifestyle, he said. Spreading eight evening sessions over 16 weeks allowed class members to carve out the time without feeling overwhelmed.

For Reid, a one-person home remodeling business, the big takeaway was the importance of setting goals and working towards them. He set three goals during his 2015 sessions and achieved two of them in 2016 – to get published in a trade journal and to complete three large houses in a year. His third goal – to open an office in Charleston – is still on the table. He expects to achieve it in the next couple of years.

Having dispatched two objectives, Reid is creating new ones. Next he wants to establish a handyman unit for small jobs and hire someone to handle those tasks. He says his tactical focus prior to the Spiro Sessions prevented this kind of high-level planning.

Notes Matthew Klein, director of the Spiro Institute, “For a business leader there’s no better opportunity to have that mentorship.”

Both organizers of the Spiro Sessions and participants say not all the experts are making presentations: many of them are sitting in the audience. Participants exchanged ideas, advice and even sales leads. On the advice of classmates, Jehan Azad joined the local homebuilders association and instituted online marketing that has paid dividends. That’s something he doesn’t think would happen in an MBA program, where fellow students generally hold positions inside someone else’s company, and which takes one-to-three years of study and costs tens of thousands of dollars.

The Spiro Sessions last just four months and cost $599, a mere fraction of what a similar program would cost – if there were one.

For Azad and Reid, the session on accounting was among the most useful. They both realized that they weren’t devoting enough attention to back office operations. Reid realized he needed to hire a bookkeeper.

Another session led Azad to automate a segment of his business that was producing high error rates, leading to the cost and headache of employee turnover.

In each case, the underlying lesson applied involved stepping back from the mundane and taking a bird’s-eye view of it.

“It helps you run your business,” said Reid, “not let your business run you.”