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If businesses were people, Courtney Spence would be the mom of a thriving teen. She started Students of the World 14 years ago at the age of 19, so you can say that she’s got a lot of experience in that department.
Students of the World is a community of storytellers; filmmakers, designers, photographers, journalists and creators of all kinds join Students of the World to find opportunities to tell stories that have an impact.
I visited the Students of the World headquarters in San Francisco last October and had the chance to see her team in action. I have to admit that as a tweener who straddles the Baby Boomer and Gen X generations, the Millennial generation’s focus on integrating their craft and career with a desire to make a difference in the world was a little foreign — at first.
I caught up with Courtney this past week to see what’s changed in her business since my visit. Here’s a summary of my interview with Courtney Spence.
You can see our entire interview here:
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What challenges did you face over the last year?
The biggest challenge we faced was growing Students of the World. I wanted to grow the organization, but I didn’t want for us to lose our mission. Another challenge we faced is common for many businesses — people! I mean we have fantastic partners and team members, but it’s not just about finding the right people for the right positions, it’s about finding the right positions for the amazing people you have.
How did you address those challenges?
First, I needed a creative solution that would allow us to keep our non-profit status while becoming less dependent on donors and growing the organization. After 6-9 months of working with our board and mentors, we decided to create an agency that would have a special relationship with Students of the World, but they wouldn?t own Students of the World, nor would Students of the World own them.
This new organization and structure addressed so both of our challenges; it opened up Students of the world to a much broader community, it reduced our dependency on donors for funding and it gave us the space and opportunity to leverage the talents of amazing people who may not have had a place in the traditional non-profit structure of Students of the World.
Did you have an ?ugly cry? moment during this transition?
Absolutely! A lot of my identity was with Students of the World and it’s original mission. But to achieve this mission, I had to learn to let go. I didn’t think I had Founder’s Syndrome, but as we started talking about it, I didn’t see things as clearly as I should have. I could see that I was trying to wear two different hats and play two different roles inside of one organization and that the organization wasn’t going to be able to achieve what it should because of that.
What turned out to be harder than you thought it would be?
This is what really surprised me. We at Students of the World consider ourselves master storytellers and branders. And yet, when we started working on our own branding and messaging, we really struggled. It’s like that story of the two barbers, the one with the great haircut and the one with the bad one. The one with the bad haircut was really the one who cut the barber’s hair who had the great haircut. Go figure.
Tell me about your experience with the Canon MAXIFY printer?
It’s been great — it’s sitting right here in our office. We love it! It’s small enough and it prints really fast. It looks great and it was easy to install. Gone are the days of how to install and get it to work. It went in really quickly. We’ve found that it’s been fast and efficient. Here’s a real life example. We’ve just taken a new project in LA and had maps of counties that we’ve had to print out and lay out on the table. Here’s something that’s surprising. In an era where everything is online and digital, for us there is still a lot of stuff offline whether it’s storyboarding; a lot of it is still on paper, or it’s a proposal or RFP, I still need that hard copy to edit and ideate. Some things never change.
7 Simple Growth Lessons for Small Business Owners
As I talked to Courtney, I couldn’t stop reflecting on her comparing her organization to a teenager. In the same way that teenagers appear to grow and change overnight and then go through that clumsy period where they grow into their new larger, more powerful bodies and minds, Students of the World has set goals, stumbled, struggled and ultimately learned some lessons in the process. I’ve summarized 7 of these lessons for you here.
- Be open to pivoting your model to reach more people: There will come a time where the existing structure of your business may no longer serve you or your customer. Be open to alternative business models and take the time to play with creative ideas that allow you to stay focused on your ultimate mission and business purpose.
- Surround yourself with mentors and take their advice: You might have started this business on your own, but you don’t have to grow it on your own. No matter what your age or level of experience, everyone can benefit from solid mentoring from someone who has been or someone who can give you honest feedback — even if you don’t want to hear it.
- Have a structure in place for growth: After you’ve decided on a model for your expanding business, be sure to put a structure in place that allows you to grow into your new goals.
- Let go of your ego: Don’t be surprised if even you have “Founder’s Syndrome” and struggle with seeing your baby grow up. Reach out to your board and your mentors to get honest reflection, feedback and problem solving.
- Be courageous: Go ahead and feel the fear — then do it anyway. It’s completely normal to feel fear when you’re stepping into something new. If you’ve done the work and prepared for the shift – you’ll be fine.
- People first: Don’t be quick to hire just to fill slots or skills. Hire with purpose. Make a list of tasks highlight the ones only you can do, strategically select the one?s where you need a partner with different skills. Hire people for who they are and not just what they do.
- Use the right tools for the job: There is nothing that zaps productivity than wasting time on a task because you don’t have the right tools. At Students of the World, they don’t want to let a great idea slip away. They use their Canon MAXIFY printer to quickly print storyboards, maps and documents that move their business forward.
Did you know that if you help a caterpillar out of its cocoon it will die? It seems that the physical struggle of getting itself out of a smaller body and into the new shape of a butterfly is exactly what it needs to survive. The same is true for your burgeoning business. Yes, there is struggle, there is fear and at the end of the road, what you learn in the process is exactly what you need to thrive in your new, larger space.
Congratulations Courtney Spence and the entire team and board of Students of the World. You are ready to spread your wings and fly.
If you are a U.S.-based small business owner (1-9 employees) and have faced a unique business challenge, let us know!
Leave a comment and share your business challenge on this post using the hashtag #MAXIFYCONTEST and tag any of our mentors (@DIYMarketers. @RhondaAbrams, @BarbaraCorcoran, @BrettRelander) in order to qualify for our contest.
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NO PURCHASE NECESSARY TO ENTER OR WIN. Open only to residents of the 48 contiguous United States and the District of Columbia, 21 and older. Entrant must be a small business owner where the business is five (5) years old or less and has no more than nine (9) employees. Void outside 48 contiguous U.S. and D.C., and where prohibited or restricted by law. To enter, post on Facebook or Twitter about a particularly difficult challenge you face as a small business owner using the hashtag #MAXIFYCONTEST and tag @brettrelander, @DIYMarketers,@Timberry@RhondaAbrams, or @BarbaraCorcoran. The Contest Period starts at 3:00 PM ET on July 15, 2015 and ends at 11:59 PM ET on August 31 Multiple entries are permitted during the Contest Period, however only one (1) Contest Entry per person will be eligible to become a Finalist (as defined in the Official Rules) There will be one (1) Grand Prize Winner and seven (7) Runners-up. See Official Rules for prize details. By entering, you represent and warrant that you own all right and title in the post content and any photo, and the post content and any photo do not violate the intellectual property rights or publicity rights of a third party. By entering, you release Sponsor, Facebook and Twitter from any liability associated with participating in the Contest and/or accepting any prize. Each Winner and Runners Up grants Sponsor the right to use his/her name and likeness for promotional purposes. Sponsor: Canon U.S.A., Inc., One Canon Park, Melville, NY 11747. Please visit the following link: http://shop.usa.canon.com/estore/marketing/maxify-resources/mentors-program-contest-terms.pdf for the full Official Rules.