New Orleans, LA – Community IMPACT Series: Good Work Network Dec. 29, 2009
For Thomas Brown, the path to becoming a small business owner began at the top of a short ladder and at the butt of a hurtful prank. This was about two years ago, when the New Orleans native was working as a driver for a waste management company. After eight years on the job, he was hungry to advance, so he asked his supervisor for advice on how to move up. Here's how Brown remembers his supervisor's response:
"He directed me to a closet. He said they had a six-foot ladder inside the closet, and for me to climb the ladder. And when I got to the top of the ladder he told me that was the farthest I was going to get, um, in my career."
The implication, of course, was that Thomas Brown was going nowhere. It was a painful moment, but it also motivated him to prove that former supervisor wrong.
"I knew what I wanted, but I didn't know how to get it."
Today, Brown owns Thomas Floor Care, a company performing floor maintenance and carpet cleaning services. Building the business wasn't easy, but now he has a growing roster of regular customers. What made the difference in Thomas's career was a word-of-mouth referral to Good Work Network. Based in Central City, this nonprofit helps clients all over the New Orleans area form their own businesses. Most of Good Work Network's clients are African Americans, and close to 70 percent are women. Here's Good Work Network founder Phyllis Cassidy:
"I feel that our economic system has excluded certain people from full participation, and I believe we should change that, not only as a moral agenda, but as an economic agenda. Until we have a fully inclusive economy, we will not have a healthy economy, and I think it's important for the city of New Orleans that we do everything we can to have a fully inclusive economic system."
These businesses range from corner stores to small construction contractors to home healthcare providers. In most cases, their owners had experience and skills in their fields, but had no idea how to manage a business start-up or even where to turn to learn those steps. Good Work Network fills this gap with one-on-one assistance in areas from writing business plans to establishing accounting systems. Again, Phyllis Cassidy:
"We coach, support and educate small business owners to give them the business skills to reach their full potential and participate in the local economy as fully as they deserve to."
The goal is to foster businesses that provide financial security for their family owners and build economic life in their communities. To see this through, Good Work Network stays involved long after the start-up phase. Staffers help clients find customers, provide small capital grants and are there to assist as clients expand. But they also provide something intangible, and something invaluable, for people who have known frustration and disappointment on their own. Thomas Brown explains.
"The main thing is motivation, and the drive, to let me now I could achieve and I can achieve, and the willpower. With the help of Good Work, I'm going to succeed with it, I'm not going to stop until I'm successful with it and able to help somebody else."
Learn more about Good Work Network at wwno.org. For WWNO, I'm Ian McNulty.