College Life

Take the Leap

Susan O’Mahoney Holtzman owns a successful conference-management company in the hot sector of healthcare.

Holtzman has made a name for Complete Conference Management over the past 14 years, has a talented and dedicated staff of 17, and has many repeat customers among a growing client base of physicians groups, hospitals, universities and medical companies.

Many small businesses would be thrilled to be in this position. So why did Holtzman seek a Miami Herald Small Business Makeover?

Holtzman said she wanted to institute a new position that would allow her to delegate much of her day-to-day management duties, freeing her up for more strategic work. She also wanted to explore ways to improve the infrastructure of her company — IT systems, human resources, standard operating procedures, etc. — as it grows.

Bud Davis, a counselor with SCORE Miami-Dade who conducted the Miami Herald Small Business Makeover, discussed many of these issues with Holtzman. But what Davis, an entrepreneur who has invented products and run businesses including a staffing company, most encouraged her to do is to think even more globally.

Taking the leap

“The challenge is much more than an improved method of operation and continuation in the same direction for this already successful company,” said Davis. “This is the time for the company to make a major leap forward and begin the next chapter.

“There are times in the development of a business where a conservative step-by-step is not the solution. It is the time for a leap. The ability to recognize and the strength to make these decisions are the hallmarks of a true business leader.”

So how does she begin making that leap? Start by looking in the mirror.

Holtzman is at the growth stage many successful small businesses will face. It’s easy to continue to be sucked into the day-to-day operations, but her broad management industry experience and oversight is really most needed at the strategic level.

“She can’t make any more time in a day. When you can’t do that you have to redefine your own job. There is a certain amount of work you have to give up and it’s difficult because you have always done that. You have to start at the top and look at what are the most important things you should be doing,” Davis said.

After working at Baptist Health Systems for seven years, Holtzman launched Complete Conference Management in 1997 as a consulting business she could run from home, giving her more flexibility as a working mom.

She never dreamed then that the business would be as big as it is today. In fact, she said she has never advertised. But “I never said no to new business,” Holtzman said. “My focus was always on providing a great product.”

As her company grew, she moved from a spare bedroom to a converted garage to leased office space, and she is now trying to expand her Kendall offices for the fourth time.

Exploring scenarios

To begin the makeover, Davis asked Holtzman to write down her dream job and personal and professional goals. “This was helpful because as the owner this seemed like a luxury I had not given myself. In defining the role I want to have, and what my strengths are, I was better able to define the responsibilities that I would want to pass on to a new role or roles in the company,” she said.

Davis pointed out she has three choices: Continue as she is with her current customers and staff; decide that she does want to make the leap, but be prepared to invest money and time into it; or look for a partner that can bring strategic advantages to the table or consider selling the business to an appropriate entity. They also spent some time talking about what those three scenarios would look like and that was helpful, she said.

While Holtzman is still exploring her options, she has already begun taking her business to the next level by hiring several new employees, taking on a surge of new business and adding management training for her staff. Next steps include upgrading IT and electronic marketing systems and working on improving internal policies to best serve her employees.

More advice

In addition to adding that high-level assistant, freeing her up for more strategic issues, Davis also had this advice, which is good for any small business:

•  Look at what isn’t getting done now that needs to be done. “I keep a running list and refer to it often,” he said.

•  Continue to involve her staff in the business as much as possible, including sharing company financial information. She had already begun doing this with weekly meetings but now better understands the importance. “The more they know about the company, the more they become your partners,” Davis said.

•  During the annual review process, ask her staff to evaluate how she is doing, too. “It’s a terrific exercise,” Davis said, “You’ll be surprised what you discover.”

•  Put a system in place where she can quickly see what is going on in her company on a weekly basis. “What I find effective is graphs that include your goals for the year, what you did last year and where you are currently. You can track several parameters — sales, gross margins, net margins, new customers, etc. You can quickly see your whole story,” he said.

•  Network with other small business owners. Davis suggested she join an owners group, which is made up of business owners in her own industry who are not direct competitors. She could also network with owners and CEOs from other industries, through groups such as the National Association of Women Business Owners.

She said as a working mom she never really made time for networking. “This exercise helped me to realize that I need to be interacting more with other business owners in order to talk to people who have had the same issues and experiences that I am dealing with and that yes, it is often lonely at the top,” Holtzman said.

As part of the small business makeover, Davis and Holtzman met four times and he offered to meet with her again when she is ready. She wants to continue the relationship.

“The whole exercise re-motivated me and helped to redirect me,” Holtzman said. “Meeting with him on a regular basis also forced me to take the time to really think about the changes I want to make.”

Fernando Larez

Fernando is an entrepreneur, technologist and proud dad. He is an author at the Beat.

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