Back To School With Goldman Sachs And 10,000 Small Businesses

I spend most of my professional life telling other people what to do with their businesses and brand. It therefore requires me to eat a pretty significant slice of humble pie to go back to school and take a long hard look at my own business and brand. But that’s what I am doing and I am loving it! I’m learning quite a bit too!

I am lucky to have secured a place on the Goldman Sachs 10,000 small business programme  (GS10K) run in conjunction with Saïd Business School at the University of Oxford and am currently in week 4 of a 12 week part-time programme. A potential client recommended that I apply and I am very glad I did.

This business course is 100% funded by Goldman Sachs and delivered by leading academics in their field, supported by proven growth experts who work with small groups of 5 businesses at a time. The output is a Growth Business Plan for each participating business intended to accelerate their performance over the next 5 years. Goldman say they look for those businesses with greatest growth potential from a large application pool.

The potential of the SME business sector

There are 70 other ambitious SME businesses in the 2020 cohort (the 13th since the programme began) covering everything from online pharmacies to yoga studios, hospitality venues to advanced engineering businesses, IT providers and recruitment agencies. You name it and one of the businesses here is likely involved in it. We represent the diversity and potential of the UK SME economy. If we are ever to grow our way out of the current national economic crisis then it’s my fellow entrepreneurs on this course who might make a difference. I’m hoping to do my bit too.

Back in March, I hosted a Management Team Away Day where we fleshed out a pretty decent 3 year business strategy and plan. We were quite chuffed with ourselves by the end of the day as our future prospects looked very positive. We were also celebrating winning a big pitch to rebrand a leading UK University. However, within a matters of days, we had torn up our newly minted business plan and that rebrand contract had been put on indefinite hold as we all headed to work from home in the ‘new normal’. It was pretty devastating.

So I started the GS10K course with an outline business plan and a bucket load of uncertainty. I have used the different modules so far to test and stretch our original thinking. It’s provided me with a real focus as I try and steer the agency through some very turbulent times.

A well rounded business strategy and plan

I’m a third of the way though the course but already I can see that this is a pretty rigorous and in-depth learning experience. We are covering all the key dimensions of a well rounded business strategy and plan:

  • Business foundations
  • Leadership
  • Vision
  • Culture and Values
  • Market and Customer Segmentation
  • Competitive Advantage
  • Customer Value Proposition
  • Brand and Marketing
  • Business Resources
  • Growth Opportunities
  • Tools for Growth
  • Sustainability
  • Risks
  • Financial Metrics
  • Funding for Growth
  • Exit Strategy

Each week there are two webinars where a subject matter expert explains the theory behind a particular topic. We are set ‘homework’ as we apply the theory to our own business and document more of our Growth Plan. Plus, we have a Group call with 4 other business owners/leaders and our Growth Expert, a seasoned industry professional who in one way or another has seen it all before! It’s all managed through an easy-to-use online portal and we meet on zoom regularly. It actually all feels very ‘connected’ and right now I am glad I am not spending endless days travelling around on trains!

It’s a wonderful blend of listening and learning, thinking and doing, sharing and discussing. And I am just about able to fit it in around working in the agency and with clients. But it’s a very good job there is not much else to do at the moment as this has been a significant investment in time to date. And the bulk of the work is still to come!

Confidence in the future

I can already see that GS10K is forcing me to make clearer decisions and to focus on the significant growth opportunities ahead. Because my thinking and assumptions have been tested and challenged, I am more confident in what we are intending to do and that’s half the battle. I know this is going to be a really well researched, robust and comprehensive plan for growth by the time I get to December.

With help from Goldman Sachs and Saïd Business School I have now got some additional tools to deploy as we work with our clients. With our help they have to define their core business strategy, and it’s then our job to articulate a brand strategy that will help them realise their ambitions. In my own way I have to act like their Growth Expert but with a specific focus on brand. I just know that my searching questions will now be so much smarter! Thank you Goldman. Thank you Saïd Business School.

I can also see that taking a bit of time over the process and involving more people is a good thing. That strategy we put together in a day back in March is going to be so much better because I have honed it over a further 3 months with help from my growth expert, my growth group and my colleagues in the agency.


Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses is an investment to help entrepreneurs create jobs and economic opportunity by providing greater access to education, capital and business support services. 10,000 Small Businesses is funded by Goldman Sachs and the Goldman Sachs Foundation.

Saïd Business School is the University of Oxford’s centre of learning for undergraduate and graduate students in business, management and finance.

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