The ‘human side’ to business: New program called Business Blueprint Easthampton is helping budding entrepreurers 

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  • Lori Novis of Easthampton, founder and principal artisan of Mango Fish, demonstrates a technique for attaching the beads she sews by hand into items like charm bracelets and graduation tassels. Photographed in her home studio on Monday. Novis is one of eight graduates of a new program called Business Blueprint Easthampton that is focused on helping new and small business entrepreneurs through early growing pains. Bottom middle, Novis demonstrates a technique for making items like key rings and charm bracelets with the beads she sews by hand. Bottom, graduation cap tassels are adorned with school color-specific handcrafted beads. STAFF PHOTOS/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Graduation cap tassels are adorned with school color-specific handcrafted beads by Lori Novis, founder and principal artisan of Mango Fish. Photographed in her Easthampton home studio on Monday, Dec. 6, 2021. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Lori Novis, founder and principal artisan of Mango Fish, demonstrates a technique for making items like key rings and charm bracelets with the beads she sews by hand in her Easthampton home studio on Monday, Dec. 6, 2021. —STAFF PHOTO

  • Beads handcrafted by Lori Novis, founder and principal artisan of Mango Fish, adorn a key ring and charm bracelets. Photographed in her Easthampton home studio on Monday, Dec. 6, 2021. —STAFF PHOTO

  • Lori Novis, founder and principal artisan of Mango Fish, demonstrates a technique for making items like key rings and charm bracelets with the beads she sews by hand in her Easthampton home studio. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • The logo of Mango Fish, founded by Lori Novis of Easthampton. Photographed in her home studio on Monday, Dec. 6, 2021. —STAFF PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 12/8/2021 5:40:26 PM
Modified: 12/8/2021 5:39:59 PM

EASTHAMPTON — For many small business owners, trying to obtain the entrepreneurial “American dream” can feel like navigating through a storm at sea when they’re not only the owner, but also the chief financial officer, chief operating officer, social media manager, manager and employee.

“It’s a lot. And it can get pretty lonely (as a small business owner),” says Lori Novis, who owns Mango Fish Inc., a small jewelry business. “Sometimes, you really feel like throwing in the towel.”

Thankfully for Novis, a new program called Business Blueprint Easthampton has launched to help these individuals navigate the choppy waters. The eight-week course, developed by the city of Easthampton and Blueprint Easthampton, walks small business owners through a holistic approach to entrepreneurial support, focusing on the more “human side” of business such as personal development, camaraderie and leadership.

When she’s not working at her jewelry business, Novis, one of eight recent graduates of the program, works three days a week at Easthampton-based dZi Handmade, a wholesale trading company, cleans a residential house one day a week, works as an on-call reference librarian for the city of Springfield or does volunteer work as a grant writer.

Oftentimes, Novis will come home from her fair trade job and work another three to five hours at Mango Fish performing duties like preparing an order, making products, researching potential new clients, editing her website and more. Because 99% of the money invested in her company is from self-funding, outside employment is essential to her business’ success.

Novis isn’t alone in feeling overwhelmed. Fellow Business Blueprint participant Josh Suchoza, co-owner of Black Labyrinth Tattoo Syndicate, said trying to keep his tattoo parlor afloat amid the pandemic has proven to be extremely difficult. While Suchoza doesn’t have additional employment to keep his business running, he does face challenges with time.

“I own, manage, and work full time at the studio. Time management has been tricky, there is always plenty that needs to be done, but not necessarily the time to do it all,” he said. “This is also my first time as a business owner, so I’m also learning as I go. Most new obstacles have a learning and adjustment period to go with it.”

Suchoza knew that he needed extra support and to hear the experiences of peers who are going through similar things. The idea of “learning with a group felt like a positive step in the right direction,” so he decided to enroll in the Business Blueprint program.

While there are existing programs available to small businesses and micro-businesses, many touch upon the technical skills that are fundamental to business. Business Blueprint Easthampton takes a holistic approach to entrepreneurial support, said Kasey Corsello, of KC Integrative Coaching & Consulting, who co-facilitates the program with Dee Dice of Constant Growth Consulting.

Together, Dice and Corsello provide firsthand experience as entrepreneurs with a curriculum focus on business planning and leadership as well as personal development.

“Business Blueprint Easthampton is unique. We teach the human side of entrepreneurship. That’s not really out there,” Corsello said.

In the program, Corsello and Dice help participants learn adaptive skills, such as resiliency, clarity of vision and mission, the art of self-management and emotional intelligence. Besides the actual curriculum, each entrepreneur who participates in the grant-funded program receives $2,000 to spend on whatever would move their business forward, according to Easthampton Mayor Nicole LaChapelle. Investments looked different for each person. One participant took that money to invest in a Serve-Safe system, while another purchased a point-of-sale system that will help with maintaining inventory.

In addition to her integrative coaching, Corsello co-owns Corsello Butcheria with her husband, Vincent, and said the human side of entrepreneurship are needed to be successful and sustainable in both business and life.

“My husband and I wouldn’t be open still if we didn’t have those softer skills,” she said.

The program also touches upon entrepreneurial burnout and ways to avoid it. With many small business owners being made up of families that are trying to juggle and balance time at the business and at home on top of financial stress and the current global COVID-19 pandemic, “burn-out is real,” said Corsello.

The program is designed to teach entrepreneurs how to deal with these stressful emotions, which in many cases is fear, Corsello said. “It’s important to remember that when you start to feel this way: you created something out of nothing. And you’ve got to hold on.”

For Novis, the program provided her with a community and accountability group as she continues to focus on why she wanted to start her business in the first place. There, she said, she’s been able to tap into a resource of people where she could bounce off ideas or gain insights from people she wouldn’t have ordinarily met — like Suchoza. What makes this support lasting is that the cohort is collaborative, not competitive, she said. In the group, one business owner suggested that Novis reach out to the local parent-teacher organizations, which was something she hadn’t ever considered prior to her participation in Business Blueprint Easthampton.

“I feel like if I need help, I can get help. I feel very supported and entrepreneurs need that,” she said. “And I keep focusing in on my ‘why.’ Why did I get into this in the first place? Well, it sounds hokey, but it’s what brings me back.”

The “why” of every business owner is a key component of mindfulness. When people really express that vision, their mood shifts, and expressing what they were excited about in the first place provides that hope and motivation in that vision, said Corsello.

Following his time in the program, Suchoza, who has been tattooing since 2006 after graduating from Robert Morris University in Pittsburgh with a bachelor’s degree in fine arts, said he has felt more focused on what he’s been doing right as a business owner.

“Sometimes you get so swept up in what you feel that you are not doing, that you forget about all of the things that you have accomplished. It really helped me focus on the present and future,” he said. “The best advice I have out there for first-time business owners is to set course and go forward. Keep yourself in the present moment, make yourself adaptable to change, and always try to grow and make progress, whether it is in business, or in your personal life.”

Emily Thurlow can be reached at ethurlow@gazettenet.com


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