It's often the case that small businesspeople concentrate on what the business does – what it produces – and fail to devote attention to what the business is – its purpose and its meaning to stakeholders and community. Starting a new business is a design problem, but many of us lack the tools to design the business we hope for. As we move into a New Economy that is based less on more and more on enough, the ability to collaborate in new ways and employ new (and not-so-new) democratic structures – those that encourage widespread ownership and community accountability – will become essential.

In addition, many business owners – who have poured heart and soul, and the better part of a life, into creating a business entity – have no idea what to do with it as they begin to age and wish to slow down. When we build a business we build a community that has a life of its own. Just like children, we must prepare it to stand on its own two feet (and provide for us in our retirement!).

This course is for businesspeople young and old, experienced or not, at the start-up phase or the legacy phase - who want to think together about how to create living, thriving, prosperous businesses that are positive contributors to community life and honor the employees who create the wealth. It is based in part on John's book COMPANIES WE KEEP: Employee Ownership and the Business of Community and Place, the eight business cornerstones around which the book is structured, and his thirty-five years running a design/build business. It’s about designing and building a business. It’s for aspiring business owners, current business owners, and employees – in the building and design professions and all others.

The 2-day class will be a unique business primer full of stories, activities, and information about making everyday business a rewarding adventure. It will mix philosophy and practice, and will tackle employee ownership, growth issues, business plans, personnel issues, benefits, community service, multiple bottom line thinking, and long term business planning and succession. There will be time set aside for participants to bring their own business issues to the class and engage in creative problem solving with other participants and the instructor.

Read an interview with John Abrams about this course by clicking here.

Course start time: Saturday, 9am
Course end time: Sunday, 5pm


“As a former design/build professional that has shifted careers and is in the process of a new business launch, I found John Abrams’ Art of Small Business workshop at Yestermorrow to be the perfect combination of theory, case study, and values-based business creation ideas.  I hope YM continues to provide opportunities for those excelling in craft, to become more proficient in the business of craftmaking.”

"An amazing experience in every way."

"Was a fantastic class. I would take it again"

"A great course. Great time!  Glad I finally made it."

  • Competency Level: All Levels
  • AIA credits: 14 Learning Units

Suggested Reading:

• Before the course, please read, COMPANIES WE KEEP: Employee Ownership and the Business of Community and Place by John Abrams, Chelsea Green Publishing.

Please submit, if you like, the following:

• Specific case study problems, issues in your business, aspirations you have for your business, or new business ideas that you would like to dig into in participatory group discussions;

• Name, type, and size of current business (if you have one or work in one).


The course will be tailored to the specific needs of the class. Some basics will be explored in lectures. But part of the time will be based on the submissions received prior to the class, so that we can all work together to solve real-world issues and problems, and find ways to make new opportunity for the participants. Depending on numbers, we may break up into café-style small groups for in-depth teamwork for parts of the workshop. If a large percentage of the class is involved in design and/or building, course discussions will reflect that. The course will be conducted using facilitation and teamwork methods developed at South Mountain Company over the past 30 years. Although carefully organized and facilitated, there will be a freewheeling, learn-as-we-go element to the class. Most of all, we'll learn together and have fun doing it.

Course Objectives:

The course aspires to help the participants:

• Understand the company as community;

• Learn the basics of democratic decision-making and teamwork;

• Prepare for and lead productive meetings;

• Examine the fundamentals of employee ownership, worker co-ops, and B-corps;

• Plan for long-term continuity, succession, and legacy;

• Dig into compensation strategies, benefits, pensions, and reserve funds;

• Think like cathedral builders (engage in long-term strategic planning);

• Survive in a tough economy;

• Use profits to create strong social and environmental bottom lines;

• Build strong local economies; and finally, perhaps most importantly;

• Conduct business in a richer, more meaningful way (hopefully!).