When James Barnes graduated from high school, he says he had two choices: take the traditional college route or focus on business. He chose the latter, establishing Immaculate Cleaning, of which he is the founder and president. Having run microenterprises since the age of 14, Barnes leveraged local accelerator programs — JumpStart's Core City: Cleveland Impact program, University Circle's NextStep, for example — to grow his commercial cleaning business to become the cleaning partner of the Cleveland Monsters.

"When I chose to focus on business, I still wanted to increase my education," he says. "So, those different programs gave me a chance to still learn about business. We'll never figure it all out. We don't know everything. So, I wanted to continue to educate myself. And still do."

The NextStep program, he says, was particularly eye-opening.

"I had my way of what I thought business was," he says. "They had different modules. We came to the financial module. We had to bring in our P&L, our balance sheets. That was a nightmare for me. I hadn't seen those documents. I didn't know how to put it together. So, it forced me to dive into those things that made me uncomfortable."

Getting deeper into the company's financials helped Barnes get a better perspective on his business.

"If the financials doesn't make sense, the entire business model needs to be revamped," he says. "So, that helped us make sure that we were on the right track. A lot of businesses don't even know if they're profitable or not. They don't know if they're losing money, which accounts are making money, their profit margins; they don't have a clue. If someone asks a question, we could throw these numbers out easily. So, that put us in a position to be knowledgeable about the operations of the business."

Additionally, they also offered the opportunity to network and form important relationships.

"Relationships are everything. Leveraging those relationships is the biggest thing for us. We meet great people inside these different organizations. Their business expertise is invaluable. It helps us to see where we could be better in certain areas."

Today, Barnes says the business continues to grow. Recently, the company created a corporate partnership with the Cleveland Monsters and the Cleveland Charge, which has the business servicing one of the most high-profile buildings in Cleveland: Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse. The company has also grown to nearly 60 employees.

For those up-and-coming entrepreneurs, Barnes offers this advice:

"Be persistent," he says. "Don't give up. We received a ton of noes. But those few yeses that we did receive, that we were constantly beating the pavement with, it paid off tremendously. Just reflecting on my journey, I could have gave up a long time ago and called it quits a long time ago, and would have probably been justified in doing so. But the thick skin, having the vision and the willingness to make it work — just being persistent is key."

Barnes spoke on the Smart Business Dealmakers Podcast about his entrepreneurial journey and the importance of pushing through the noes to get to the all-important yeses. Hit play to catch the full interview.