-Sandra Marley is the President at Leota, one of the minority-woman-owned businesses part of Diversity Direct. We are lucky to have her as part of our supplier network and we are grateful that she has taken the time to share her story with us.-
Starting a business in a recession is very risky. Being a minority woman starting a business in a recession is even more risky. Having an entrepreneurial spirit, a willing business partner, a supportive mentor, no money, a crazy sense of adventure and much faith, my business partners and I, launched out and formed Leota Professional Resources, a Staffing and Recruitment company, specializing in IT, business and finance, admin/clerical, customer service and health care personnel. I should mention that this was in part necessitated by my partners and me joining the ranks of the unemployed due to the imminent bankruptcy of our then employer,
From the outset we were blessed to be mentored and supported by an already successful minority woman owned business, OMV Medical, and for that we are eternally grateful.
I had always heard people say, “it’s not what you know it’s who you know”. One year later I can attest to the veracity of this cliché. Attendance at various workshops, training courses, breakfast meetings and other well meaning networking events sponsored by various federal and local government agencies, resulted in many lists of contacts at various agency small business offices that we were encouraged to contact, 99% of whom never responded to telephone calls or emails. We have so far not succeeded in establishing any relationships as a result of any of these networking events. The reality is one does have to rely on someone already on the inside to ‘grant access’ to the exclusive club, whether it be on the government side or the commercial side of business. Once a contact is established it can take much effort to cultivate and build that relationship to a point where they have sufficient confidence and trust in you as a person, and therefore your fledgling company to give you an opportunity. It has taken over a year of footslogging, careful budgeting, chasing every vague lead and maintaining a quiet persistence and determination to succeed and now, finally, the results are starting to show. Suddenly opportunities are opening up.
I would love to say that we had great support from our bank. We do have a bank account, which we have managed to keep in the black, just. After making repeated requests to our bank for someone to talk to us about the possibility of a loan, and not getting any response, we gave that notion up as a bad joke. We knew that was probably a none starter anyway in this economic climate, and they would want collateral that we either didn’t have or could not put at risk so in reality I guess we were not too upset at the lack of a response from our bank. Our mentor introduced us to a very competitive factoring company with whom we will be happy to do business as the need arises to support our cash flow needs.
One strategy that was stressed to us repeatedly was the necessity to partner with large companies as a subcontractor, particularly when trying to work with the government. Well again the same story, unless you already know someone on the inside those doors remain firmly shut. But just find that one person, who already has a well established and trusted reputation with that company, who can connect you, and then work the connection and eventually the door cracks open and opportunities start to open up.
It seems that systems conspire to prevent new businesses from succeeding or even surviving the first two years of operation. Many state contracting opportunities require the company to have been in operation for at least two years to be considered for awards. Federal contracts require heavily on past performance. How do you get past performance? Team up with a large company. How do you team up with a large company? Get to know someone on the inside and so around and around we go and the circle is complete. And you, as a new business, are still on the outside trying to get in. I understand that from a risk management standpoint the reasons for wanting a business to have been viable for two years, however in order to make it to the two year mark we need real practical help not just well meaning seminars.
But in the midst of it all there is hope. There are wonderful, supportive already successful small minority business owners who are generous enough and caring enough to want to reach back and help a brother or a sister. So OMV Medical we say, thank you. Without you we would not still be here. We are also grateful to Comm-Group. Even though our association has just been established it is already proving to be fruitful. Diversity Direct was a blessing that just seemed to drop from heaven unsolicited. On second thoughts I should say they were an answer to prayer. To you also, thank you for your insight to recognize the kind of assistance, support and opportunities that a small company needs and your willingness to provide that.
The most important thing these businesses have demonstrated to me is that it is better to give than to receive. I believe that if you give willingly you will receive great reward, not necessarily financially, but emotionally, spiritually and growth in personal development. Leota Professional Resources, LLC, will certainly be looking back so that we can pay forward what we have received. Because ultimately it’s not about what you know, it is about who you know.