Being a child of the 60s and born in Detroit – the Motown sound was definitely the music track of my life. Not only was the music good, but the singers became sign posts of what’s possible. Seeing groups like The Supremes, The Temptations, The Four Tops and The Jackson Five shoot to stardom, inspired me to also believe that dreams do come true – even for black people who weren’t born any different than me. Some even lived in our neighborhood. Berry Gordy had the Motown marketing magic and vision to change the landscape of entertainment for Black folks.
Then during the 70s, another inspiration hit the scene. Black magazines. I remember reading with awe Essence and Black Enterprise magazines. Though Ebony and Jet were always around in our home and in the beauty shops – it focused on celebrities. Essence and Black Enterprise magazines SPOKE to me in a way that articulated my dreams. I could actually SEE myself in the pages and relate to the stories. Essence featured women that looked like me. Black Enterprise showed me what being success in business looked like for everyday black people. Also, during this time, the TV mini-series Roots aired on TV. After the riots of the 1960s and the assassination of our leaders, Martin Luther King and Malcom X, this TV series changed the way black people thought about themselves in a positive way and changed in many ways the way white people related to us. This was the first time that black and white Americans had conversations about the taboo subject of slavery and its impact.
Graduating from college was in the early 80s was a big deal. I was the first generation in my immediate family to graduate from college – as most in my community. In my neighborhood in Detroit, most of our grandparents didn’t even graduate from high school and were part of that “Great Migration” where millions of blacks left the South in search of a better life. They had children that graduated from good high schools and their children (like me) graduated from college and got “good jobs” in offices and such.
Something else in the 1980 that shaped me: powerful television shows like The Cosby’s, Different World – and finally the epitome of what shaped the world of talk show TV, The Oprah Winfrey Show. Yes, there were black TV shows before, mostly sitcoms that furthered stereotypes, like Good Times – but nothing that as a young African American woman, I could aspire to. That’s why watching Oprah in my 20s left an imprint that was mind-blowing on a whole generation of young, impressionable black women – especially those who wanted to be in communications. Claire Huxtable was the ideal but Oprah Winfrey was the real-life role model that we aspired to be like.
During the 90s, things became comfortable for black people. More blacks had graduated from college than any generation and more blacks in politics than ever before. Black people were striving for the American Dream – and many were opening businesses – making millions of dollars. During this time, BET became what every black person came to know as their “own” TV network. People like my friend, Ed Gordon, become the voice of African American news – shining light on things not typically talked about on network news. This was generation of “firsts” for blacks: first black to walk on the moon, first governors, first CEO of a Fortune 500 company, first NBA coach, first Miss USA (my friend, Carole Gist) & first Miss Universe, first of many type professionals and business owners. We also had the first Million Man March and sat in shock and outrage of the Rodney King verdict. Riots in LA. It wasn’t all glory in the 1990s.
The new Millennium offered Hope. Hitting my stride in my career at about age 40, I started my public relations agency. It had been a dream of mine to own a PR firm – since college. Not knowing anyone personally who owned their own ad agency or PR firm, I struggled for many years. I was also newly married with a baby. I worked from home. People thought I was weird. Who works from home? You must not have a real business. OMG, was it hard! What was I thinking? The internet was brand new- I couldn’t even Google stuff! I was on dial up – thank God I finally got Wi-Fi for real. Then that that’s when the really fun and growth occurred. I learned and soon taught social media marketing…blogging, podcasting and content creation strategies. The highlight of 2008 – the election of President Barack Obama, he was the first candidate to use the internet as part of his “grass roots” strategy and win. What a proud moment in time! Yes, we can – and Yes we did!
I think being an entrepreneur is where I learned the six most important lessons, I want to share with you:
- Go with Your Gut. You can learn a lot from books, courses and conferences. But in the end, go with your gut. I’ve learned that miracles happened when I was in motion to receive. I learned that when my intentions are pure and my heart is clear, I experience success. It’s my “secret sauce.” People wonder how certain amazing things happen for – I just know that when I sit still and listen to that “still small voice” – I act upon it – I win. I remember my first client. He was walking down the hall of an office building, I smiled and he asked what I did. I told him and he said was looking to hire a PR firm for his gospel play. We conferenced, signed an agreement a week later and we booked a lot major media publicity for that production. Being open opportunities and conscious to what you want is key to getting it.
- Always Be Curious. This is best ABC mantra. Opportunities have a way of presenting themselves because I’m genuinely curious about people. I take time to investigate and see what they’re about, what makes them tick. I love learning what drives people. Reading an article may lead to me looking up their contact information. From there, I may wait a few days and then reach out. Often, it’s a divine connection. Most of my PR contacts and clients come that way. I also get speaking engagements for clients by being curious about who people are, how they do what they do and why. It pays to be interested in people. I find that when you’re curious, you find the answers to questions you’ve asked in your quiet time. It’s synergistic.
- Don’t Be Embarrassed. I’ve learned that most people really are not studying you that deep – and if they are, so what? I used to be so nervous in presentations when basically it was really about if I would embarrass myself. Would my slip fall? Would my mascara run? Would I stumble? Would I sound stupid and would people laugh at me? These questions are internal torture. I’ve learned to stop focusing on the ME and how I would come off…no one really cares actually – they only care about themselves. So, I’ve learned to put the focus on how the other person is going to receive me and what value they will get from me sharing my gifts. If something happens like saying the wrong thing at the wrong time, I laugh at myself. I have learned to wear just about anything I do as a “lose garment” and not let anything really bother me or embarrass me. I remember being in an interview and someone said I had food in my teeth. I said, “Hold on, thank you. Reached in my purse, pulled out a mirror, and removed it from my teeth – with a piece of tissue I had in my purse.” Side lesson: Always be prepared like a real “Girl Scout” – that includes having essential stuff in your purse.
- Brand Your Life. People come to know you and what you stand for from every touch point. Whether it’s your voicemail message, your Instagram, your website, your email signature – you are putting yourself out there everyday in every way. What is your brand adding up to? Do you have a consistent message? Is it on point with your mission, purpose and life? You are your own brand. People know about you by how you position yourself in the marketplace. Your reputation is part of your brand. Your reputation is built from what people have experienced with you. Beyond your business deliverables, people are doing business with the “brand” of you. It’s your essence. It’s who you are – and what people say about you when you leave the room.
- Stand Firm in Your Fees. This was probably the hardest thing to learn in my business. When I first started out, I was just so glad someone would hire me. As I gained more experience and confidence, I quickly learned that clients will not tell you, “you’re not charging enough.” I had to learn that I delivered value and it is not negotiable. I can take away some services; but I don’t create a proposal to have a client say, “I want you’re proposing but a lesser amount.” Either we take out what we offer or walk away. If a client doesn’t value what you have to offer, it’s not your ideal client – and will probably be a pain in the behind anyway. It’s really ok to say NO and if it’s not working out for you, it’s even OK to “fire” a client.
- Have Mentors and Get a Coach. I have always had mentors. I always had someone who I could call for advice. My best mentors just let me “tag along” and watch them in action. Some things are taught, and some things are caught. Having many mentors over the course of my life has been a blessing. I always say you either learn from mentors or mistakes. Mentors help you avoid the mistakes – and they are with you over many seasons usually or for life. A coach, on the other hand, is someone that you hire to help you “level up” your game. I hired my first business coach and they turned my business around dramatically. What they taught me was liberating, he said: “Pam, quit trying to sell to broke folk.” He showed me how to apply a successful sales strategy and I’ve been soaring ever since. A real good coach may hurt your feelings – but you’ll be better for it and successful in your business. I only hire one coach at a time to help me laser in and learn a particular skill set. I would suggest hiring one coach at a time. Too many coaches teaching you different ways and methods of doing things gets confusing and you’ll stay stuck. Hire one coach, do what they say, don’t second guess them – and you’ll have success. Trust me, I learned the hard way. Invest in one-on-one coaching for any area of your life you want to improve and master.