In the fall of 2004, my business partner Juliet Rodman and I founded Wellness Corporate Solutions, a national provider of workplace health screenings and corporate wellness programming. Back then, our headquarters was my kitchen table — and for the next three years, Juliet and I were the only employees. We worked every day to become part of an exciting and rapidly-growing industry.
Fast-forward to 2015. We now manage almost 100 full-time employees and thousands of subcontractors across the country. Our corporate headquarters in Bethesda, Maryland, is filled to capacity. Over the past ten years, we’ve worked with more than 500 private- and public-sector organizations, including Fortune 100 companies with hundreds of thousands of employees. Inc. Magazine has named Wellness Corporate Solutions one of the country’s fastest-growing privately-owned companies three years in a row.
As an African American and female small business owner, I’ve dealt with my share of obstacles along the way. But obstacles can be overcome, and I’d like to offer a few pieces of advice that may help you on your own journey.
Know your business. The fundamental hurdle most minority business owners face is access to capital. Forming lasting relationships with lenders, investors, and equity firms is absolutely crucial. To be successful, you must understand every aspect of your business and become fluent in the language of finance. Be comfortable discussing your business’s fundamentals: cash flow, revenue, overhead, profit margins, capitalization, and market share. Make it a priority to absorb everything you can find that relates to your industry. Corporate wellness was a relatively new concept in 2004 and I faced a steep learning curve. Even today, I’m still reading about industry best practices, the movement of my competition, shifts in the market, and legislation that could affect my business. The learning never stops.
Become certified. Wellness Corporate Solutions is certified as a minority business enterprise through the National Minority Supplier Development Council (NMSDC), and as a 100% woman-owned business through the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC). These relationships have given us the opportunity to network with other minority-owned businesses, which I believe is essential. We should seek out and support each other whenever possible. From a business perspective, certification has also helped us connect with large organizations that are actively seeking to work with minority-owned businesses, often to meet internal supplier diversity goals. Certification can and does open doors.
Make the case. In our company’s early days, Juliet and I pitched to (mostly) male CEOs and CFOs time and time again. I met with countless high-level corporate executives who did not look like me. You may find yourself in similar situations, making the case for your business under challenging circumstances. But when you have genuine passion for what you do, difficulties become what I call “teachable moments” that just prepare you for the next challenge, and the next. Never forget the passion that drove you to start your business in the first place. In my case, I often hear from people who attended one of our health screenings and found out they had a serious health condition — serious, but treatable. Knowing that our work is changing lives for the better is what motivates me every single day.
Owning your own business requires tremendous energy and commitment, but if you’re truly committed to your mission and are willing to learn, go for it. You already have what it takes to succeed.
About the Author: Fiona Gathright is the founder and president of Wellness Corporate Solutions, an award-winning woman-owned business that builds customized, high impact corporate wellness programs. WCS clients include media companies, law firms, associations, non-profits and private employers nationwide.