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Sistahbiz Spotlight on Gerri Howard

Gerri Gomez Howard is the She-EO of the Gomez Howard Group (GHG), an integrated marketing and communications firm that specializes in developing and implementing initiatives that promote important social issues and engage diverse, multicultural audiences.  Gerri enjoyed an 18 year career in television working for KCNC-TV a CBS station in Denver where she led the community relations department. Since launching her firm in 2005, some of GHG’s clients have included International Golf Tournament, Cleo Parker Robinson Dance, Young Americans Center for Financial Education, Metropolitan State University of Denver, ARC Thrift Stores, KMGH-TV – Denver’s 7, and Vail Soul Music Festival. We’re so excited that should took time to drop some gems on us about how to build a successful firm.

What’s the #1 piece of advice you have for black women starting new businesses?

Building your support system is a key component to starting a business. Having people you can get sound advice and guidance from can help you make informed decisions. At the same time, you need to go with your gut. Listen to that voice inside you and have faith. I remember seeing an author speak once – Debrena Jackson Gandy – and in her book she wrote “Leap and the net will appear.” Having faith and believing in yourself are the first steps. And, of course, doing something you love and believe in.

What is your morning routine?

First of all, I love mornings! I’m usually up very early – like 2:30 or 3:00 am – as I’m typically in bed by 8:30 pm. Hence, mornings are very quiet, which allows me to reflect, think through strategies, do some writing, and plan my day. I usually respond to emails and read news articles.

Has your product/service gone through iterations and changes? What was your strategy for learning from customers and improving the product?

As a marketing and communications firm, we have definitely seen the needs of our customers evolve with the growth of digital marketing. Listening to our clients and their needs and staying nimble are critical components to staying relevant.

How did you acquire the necessary capital required to scale your business and get to this level?

Starting the business while my husband worked full time allowed us to have the opportunity to have a consistent revenue stream – which ultimately put us in a good position to scale the business. We also maintain the commitment that really inspired me to start the business – the ability to have work-life balance. We are a virtual firm with a team that enjoys flexibility and values the opportunity to spend time with family and volunteer with community organizations and causes.

What area of your business did you have the least experience in when you started? How did you handle the learning curve and ensure the business succeeded in that area?

Understanding how to put a monetary value on my time and skills was a challenge. I also needed to better understand the accounting and financial systems. Identifying a good accountant and bookkeeper became a priority so I could focus on the core services of our work and keep it moving.

What advice do you have for women trying to cross cultural lines to grow their business? Can you speak to this from both a race and class perspective?

When you’re looking to do business with people who are culturally different from you, I think it’s important to understand what you have in common. Oftentimes we focus on what makes us different and not what experiences and values we share. I can remember being on vacation in Switzerland attending my husband’s graduation from a Masters program he participated in during his time with the Olympics. There were a half dozen of us having dinner – laughing, talking, sharing stories and experiences – and we were all from different countries, backgrounds, faiths – someone from Hong Kong, Iran, Jordan, Israel, and more. We had a lot in common. However, I recognize the challenges of walking in a room as a woman of color and having to overcome stereotypes and implicit bias. Find common ground, don’t be defensive, and recognize that not all money is good money. Working with, and for, good people should be the rule and sometimes you have to walk away from a business opportunity.

Tell us about your first big deal and how you achieved it? (This can be a retail distribution deal, large-scale contract, sponsorship or funding round)

In reflecting on my first big deal, I wouldn’t define it as a monetarily lucrative endeavor so much as a business opportunity that ultimately put me in a position to turn the corner. For me, it’s less about that particular business deal and more about the components that were in place to help achieve it. I had a neighbor who was a stay-at-home mom and eager to do some work. She wanted to learn more about communications and was willing to work with me and not receive any compensation. It was truly a gift. What it showed me was how much more I could do for myself and the business when I had someone in place to take care of certain client deliverables. She also helped establish processes and infrastructure that I still use today. When she moved out of state and could no longer work with me, it took two people to replace her.

If you can share one message to inspire black women in business, what would it be?

I was recently at an event where I had the pleasure of hearing Susan Taylor speak. Susan was the Editor-in-Chief of Essence Magazine for many years. I’ve known Susan for more than a decade and was blessed to work with her on a few projects. Her words always ground me and come right on time. So, I’d share some of her words of wisdom: You’re more than enough – Do the best with the gift of your life – Mind your mouth – Hands that serve are holier than those that pray – You have to give yourself to you before you give yourself away – Keep that thing tight at home.

How have relationships impacted your business? What advice would you give entrepreneurs about how to manage business relationships? What relationship skills are most important for business success?

Relationships can make or break your business and your life. Keeping your personal relationships solid will help you establish and maintain your business relationships. Developing a strong team and establishing a good rapport with the people you work with, and for, keeps you grounded. Remember that relationships are two-way streets – you need to keep in touch with people and communicate without expectations. Thanks to technology, we can do this in a number of ways. But don’t forget the old-fashioned way – having a cup of coffee, a meal or cocktail with someone. I recognize that there are only so many hours in the day. However, there’s nothing better than being face to face with someone – you have their undivided attention and they have yours.

Can you tell us about a great failure or disappointment that you learned or benefited greatly from in your business?

Being able to walk away from a client or business deal is an important part of being successful. There are just some opportunities that ultimately might not be a good fit. As women, we tend to internalize these challenges and look at them as failures. I choose to find that teachable moment – what did this client or business deal teach me about myself and how I should move forward. I remember walking away from a lucrative client. It was a difficult decision to make financially but it allowed me to have the time to identify other contracts that aligned more with our passion points and my personal commitment to maintain a healthy work life balance – not only for myself but for our team.

Makisha

Makisha Boothe is business coach and founder of Sistahpreneurs. She specializes in rapid improvement and innovation, and helps women with business startup and design.

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