Denise Burgess is President/CEO of Burgess Services, Inc., a Denver-based construction management firm. She has served on the Board of Directors of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce since 2010, and recently served as Chair of the Board. She has been listed in the Top 25 Most Powerful Women by the Colorado Women’s Chamber of Commerce, a Woman of Distinction by the Girl Scouts of Colorado, a recipient of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Humanitarian Award, the David E. Bailey Small Business Advocate Award, CEO of the Year 2017 ColoradoBiz Magazine and Colorado Black Chamber of Commerce 2017 Ascension Awards Corporation of the Year and Colorado African American Hall of Fame.
Yep, she’s the definition of a 7-figure boss, and it’s been a pleasure and learning experience to watch her in action. We appreciate her strategic, no-nonsense leadership, her commitment to supporting other sistahpreneurs and the way she owns her space. Check out our interview with her and take note, Sistahs, this is how bosses do it.
What’s the #1 piece of advice you have for black women starting new businesses?
Believe in yourself and understand your abilities. In other words: be honest about what you do know and what areas you need help in.
Has your product/service gone through iterations and changes? What was your strategy for learning from customers and improving the product?
It has because you have to fulfill the needs of the construction industry. It’s a very technical industry with a variety of stakeholders.
It’s about making sure your staff and you receive up-to-date training in regards to business and to the industry itself.
My strategy is learning “what’s next” and also looking at industries besides my own that may be incorporated internally.
Tell us about your first big deal and how you achieved it?
It was my first $1 million contract for the company. It was answering a Request for Proposal but it was really about listening to the client on what they needed. It was also about making sure that when problems arose during the project – we were responsive and solved the issue as quickly as possible.
How did you acquire the necessary capital required to scale your business and get to this level?
It’s a slow and steady process. Capital increases with your success but also decreases when the economy is challenging even more. It can be discouraging but consistency is the key.
What is a strategy (or two) that you use to ensure that you meet your annual goals?
Be consistent and know your financial numbers. Being an entrepreneur is a big risk so be comfortable with that idea.
How do you recharge and restore and how often?
I recharge everyday when I wake up. I keep a gratitude and goals journal. It makes a difference in how I approach my day.
What is your morning routine?
- I’m usually up by 6am.
- I write in my grateful/goals journal.
- Check my schedule, read a couple of newspapers online and have breakfast.
- Read any overnight/early morning emails.
- Compose emails. Make phone calls/text.
- Feed my dogs, get ready and go!
- (Try to get a load of laundry in if I can)
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?
It would be accounting. I took accounting courses and made sure that when financials were given to me by a CPA, that I scheduled time with the accountant to review and understand.
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 own a business- all cultures and classes are potential clients. Make sure you are comfortable within because it shows if you are not.
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?
Business relationships are very similar to personal relationships. They impact your life and can cause moments of joy, sadness and frustration. I think the inner voice or “gut check” is very useful in business relationships. If it doesn’t feel right – then you probably should avoid it. It’s harder when dollar signs are attached.
Can you tell us about a great failure or disappointment that you learned or benefited greatly from in your business?
Failures are the best teachers and when you are an entrepreneur-plan on it.
The one that I still experience are those moments of doubt. I have to catch myself when I’m negotiating a contract, hiring a new person or even changing a strategy for the business. I find the biggest failures and disappointments come from me doubting my decision. Over time it happens less and now I can catch it (most of the time) before I make a decision.
If you can share one message to inspire black women in business, what would it be?
You are a black woman in business but most importantly – you are an entrepreneur with a valuable product or service.
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