Certify My Company / Woman-Owned
Alist Nation Magazine Nov / Dec issue
A-list Nation is doing a monthly series on Women Owned Businesses.
Each issue will highlight 5 woman-owned businesses. We will give you an exclusive interview with each of these inspiriting women and help you connect with their businesses. It’s time to put our money where our mouths are and support local businesses that are owned by women.
Heather Cox – President www.certifymycompany.com
Tell us a little about yourself and your childhood. I grew up in Redlands, CA, pretty typical (upper) middle class, with a mother, a father, a sister, 2 cats and 2 dogs. The only non-traditional part of my childhood was that I grew up performing in a circus. So while some run away to join the circus, I ran away to join real life.
When did you decide you wanted to start your own company?
When I was pregnant with my first baby I was trying to figure out what to do. I knew that corporate America wasn't very mommy friendly, so I started attending business and networking events with successful women business leaders. During the conversations with some of the entrepreneurs, they would mention this certification that they just couldn't get done. Now these women were running $1, $10, $40 million companies and I couldn't understand how they couldn't get an application done. So I went home, did some research and what I discovered was that the certification process is very detail oriented, and what a document is called in NV, is not what it is called in NJ, and not what it is called in TX. Plus certification is not instant gratification so if client calls that application is back to the bottom of the pile. So I said, I can do that for you, and Certify My Company was born.
Was there a specific moment when you knew this was what you wanted to do?
I don't know if I would say it was what I wanted to do... since I knew nothing about supplier diversity. But once I understood the power that diversity certification can bring to a company, to a community, to a family, to our country....that is when I knew this was my calling!
After you made the decisions, what steps did you take?
I told EVERYONE I knew that could send me clients. I attended events with female entrepreneurs. Then I FIO...Figured It Out!
How did you fund this project?
I was still working a full time job at a non-profit. I bootstrapped the company.
What were the hardest hurdles?
Balancing time, family and budgeting. You have to spend money to make money, but you also have to live!
What advice do you wish someone would have given you?
Set expectations about partnership, exit strategies , purchase agreements, etc. BEFORE you make money.
Did you have a mentor?
Yes. My business partner was a great mentor. She has another, much larger business and she always offered advice so I could learn from her mistakes and not make them.
At any point did you want to give up?
Ummmm a lot! When I wasn't getting the traction I expected, when I couldn't make payroll (even when it was just me), when people would say "we don't need that". It can be very frustrating! It is so easy to throw your hands up and say forget it I am working for someone else. there is a lot of stability in working for someone else. But there is huge reward when you build!
What made you keep going?
I knew, in my gut, that diversity was good business! I just needed to get other people to see it. And almost always, just as I was about to fold, or had just cried myself to sleep, I would get a win. And that would feed my spirit through the frustrations. Someone would say "wow you are amazing" "wow you changed my business" " I couldn't have done it without you". Something as simple as thank you would perk me right back !
Was there any life lessons you learned along the way?
Never underestimate anyone! Everyone has something to give you, teach you, or inspire you.
How long did it take to become profitable?
Well profitable is relative. we made money early on and were always technically in the black but I couldn't take a real salary until about year 3. And then I wanted a raise, which took more time, And then we hired people which costs more money.
What was the best thing you did to grow your business?
Hire and outsource! As entrepreneurs we think we can save money by doing it all ourselves. But in reality what we can charge hourly will make us way more if we outsource or hire. How long does it take you to invoice? What did that really cost you? If your hourly is $200/hour, and a bookkeeper is $45/hour, then you are losing money. Anything that isn't your core competency should be outsourced! Even if you cannot hire full time. Hire a VA (virtual assistant, use Fiverr, 1099 people. And outsource to experts! You cannot use a VA for legal work or certification work, or anything that takes specific knowledge. You will end up having to do things twice and if you don't have time or money to do them once, you for sure don't have time or money to do things twice.
Do you feel it was more difficult because you are a woman?
Some things yes. To really get traction with our corporate clients we had to show up at events. These events are all over the country. I now have 5 kids (ages 2.5-11, one is special needs) and it is not always easy to get away. When the father goes away on business no one says anything. When I leave it's "who is taking care of your kids?". Also, I NEVER took maternity leave. Until the twins it was just me in the office (I did have admin & bookkeeping support), which means I was back on email the day or the day after I gave birth. When I had the twins (now almost 3 years ago) I was able to at least stay home and work part time because I had people in the office to cover for me. But I was still emailing from the hospital.
Do you think social media is important?
I think it depends on you target audience. We use LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram. Facebook much much less. We target F1000 corporations and entrepreneurs, who are more likely to interact through LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram.
What is the happiest memory from this journey?
When we doubled our company size within 1 year!
Where do you see your company in 5 years?
We are THE diversity certification experts domestically. We want to take our expertise global since Supplier Diversity is still predominantly a US based initiative. Additionally, we are looking to diversify what WE certify and in 5 years I see us mastering other certifications!
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