VOL. 132 | NO. 161 | Tuesday, August 15, 2017
NAWBO Memphis: On The Offensive
JODY CALLAHAN, Special to The Daily News
Frankly, Carolyn Michael-Banks isn’t sure her business would still be around if she hadn’t made a fateful decision about a year ago.
That’s when Michael-Banks, owner of A Tour of Possibilities, joined the Memphis chapter of the National Association of Women Business Owners. While she was sure she had a good grasp on how to market her business, she knew she didn’t know nearly as much about the financial side.
“That’s what will take you under in a heartbeat. I knew that was my weakness. It was hard to admit that, ‘Yeah, I have a weakness.’ But I did. And if I didn’t have someone who looked at my situation individually, and if it was bleeding, help me stop the bleeding,” Michael-Banks said, “it would’ve been ugly. It would’ve been real ugly.”
Today, Michael-Banks said, her tour business focusing on African-American history in Memphis is going strong, thanks in part to that help she received from more experienced businesswomen with NAWBO.
Gwendolyn Tucker, COO of Rix International, became president of the National Association of Women Business Owners’ Memphis chapter in July and has ambitious goals to grow its membership during her two-year tenure. (Memphis News/Houston Cofield)
“There’s things I thought I knew but I did not have a strong enough handle on them,” she said. “I needed to look at my operations, which tours I offered, which were profitable and which not. I needed to look at my expenditures. Things that should be pretty easy, I was not looking at correctly. I’ve now made a pivot. I’m charging more than I did.”
And that Memphis NAWBO chapter, which is celebrating its 19th anniversary, hopes others will hear tales like that and consider joining the group.
“Any person who is looking to start and grow a business cannot do it alone,” said Gwendolyn Tucker, who assumed the presidency of the Memphis chapter in July. “You need a supportive environment of people who have been where you are going, and understand some of the pains of growing a business. With NAWBO, you have a group of women who have gone through those growing pains, who have done trial and error. You have a group of women you can draw from, their experience and wisdom.”
The organization has already experienced a growth spurt of late, officials said. A few years ago, NAWBO had about 36 members. A nice start, sure, but nothing close to what the organizers hoped for.
But during former president Dianne Dixon’s tenure, membership started to soar, officials said.
“We about doubled in size. We started with 36 members, and we’ve ended up with about 60 members,” said Dixon, who has been affiliated with the group for about a decade. “Some of those people will come and go as they find their way and find their fit.”
As of early August, membership stood at about 57 members, Tucker said. And she has ambitious goals to change that by the end of her two-year tenure as president.
“If we could be right at the cusp of 100 members,” she said, almost sounding wistful, before admitting that number might be a tad wishful. “I think probably more in the 80 to 85 range.”
If they do grow past 60, the Memphis chapter will go from the “small” category to “medium,” which means between 60 and 99 members. Membership ranges from $19.95 a month to $39.95 a month, Tucker said.
For that monthly amount, members get access to not only networking opportunities, NAWBO said, but also the experience of older businesswomen who’ve already launched their companies.
“You come together and have a community of other women business owners who are experiencing or have experienced where you are and where you are going,” said Tucker, who is a managing partner with Rix International, a coaching and leadership development company started by her husband. “Everyone started with zero customers and zero balance. Each person had to be very strategic about how to grow themselves and their entity.”
One goal of NAWBO, both Tucker and Dixon said, is to help women understand what it takes to be certified by entities within their business sphere. Such certification by third-party groups can give business owners a certain legitimacy that helps attract customers – particularly, NAWBO officials said, if those owners are women.
“We are looking at helping our members understand and see the value of becoming certified. That’s what organizations recognize,” Tucker said. “Some people won’t do business with you unless you have been certified by an external agency.”
Added Dixon: “What we’re doing is making sure they’re certified and they know how to make proposals well, navigate partnerships and relationships. … You have to have a way of being vetted as a bona fide business entity that’s capable of doing the work you’re going after. Sometimes that comes through professional organizations.”
Dixon recently retired from Clark Dixon Associates, the architecture firm she co-founded in 1987. Dixon, who is still active with NAWBO, believes the group is needed now more than ever.
“It’s gotten worse (in recent years). That’s why I decided to retire. It got to the point where if you wanted to be a big player and you didn’t have alliances already made, it wasn’t worth it,” she said. “Women need a voice and a seat at the table, which we don’t really have.”