Home Business Podcast: Building a Successful Business with Grit and Kindness
Podcast: Building a Successful Business with Grit and Kindness

Podcast: Building a Successful Business with Grit and Kindness

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Podcast with Dr. Kandis Boyd Wyatt
Faculty Member, Transportation and Logistics, American Public University

and R. Denise Everson
Architect, Entrepreneur and UDC Adjunct Professor

Venturing out on your own and starting a new business can be scary. In this episode, APU business professor Dr. Kandis Boyd Wyatt talks to R. Denise Everson about how she faced her own fears and started not one, but two businesses.

Start a management degree at American Public University.

Learn about the important skills Denise learned during her education including business planning, networking, addressing inherent biases, and the value of applying her “whole self” to her business. Also, learn about the critical soft skills that she relies on every day, including time management, effective communication, and, most importantly, kindness, which can go a long way in getting business and sustaining a healthy and successful company.

Read the Transcript

Dr. Kandis Boyd Wyatt: Welcome to the podcast. I’m your host, Kandis Boyd Wyatt. The goal of this podcast is to highlight our local heroes in our community, who are champions of important issues affecting us on both a national and international scale.

Today, we’re going to add to that very important discussion happening internationally and nationally regarding entrepreneurship. We’re going to talk about how to start your own business.

So today, my guest is R. Denise Everson. Not only is she a global speaker, she also has a passion for architectural and interior design, which is both sustainable and beautiful.

Denise started her career in 2002 in her native town of Decatur, Georgia, and she has continued to practice design for over 15 years. So today, she’s going to take all of that knowledge and give us a few nuggets of wisdom regarding starting your own business. So Denise, welcome to the podcast and thank you for joining me.

Denise Everson: Kandis, thank you so much for having me. It is a pleasure to be here and an honor to just share my personal experiences to help others.

Dr. Kandis Boyd Wyatt: Thank you so much. There are so many critical conversations happening today that encourage people to start thinking about the next chapter of their life, if that’s starting their own business or just a career change. And so you’ve been a successful business owner for several years, and I’m sure today’s audience can benefit from you sharing your story. So can you start by telling us about yourself?

Denise Everson: Absolutely. Thank you so much, Kandis, again. I am from Decatur, Georgia. I went to Hampton University for undergrad to study architecture.

After leaving Hampton, I decided to pursue public policy at Georgetown University. And fortunately, I have stayed in D.C. after graduation from Georgetown. And so I have a unique combination of architecture and public policy, which I use in my day-to-day businesses.

I have two businesses that I am a part of. One, I am a partner at a local architecture firm called Cure Architecture. And Cure is really founded and set up as a design studio that helps heal society’s ills. That’s part of the reason why we named it Cure. So good design can be the cure to a lot of social ill.

So I am a partner at Cure, and it’s really a fun, fun, fun experience sharing the other half of myself with my business partner. So we have a guy and then I’m a female, of course.

And I think we balance each other out pretty well. So that’s one business that I really enjoy. It allows me to use my creative side.

And my other business is a social entrepreneurship business. So I am a community activist. And in that space of being a community activist, I help corporations, agencies and businesses engage communities that they are trying to target.

So both of those businesses are going well. I am very excited to be able to have the place in the world to be creative on one side and be innovative on another.

Dr. Kandis Boyd Wyatt: Wow, that’s great. I mean, most people have just challenges with one business, but you’ve successfully championed two businesses, which I think is no small feat. So can you start talking about maybe some of the challenges you encountered in the business world when you started either of your businesses?

Denise Everson: So Kandis, that’s a great question. Fear was the biggest challenge. I was a government employee in the District of Columbia.

And one day I took out some paper and did a figure of what I wanted to earn, and how long it would take me to earn the grade and the steps to get to my desired salary. I realized that the path would take 20 years.

It was that day that I decided that I did not have 20 years to wait to get to the salary that I wanted to earn, but that I could and should start now. That was in 2015. So I left the government in 2015. I was blessed they offered an early out, an early retirement. So I was paid a severance plus a package, a monetary package for leaving.

So both of those trenches of funds allowed me to infuse capital into my business to get started, to read, to order books, to license and get my trade names together, to order business cards, just to lay the great foundation of both of my businesses.

So I think getting over fear is the biggest challenge. And once I got through getting over fear, Kandis, I saw that my cheerleaders were there all along.

I finally heard their voices saying, “Go, go, go.” So I listened to my cheerleaders and turned on my faith. I utilized that basic faith that many of us have and just activated it.

Dr. Kandis Boyd Wyatt: Wow, that’s really inspirational. And you touched on something, you need to have people who are going to support your dreams and your endeavors. So thank you so much for sharing that.

So you mentioned that there are a lot of businesses out there, and statistics show that there has been exponential growth when it comes to minority-owned businesses, but that was from the period of 2005 to 2012. And since that time, the numbers have leveled. So what do you attribute to this trend, or we should say lack of trend?

Denise Everson: Another great question, Kandis. I think in 2012, in particular, it ushered in a year of uncertainty for the country and particularly for minority-owned businesses and those thinking about going into business.

I believe that the political climate in 2012 really impacted people’s desire to jump in feet first into the entrepreneurial space, so I think people just needed time to see how things would go and determine where they could best fit. So to get their bearings and to figure out where they could best fit.

Dr. Kandis Boyd Wyatt: Okay. Great point. Now, I’ve been told that in some cases, it takes years before you actually see a profit when it comes to a business. So given your background, what were some of the theories or the concepts that you learned in the educational environment — or in the classroom — that you are using today in the businesses that you have created?

Denise Everson: Wow, great question. At Hampton University, there are two things that I have as a takeaway for my business. The first week of classes at Hampton, we were taught to network, network, network. Throughout my life after leaving undergrad I’ve always heard that resounding voice from Hampton saying “network, network, network” that has helped me tremendously.

And directly in the classroom at Hampton, I was taught to bring my whole self, not parts of me, but all of me. And that for me, those two things — networking and bringing my whole self — have really helped me in my entrepreneurial journey.

I actually took an entrepreneurship class at Hampton, which was very helpful. I did not think that I would necessarily run two businesses, or own two businesses or share in ownership of two businesses. I had no clue, but I had that nagging, tugging, internal feeling that it should be something that I should pay attention to. So I took a class, an entrepreneurship class, nearly 20 years ago at Hampton and it was awesome.

Secondly, my Georgetown experience also impacted how I run my businesses. Now, one of my dean(s) when I arrived in public policy school, she had an open-door policy. And I remember very fondly going into her office and sitting down and speaking with her often.

And she reminded me that my Southern accent could be a barrier, that people would make assumptions about it. And that when I spoke, I should have something to say. Really to just shut up and hush my critics, but to speak in a clear voice and to have something to say.

And she reminded me in class and out of class that I was there, just like everybody else. And I had something to add, just like everybody else. So I’ve always taken those lessons, both from Hampton and from Georgetown in my day-to-day journey.

Dr. Kandis Boyd Wyatt: Yeah. I can really resonate with what you’ve said. Because a lot of times people will judge you based on what they see about you immediately. That could be visual, or like you said, it could be audio as well.

So I really appreciate you sharing that vulnerable aspect of creating your own business, that people may judge you and you need to be prepared for that. So in a perfect world, what training would be needed to help people start and succeed in becoming an entrepreneur?

Denise Everson: I think that the most important part of being a successful entrepreneur is having grit. I don’t think grit can be taught.

As I’ve stated before, I took a class at Hampton University nearly 20 years ago, and I learned how to put together a business plan. It was early days of venture competitions. I learned how to compete against other groups and bring forth my best ideas in a team setting.

But that grit, that inherent grit, I don’t think it can be taught. You either have it or you don’t. I think it can be found, but it’s something that is very essential. That get up and go spirit. That hustle mentality. I think grit is important.

And in a perfect world, we would teach grit, but I really don’t think grit can be taught. I think grit, if you have it, it can be nurtured and amplified, but not necessarily taught.

Dr. Kandis Boyd Wyatt: Okay. So that’s a good point. So some things you’re just born with, or you have that innate quality. So let’s stay on that topic of what can be taught. So what changes do you think could be made to the curriculum to make students or even graduate students more business-savvy?

Denise Everson: Great question. I think that in every case possible we should amplify entrepreneurship and innovation programs. I currently work with the George Washington University, and their programs have proven results that have helped me in my business.

I’ve been fortunate to have clients who are graduates of their business program and my client’s entire business model was drafted, and thought about, and influenced greatly by the George Washington University. So I think that there are university campuses across the globe that are doing great work. They have proven curricula that they’re…really are equipped to help graduate students and undergraduate students alike.

I think that, again, we should amplify, in the case where we have established business programs, we should amplify entrepreneurship and we should add innovation programs. So leave a space within the business schools for innovation, and bring in professors that don’t traditionally teach in academia but are practitioners.

So I think having programs and curricula that combine actual train academics with those who are practitioners. I think that that will be a first start.

Dr. Kandis Boyd Wyatt: Yeah. I like that because you would take the theory and the research and couple it with real time, real-world results. So, I think that is an excellent suggestion for our listeners.

So another thing I want to talk about is soft skills. Because my experience has been, in the university setting we tend to teach hard skills or the theory or the research. So what are some of the critical soft skills that are needed to start your own business?

Denise Everson: There are three that I have, for decades, really tried to hone in on. Number one is time management. I still use a paper calendar. Whether you use a paper calendar or not, time management is very important. There are different apps on our phones, on our smart devices, that can help us stay on time and manage time. I think that is something that we should definitely pay attention to.

The second piece is effective communication. Practice, practice, practice, whether that’s writing or speaking, I think effectively communicating is important.

And lastly, being kind. I know that that is something that is not taught, but I think kindness takes one a long way in not only getting business, but sustaining a healthy and successful business.

Dr. Kandis Boyd Wyatt: Wow. I think that is awesome. Thank you so much for talking about kindness. Because I’m probably going to quote this person incorrectly, but I’ve heard people say, “You may not remember what someone does or what they say, but you will remember how they made you feel.” So I think kindness goes a long way, and I think it’s often overlooked. So thank you for sharing that.

So you talked about before how you’ve had an accent, and how people have judged or misjudged you because of your accent. And so it speaks to biases or inherent biases, and I know there’s several. It could be things that people can judge you on based on visual, like your age or your gender or your race.

So there are inherent biases in the business field. So how do you suggest one identifies them? And then how should they address these issues?

Denise Everson: My answer is and has been directly and with intention. Anytime we find out, or we realize, or we come to the understanding that we have something that is negatively impacting the team, which is inherent biases, I think we should address them directly and with intention.

So that means, I know a lot of companies now are placing “Black Lives Matter” logos and issuing press releases and statements, but what that really means is looking at your Board of Directors, and making sure that your board of directors and board of governors reflect the diversity which you espouse. So that’s directly and with intention.

Also, making sure that middle management reflects the diverse and inclusive culture that we are trying to overcome at this current moment in the United States.

So inherent biases, it’s just part of being human. But we all can overcome them if we first actually say that we have them, address them directly, and be intentional about learning and hearing from other people with differing abilities and differing superpowers.

I always think that my Southern accent is a superpower, because it has a way of calming down tense conversations. And I have seen it. So I don’t necessarily see it as a drawback, but more as a positive attribute of who I am.

Dr. Kandis Boyd Wyatt: Absolutely. I think that all of us have characteristics and unique abilities that we can bring to the table. And I like the word that you use, “superpower.” You don’t hear that often outside of comic books or movies, but I do think that we all have the power to just shape the world that we live in. And so, that is in fact a superpower.

So thank you for introducing that term to our listeners. So as we begin to close our podcast today, what are some resources that you have used or provided in the past to help individuals become more business-savvy, especially when it comes to starting your own business?

Denise Everson: There are two free resources that I would like to share. The Small Business Administration has several tools on its website that can help you if you’re thinking about starting a business. Visit the Small Business Administration.

In addition, most local governmental authorities, which provide licenses, they have tools and tips on their website to help small business owners and those who are thinking about starting small businesses.

One of the most important things and tips that I share with others: Make sure that you register your business. Make sure that you establish a bank account for your business that is separate from your personal account; make sure that you obtain an EIN number from the federal government so that you’ll be okay with taxes.

Make sure that you think about, and plan and work on your business while you are building it. That’s really one of the hardest things, Kandis, that I found. People often don’t make time to work on their businesses while they’re building it.

But you got to make time. Make time to work on your business while you’re building it; use all of these free resources that are at the click of a button and the tip of our fingers.

So Small Business Administration, local government authorities which provide licenses, remember to get your own bank account that’s business-specific, remember to get your trade name or a registration or a corporation together, make sure you get your EIN number, keep finances separate. So those are just a few tips that I have found that are really, really, really great and have worked for me.

Dr. Kandis Boyd Wyatt: That is wonderful. And I think that’s a great place to leave our discussion for today. So thank you for sharing your expertise and your perspective on this issue. And thank you for joining me today on this episode of the podcast.

Denise Everson: Thanks, Kandis.

Dr. Kandis Boyd Wyatt: And thank you. So again, our guest today, R. Denise Everson, just provided us an enlightening perspective on how to start your own business. So thank you to R. Denise Everson, thank you to our listeners for joining us. Until our next discussion and our next podcast, be well and be safe.

About the Speakers

Boyd WyattDr. Kandis Y. Boyd Wyatt, PMP, is a professor at American Public University and has 20 years of experience managing projects that specialize in supply chain management. She holds a B.S. in meteorology and an M.S. in meteorology and water resources from Iowa State University, as well as a D.P.A. in public administration from Nova Southeastern University.

Denise Everson, Associate AIA, LEED® AP, has a passion for architectural and interior design, which is both sustainable and beautiful. Denise started her design career in 2002 in her native Decatur, Georgia, at R. L. Brown & Associates and has continued to practice design for more than 15 years.

In 2017, Denise joined CURE Architects as a partner, where she continues to lend design expertise to non-profit organizations, businesses and individuals. In addition to her work with CURE Architects, Denise is an adjunct professor at the University of the District of Columbia (UDC), where she teaches building information modeling.

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