Tell us a bit about yourself! How did you get started with your current career path/business journey?
Alexandra: My name is Alexandra Bernard-Simmons and I am the founder of an award-winning International Women Empowerment & Community movement. Think Like a Boss. I got here through really listening to my inner voice and never forgetting who I am. At the time I was working in technology as a young Black Woman it was difficult to maneuver at times but made a mark,moved up to executive but all the whioe I was never really happy. Successful but not fulfilled. I'm a creator, dancer, performer and I use to live a double life of boardroom by day Radio City Music Hall or MTV performance by night. Eventually I started to plan my exit strategy to leave a 6 figure salary to full-time entrepreneurship. I created my own performing arts school while working and 3 years later my business was sustainable enough to leave the tech industry. After following my passions and betting on myself my purpose was born. Think Like a Boss was created to help women take back control and become the CEO of their lives. With the understanding of fulfillment being the new success I wanted to take more women with me. With our slogan " No woman left behind " we curate events internationally that cover topics around entrepreneurship, mental health, spirituality, financial literacy, etc, have a best selling Think Like a Boss Book, TV show, and Podcast, Highschool Program, Women Retreats, and a Homeless outreach program
Charlotte: Hello Everyone!! I’m Charlotte Henry, an Industrial Designer, self taught watercolor artist and the owner Charlotte Aquarius - a playful and upbeat wallpaper and stationery brand with a mission of bringing more joy, beauty, and fulfillment into the world.
Long story short of my journey here….
I started painting 3 years ago, as a passion project, to bring myself back to life after I burned out really badly from another business. Basically, I was doing all the things society says, and it went terribly wrong… working way too hard, sleeping way too little, making money and enjoying nothing in my life. It was all good until I woke up one day and I didn’t want to do anything anymore. I thought it was a funk, but the mood lasted for 4 months and I had to figure out how to shake it quickly. I always wanted to watercolor paint, but I could never find the time. And, during that phase all I seemed to have was time… so I began teaching myself to paint.
During a random unrelated conversation, the buyer at the New Orleans Museum of Art (NOMA) saw my first 3 paintings and suggested I turn it into a full time business. That conversation also lead to me to my first big commissioned art job with NOMA and a few other vendors.
Regarding wallpaper… I fell in love with it 17 years ago and always dreamed of creating my own line. I had a lot of original art from painting consistently and decided to take the plunge and buy the machinery to print it myself.
Regarding my mission, I’ve always loved growth and self development and my experiences with burn out made me want to help people live a happier, more carefree and fulfilled life. So, all in all, I guess you can say this path chose me, not the other way around.
Monique: I have wanted to start my own business since I was young. Growing up, I played several different sports: track &field, basketball, soccer, cross country, and volleyball. My true passion was in track and field. Growing up in a family full of athletes, I was determined to get a scholarship and go to my dream school, UCLA. The day I went on my recruiting trip to UCLA, I committed on the spot. During my time there, I had a lot on my plate. I was on the track team, worked two jobs, held an internship, joined a sorority, and volunteered with underserved youth. This time is truly a representation of my life. I love being able to multitask and get involved where ever I can. Upon graduating, I decided to go to Grad School to get my Masters Degree in Criminal Justice. 6 weeks post grad, I started my business.
I have always wanted to be my own boss. I have been an athlete my whole life and I live in workout clothes. One day I decided that I wanted to create my own fitness brand with an empowering meaning behind it. I wear workout clothes everyday and I figured why not start my own company. I am very passionate about working out and fitness. I wanted to create a fashionable and affordable fitness brand to empower people in all walks of life. Now I have my official business Fierce Competitor!
LaShundra: SportBike Chic was born out of a passion for motorcycles combined with an acknowledgement of a need for more available sizes in protective gear for women motorcycle enthusiasts. I've been an avid rider for over 12 years now, enjoying the freedom, independence, and therapy that it brings. After years of riding, a couple of motorcycle accidents and unsuccessfully searching for stylish protective gear that fit, I decided to create my own. While I'm not a designer, I have been in the customer service industry for years. I've been managing teams, understanding efficiencies within business, and gathering the right resources to complete projects.
With that said, I found the global resources needed to start my journey to build a motorcycle apparel company and brand for women motorcyclists. The focus has been on the US because of the lack of size variation for women here. It is by intent that our products range from a size 0 thru size 20 (starting). It is intentional that SportBike Chic is hyper focused on the voice and needs of women riders. It's also intentional that we give them more options, breaking any stereotypes about only pink or only the small sizes work in the motorcycle apparel industry.
How are you overcoming challenges during the pandemic as a business owner?
Alexandra: By using the power of pivot, innovation, and adaptability. We came up with online events & programming that were relevant to the times we are in,in addition to new business ideas birthed from the pandemic. Our biggest pivot was The Think Like a Boss Child Care that assisted working mothers by providing childcare services for virtual learning.
Charlotte: I’ve been utilizing this break to strengthen my weak areas. I’ve always had problems, or better yet phobias, with sales and putting my message out into the world because it’s so different from the norm. Plus, I love my privacy…. so showing up fully on social media seemed like death. But, I realized that was just an excuse my mind was using to keep me stuck in lack and limitation. I’ve had issues with self worth… trusting my voice and my craft. I’m not sure if that’s a female and/or minority thing, but covid seemed to shine a light on that dark area and it became so unbearable that I had to do something about it. I started taking entrepreneurship and personal development classes with business owners and mentors I admired.
My brand had no real voice or tone before because I was too afraid to be seen… but I’m currently working on that. I’m happy to say I’m close to revealing my authentic message. I’m so thankful for covid because without it I would not have ever had time to sit back and reflect on what I truly want (at least not to this degree).
Monique: During the Pandemic it has been hard getting orders out on time because of issues with the Postal Service and it has just been difficult in general getting sales.
I have not let this discourage me. While I am spending less time processing orders, I have more time to work on creating new ideas and learning more about marketing. I am able to see my business on a broader scale and I have a better direction of where I want to go.
To adjust for longer shipping times, I have made a note of it on my website and I also include a free face mask with every order to show my gratitude.
The main thing for me is remaining optimistic and knowing that God has a bigger plan for me and my business, even when I get discouraged.
LaShundra: My biggest challenge with starting the new business and growing has been understanding my limitations. I am good at quite a few things. However, I am only one person. Some of my business challenges have been marketing skills, graphic artwork, designing clothes, and the biggest one...time. One of the first things that I learned as a new manager years ago was to not be afraid to delegate. So that's what I applied here... delegate. I found designers that work for me; located a manufacturer that is easy to work with and has been open to smaller batches; I've built relationships with photographers and graphic artists, giving them recognition of artwork for cross-marketing opportunities; I've outsourced social media advertising to put in the time where I can't. I continuously learn and coach, provide feedback and strategically select what's required to successfully build a consistent brand image.
During COVID, I've had to pivot to more online resources to better understand what's required to succeed in a digital world. Whereas much of my efforts prior to 2020 centered around being actively engaged in the motorcycle community through presence, booths, tents, talking to customers, motorcycle shows, etc... many of those events were cancelled. As a result, we've renewed our focus on community partnerships, reinvesting in magazines and marketing strategists, social media, and building more of an online footprint.
What behavior or personality trait do you most attribute your success to, and why?
Alexandra: Courage...it takes courage to show up and be who God intended to be, it takes courage to go against the grain, it takes courage to be disliked for doing so, it takes courage to take the first leap not knowing if you will fall or fly
Charlotte: Radical Honesty and Adaptability.
No matter how hard I try, things will never go exactly as I want them to. So, I try to be patient and move with the ebbs and flows of life. It’s not always easy, but a changed perspective and most of the time hindsight helps me get through interruptions and breaks.
And, regarding radical honesty. I can no longer hide behind a shell of who and what others want me to be. I find the most beautiful conversations and healing happens when I am completely myself. Everyone won’t like me, but that’s ok. I’m learning to get more and more comfortable with that everyday.
Monique: I am resilient. I have been through a lot of ups and downs and I have still managed to keep getting up on my feet. The road to success is not easy, I believe in order to be successful you must feel comfortable feeling uncomfortable. You must be willing to take risks, keep going when things get hard, and remain calm when it seems nothing is going your way. No matter the obstacle, I continue to push through because each obstacle makes me stronger.
LaShundra: Tenacity. In my heart of hearts, I believe that "I can." I can make a do "it." I believe that if you don't give up, things will work out. If you have faith and allow things the things that you've been working so hard for to come, they will. I remember being called stubborn and strong-willed more often than not. I'd like to think of it as that little extra "umph" that I was given. I'm not going to say that I'm Pollyanna or or even that I've never lost faith a time or ten. However, when the dust settles and it's just you. After you've gotten knocked down, you know that you can't stay...down. That's not what life is about. The one thing that I learned is that regardless of what happened, the day is going to end. Time doesn't stop. If you're happy or sad or down or anything else...it's irrelevant. Time will move on, just like life. The only question - Are you going to be a part of it or not?
What’s a mistake you made early on in your career, and what did you learn from it?
Alexandra: I allowed other people's definition of success to shape my reality. That's a no no
Charlotte: I believed I had to burn my candle, on both ends of the stick, just to be happy and fulfilled with my life. I put success over everything, including my health and mental well being and almost paid for it big time. I worked long 13-15 hour days, 6-7 days a week, I didn’t sleep and I barely ate. I was tired, shaky and in a constant state of panic and anxiety, but I ignored the signs because I was trying to accomplish my big dreams. As entrepreneurs we’re taught to grind hard, fight the challenges and bear more pain. But, no one ever warns you about the consequences of that type of lifestyle.
My wakeup call came three years ago, I was driving home on Christmas Eve and almost fell asleep behind the wheel. Sadly, the thing that saved me was the car in front of me fell asleep and started veering off the road. I was terrified… I honked my horn over and over again until the driver finally woke up. I was so shaken up from reacting to that experience that I remained alert for the remaining three hour drive. That situation made me reevaluate my life and look at the decisions I was making. After that, no matter how much I wanted success, I could no longer justify killing myself for it. I started a self care practice shortly after that.
Lessons that situation taught me:
There is no life without balance.. I now do everything in moderation. My health is my most important asset… I no longer play with food and sleep. And, I move in a more relaxed and intentional manner now… b/c I find myself less anxious and stressed out when I do.
Monique: A mistake I made early on was not making my business legit from the beginning. I didn’t have my LLC until over a year of starting my business. I didn’t have a business bank account and it was confusing trying to keep track of everything. Not having a legit business I could not take advantage of any tax breaks or get any money back for the money spent on starting the business.
LaShundra: One mistake that I made early on was not being mindful and focused enough of my "brand." I didn't have set in my head what I wanted to deliver, what I wanted to offer and invested in what didn't make sense at the time. After getting a mentor and having some conversations, I could clearly see how valuable focus is. Focus on doing one thing extremely well to the point where you're "known for" that thing. With that said, I've shifted my focus to perfecting one item to the point where it's "just submit the UPC quantity for delivery, and get an expected delivery date."
Afterwards, focus on the next one thing. It can be sales channels, products, marketing platform, whatever the case may be. The goal is focus. What you focus on, you tend to attract.
What’s one professional skill you’re currently working on?
Alexandra: I'm working on my proposal writing/deck to secure capital for a new project my team is working on
Charlotte: Sales and Strategic Marketing - my brand was very drab because I did not take the time to define my exact customer customer. It was also prevented me from being able to talk to them personally. I'm still finalizing some things... I plan on launching the new specs early next year.
Monique: Right now I am working on my marketing skills. I did not go to school for business or marketing so I have a lot to learn. It’s important to me that I understand the art of marketing because that is where I believe I can increase my overall sales. I believe in my product and I want others to believe in it too.
I have mainly been reading books and doing research online. I would love to take a marketing course in the near future.
LaShundra: I'm constantly working on myself. I've been focused on making other people/businesses successful for years. My biggest professional skill that I'm working on is actually mindset. It takes a very different thought process to build and run a business than it does to be an individual contributor or even a manager. There's a shift that's required from managing the day to day operations to building a business, strategizing where you want to see your products, understanding which relationships are going to be most beneficial, designating resources to accomplish your goals and so on. Instead of waiting for someone to decide how they want you to make their business successful, you decide where your business needs to go. It takes more initiative, more strategic thinking, more...time and belief in yourself and what you're trying to accomplish than getting up for work and getting the guaranteed paycheck (although that's quite nice too). With that said, I'm learning about the basics that every business owner will likely need in in their tool belts - leadership, strategic thinking, and building relationships.
If we had to stick to something a bit more tangible - another professional skill that I'm currently working on is my Lean Six Sigma Black Belt Certification. I recently achieved my Lean Six Sigma Green Belt and even before I finished, I could see benefits. My goal is to build the business lean and efficient business in the beginning. Understanding where waste is and running efficiently helps me to focus on the things that will build my business as efficiently and effectively as possible. I am all about efficiency and I'm confident that there's usually a better way of doing things.
In what ways are you taking care of your personal well being and what are your #selfcare tips?
Alexandra: I'm a certified reiki practitioner so self reiki, meditation, sound bowl healing, and reading are my favorites. In warmer weather riding my bike.
Charlotte: I practice meditation daily and I do absolutely nothing on Sundays - because I want to make sure I replenish my soul before the week begins.
Regarding self care tips… relax and do what brings you joy. If you can’t do it as a job or career, do it in your free time. You’d be surprised what 1 hour a week can do.
Monique: I am really big on self-care. I think it is a helpful way for me to remain energized and in a good mood.
Every morning I go for a run or a walk and I try to meditate at least 10 minutes a day. I enjoy watching movies so I always plan at least one day out of the week to eat my favorite snacks and watch a new movie!
LaShundra: I ride. The one thing that connects me closest to my business has been my love of motorcycles. I am my best customer because I design things around what I need (sometimes selfishly, but it's been quite useful). With that said, I've learned to take more time to ride and regroup after a long week. I listen to more audiobooks so that I'm constantly feeding myself and learning. I've learned not to beat myself up when I'm just sitting around enjoying a movie or a day of binging after working a full time job and trying to run a business. All that to say, my biggest tips:
1. Feed yourself whatever it is that you love or love to do.
2. Find joy in the simple things - a good book, movie, conversation.
3. Eat well and exercise where you can. Just a nice walk is underrated.
4. Practice some self-care and some self-love. This one was a hard one for me. For years, it's been about taking care of others or just being productive. I'm perfectly ok with continuing some of those practices, but you have to sometimes fill your cup before you can continue to pour into others. So whatever it is that I find joy in, whether it's spending time with friends on 2, cooking a meal (ok fine, learning a new recipe), writing, reading, giving time and energy to others...I do it. I intentionally think about and focus on those things that make me feel good and I move towards...that.
How are you inviting others to take a seat at the table #virtually?
Alexandra: So much programming we put together in 2020 we learned about stocks, real estate investments, sewing masks, marketing, branding, writing a book, and so much more. My favorite was our monthly entrepreneur roundtable where women just got together to decompress
Charlotte: Hum, these questions really force you to think. Let me see. I don’t believe in seats at already established tables, I believe in building unique spaces - drenched in truth and authenticity, because many of us aren’t doing what we truly love anyway. Many of us are so restricted by other people opinions, that our limitations - not our dreams - are placed on auto-pilot and we get lost in the fog of the daily grind.
So, with that being said, my main goal/mission is to get people to think outside the box, so they can begin to paint the perfect picture for themselves. That begins with releasing society’s weight - all the restrictions that keep us stuck, limited, disconnected and insufficient. And, once we face our truth… that we’re all unique souls with individual dreams, that are not the same - even if they seem similar, then we can align with equity, fairness and inclusion. But, when that’s accomplished there would be no need for a seat at the table anyway. I’m not sure if that answered your question, but that’s my radical honesty.
Monique: I have held zoom groups to get input on products and apparel that people like.
I have also created Fitness Challenges for those who want to workout but can’t because the pandemic has closed down gyms.
I also go live on Instagram once a week with Simone new to talk about mental health and wellness and how activity can help reduce stress.
LaShundra: One thing that's been difficult to do has been to penetrate the market with COVID. Ive partnered with a local community organization with a shared passion - helping motorcyclists in need and promoting motorcycle safety. Instead of having a ride this year (traditional motorcycle fashion), we opted for a virtual path. We ended up creating a "Get to Know" series where people were able to get to know movers and shakers in the motorcycle community via virtual interviews.
I've also hired a marketing strategist who will be helping me bring in more affiliate marketers to help virtually. The goal is to reward as many as possible who promote the brand through as few steps as possible. Essentially, when SportBike Chic wins, they win. It will be through brand awareness, promoting in a digital platform, and so forth. I don't necessarily want SportBike Chic to "belong" to me as much as it is embraced by women in the motorcycle community as that's who it was designed for.
What impact has Luminary made in your career? eg: Business Generated, Revenue, New Clients, Career Connections, Advancement Opportunities
Alexandra: In 2020 I lost my office!! Our co working community did not survive the pandemic. My office was where I can meet clients, partners, and host events. I got word about Luminary and the rest is history!
Charlotte: I've been focusing on defining my brand strategy, self development classes and holiday sales.
Monique: It is a great community for like minded individuals to stay motivated and connected. Having a network of so many different people with unique minds is an awesome opportunity to have, that I plan to get deeper involved with.
LaShundra: I'm very new to Luminary. Now that I have a bit more assistance to focus on building the business, my goal is to participate in all that Luminary has to offer.