After losing her job, ACCESS’s Small Business Accelerator helped Natalie launch her consulting firm, which helps business leaders increase customer retention.
Natalie Williams has been told she focuses too much on her career, but thanks to her drive to succeed, she doesn’t see any problem with that. “Perhaps this is my passion, my purpose,” says Natalie owner of The Esteem Agency a consulting firm that provides customer success and event planning services. “I feel very strongly about my profession, and how it can truly make an impact on businesses.”
When Natalie was laid off from her job of 12 years, she felt uncertain yet optimistic about her future. “My first reaction was ‘okay, I have all this experience. There must be a profession that’d be a perfect fit for me,’” says Natalie. Starting a small business in Toronto can be overwhelming, so she began researching how she could apply her skill sets online and found “customer success” kept coming up. After reading more about the specialization, which is ensuring customers get their desired outcomes, she realized this was the perfect fit for her interpersonal communications and relationship-building talents.
Natalie comes from a family of entrepreneurs, including her grandfather who was a prominent butcher in Guyana. “In the 50s, and 60s, and early 70s, if you wanted meat within Georgetown, you had to buy it from my grandfather or one of his brothers,” explains Natalie. “So I always thought that was cool–that it kind of was in the bloodline.”
She initially followed in her families’ footsteps in her early 20s with a customized jewelry business, which grew to 20 employees and two kiosk locations and taught her the fundamentals of running a business. While she closed the business down a few years later, Natalie realized she had the spirit and ability to be an entrepreneur. So when she needed to restart her career in 2019, she decided to start her own consulting firm.
Despite having the business savvy and innate entrepreneurial spirit, bringing her concept to life required a more detailed plan. “While I still felt comfortable with my skill set, I needed some direction on how to manifest that into a business,” says Natalie. One of her biggest challenges was marketing an intangible product: “how do you promote a skill set on Instagram? How do you demonstrate your value in a pitch?”
The Small Business Accelerator (SBA) offered by ACCESS Community Capital Fund provided the answers to those questions and more. “I call it Providence,” says Natalie. “Because it happened at a time where I didn’t know if I could do this, but felt confident that I had what it would it took to do it.” The free, online workshop series helps entrepreneurs turn their business idea into a solid plan, work through the details of running a business and learn how to pitch their ideas with confidence. After running a pilot in the fall of 2020, SBA will focus on helping people create new pandemic-proof businesses or upgrade exciting plans to succeed in a post-covid economy.
The program helped Natalie discover many critical elements to building her business, such as evaluating her ideas, providing assurance that her value proposition was correct and that the business sector needed her services. Meeting her fellow start-up peers was also valuable to Natalie, particularly: “having the opportunity to work with other entrepreneurs and hear that their struggles are just as real as mine,” she adds. “We’re all at different stages, and we were able to learn from each other.”
Graduating from the SBA means Natalie now has her own step-by-step guide to help her answer the everyday questions that come up when running a business. She has a blueprint for developing marketing strategies, what details to include in a pitch, how to file business taxes and more.
Being a natural entrepreneur, Natalie discovered from her class facilitators that she was already on the right track, but learned about ways she could fine-tune her approach. She also realized she was more prepared to start her business than she initially thought: “And that made me feel good” says Natalie. “But it also showed me that I still needed constructive criticism — not just telling me but actually giving me tools to continue that growth.”
Now Natalie’s ready to apply her talents for helping other people improve their businesses: “My challenge is really to focus on the areas of business that I feel that need this type of thing the most, especially within a pandemic.” She’s currently offering services to help charities rethink their fundraising strategies with digital services such as online auction management. With 20-years’ experience and a plan to reach her goals, Natalie’s confidence is evident: “I’ve done so much in my corporate career, it should be like a piece of cake.
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