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YOU WILL MAKE IT
There’s a saying Conchie Fernández grew up hearing in her house: “Dios no es loco.”
That means, God is not crazy.
You may have to go through some tribulations. But, according to Fernandez, “Guess what, mami? You will make it.”
Well, just last year, Fernández wasn’t sure if her corporate communications business would make it.
STARTED BUSINESS: January 22, 2014
LATINO CONNECTION: Born in Venezuela
EDUCATION: Stanford University Graduate School of Business - Scaling Business Ventures, Business Administration, Management and Operations
The New School - Creative Writing
Universidad Iberoamericana – Liberal Arts (Creative and Business Writing, Business Development and Art History)
DREAM JOB AS A KID: Writer
“I thought I was going to be Barbara Cartland who was this romance novelist of the 60s and 70s. I was going to live with little dogs and fur coats. But that’s just not the way that it really is. So, no, the fame and fortune didn’t quite get that way. But…I am a writer.”
“I’m writing every day. And the cool part is, the sort of writing that we do gives a voice to other entrepreneurs…And that makes me super happy. And it has made me happier than publishing my book did. And that’s a big statement.”
NOTE: Fernández’s novel is titled, “Undrawn”
BIGGEST GOAL YET: “I’d like to be a public servant. I’d like to work for the government at some point and reach more people. Or maybe influence to help, somehow, more minority entrepreneurs. That’s probably something I’d do in my 60s.”
WHEN COVID HIT
Fernández was flying high – and flying to the Dominican Republic, her homeland, because she was working on a huge project with USAID.
And then COVID hit.
“No more trips…We had been virtual forever. We had been on Zoom forever, but the government wasn’t virtual. And they didn’t know how to do virtual workshops. And my phone stopped ringing for four months.”
She had to dive into her savings and credit cards.
CONNECTING TO PEOPLE
Fernández also missed being with people. “So I started doing free webinars. I did what connected me to people.”
She contacted the Minority Business Development Agency. She contacted Coca-Cola.
And then, like a miracle, the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce reached out to her and gave her a one-year contract – to communicate COVID relief solutions to Hispanic entrepreneurs.
The irony was clear. “I was one of those who needed that information.”
Her mission was clearer. ”We focused a lot of the year on our purpose.”
PAPI AND FINDING PURPOSE
Her purpose came into closer focus many years ago when she was a little girl because of the man she calls Papi, her dad.
“I grew up knowing I had big shoes to fill. He did not tell me that I needed to do anything special, that I needed to follow in his footsteps.”
But Conchie Fernández knew, her life had to have purpose.
After all, Papi had not only devoted his life to being a doctor. But he also joined the revolutionary cause to overthrow the dictator, Rafael Trujillo, in the Dominican Republic and went to prison for it. Fernández's father later served as Vice President of the Dominican Republic for one year.
But it was on an outing when she was 7 years old with Papi that made the difference.
It was right after Three Kings Day.
She and Papi stopped after seeing a man and his little girl selling fruit and refreshments on the side of the road.
Fernández says the little girl was fascinated with the two dolls Fernández had with her. When it was time to leave, Fernández's father suggested something to Conchie.
“And Papi said, 'why don’t you give one of your two dolls to her?' And, of course, I’m taken aback because you don’t tell a 7-year-old kid to give up a doll.”
She didn’t want to give up a doll.
But her father told her, “You have a lot of them back home. You just got one for Three Kings Day. You’ll always have one. That might be the only doll that she gets.” So Fernández was reluctantly going to give the little girl her old doll.
“And Papi said, ‘mi hija, always give your best. Give her the new doll. You will always have more.’ And that followed me for the rest of my life.”
BEING SHOWN THE WAY
She found her calling by empowering other small business owners. The person who helped her channel that goodwill into work is actually her former employer and mentor, Carmen Castillo.
Castillo is the CEO and founder of SDI International. It's one of the world’s largest woman and Hispanic-owned supply chain management and procurement businesses (Note: We have profiled Castillo on Generation Sí!). Castillo took Fernández under her wing and showed her the ropes.
“I went with Carmen everywhere. I went to every conference you can imagine. I hustled and I smiled. I gave a lot of freebies.”
LOSE THE FEAR
Fernández says “You’ve gotta lose the fear. You have nothing to lose.” She believes that so much, she ended up winning the Minority Business Development Agency’s Minority Marketing and Communications Firm Award for 2017.
But there’s a kicker to the story.
She explains, “You know how I got it [the award]? Because I dared to nominate myself. And that’s how you do things.”
That led to being tapped as a business expert for People En Español magazine. That’s even though she says she was terrified of public speaking.
But as the U.S. businesses try to find their way out of the pandemic, the idea that Fernández’s business might not make it because of COVID seems a distant memory.
She tells me, when it comes to finances, “Honestly, it went better for us after the pandemic [struck].”
DIOS NO ES LOCO
And that goes back to that sacred belief in Fernández's house growing up that “Dios no es loco” – God isn’t crazy, and you will make it.
She adds her take on that: “You will make it – a thousand times.”
THE TIP JAR (tips passed out courtesy of Conchie Fernández)
STARTING OUT: “You need to know exactly the impact your product or service is going to have on the market. And the only way to do that is to speak to a business market expert. Don’t start up a company that there are 900,000 [of] out there. Don’t start to make PPE masks.”
“Get help from a business mentor.”
“Get out there. Articulate what you say. Write. Send letters. Start writing to businesses and offering your services.”
“Join your local chamber of commerce or your local business development agency. You have to find a group that feeds you opportunities and education and introduces you to others.”
STEEPED IN SKILLS (mid-career): “Start building the ramp…start slowly looking at opportunities and getting out there, sending emails, doing outreach.”
“Stay in a part-time [job], at least a year, until you see the feasibility of your idea and you know you can make a living out of it…Businesses take a lot more time, money and effort than you can ever think. And we grossly underestimate how much we need to make a living.”
STARTING OVER: “Absolutely just do it. Again, get educated. Find a network because you need clients and you will need support and you will need partners, sometimes, to grow.
“You don’t know everything. You can’t provide all the services. But, more importantly, just get out there. If you can start a little website inexpensively and you can start selling stuff online, why not?"
“There’s so much help out there to teach you how to do an online business, whether you’re selling solutions or you’re selling products. There’s no excuse not to start a business today.”
I’LL NEVER DO THAT AGAIN: Fernández says she learned her lesson from using her personal savings and not taking out a business loan to fund her business.
Next time, she won’t make the mistake of “fund[ing] the business with my own money…The business needs to fund itself, or the business needs to get a business loan.”
BEST ADVICE FROM “LA CASA”/BEST “HOUSE” ADVICE: “Mira, mi hija, no hay nada que tu no puedes hacer.”
TRANSLATION: Look, my daughter, there’s nothing you can’t do.
I heard it every single day.
NO NEED TO GO IT ALONE
HELP ON THE OUTSIDE...because we can all use a helping hand:
WOMEN/MINORITY BUSINESS OPPORTUNITY TEAM INITIATIVE
Good news if you’ve been thinking about going to the SBDC at UCF (Small Business Development Center at the University of Central Florida). I just got word that the center is pumping more money, more resources and more consultants into the program. It's specifically to reach minorities and women who either want to launch their business or who need help with their existing business. It’s called the Women/Minority Business Opportunity Team initiative. The focus is on providing the following services, especially to those in minority communities:
· Marketing analysis
· Financial analysis
· Business set-up
Remember, the help is FREE. This SBDC chapter serves those in the Orange, Seminole, Sumter, Volusia, Osceola and Flagler Counties. Here’s more info:
WORKING ON THE INSIDE...because we know our culture has a hard time asking for help:
HOW TO KEEP EMPLOYEES BY KEEPING THEM HAPPY
You’ve likely heard the saying, “Happy wife, happy life.” Well, the same goes for your employees. Visier’s Outsmart blog has an interesting Q&A with Tia Graham, the owner of Arrive at Happy. Graham shares what it takes to keep your employees happy, especially in the midst of the Great Resignation. At the core is the relationship you foster with your employees. The Visier post outlines her top 5 tips for nurturing that relationship. Even if you’re not a business owner quite yet, but have an eye towards that, this will give you a good framework for establishing a more positive, happier culture when you’re ready to start your business. Or, if you’re an employee, you’ll learn what you can do to increase your own happiness at work. Check it out right here:
INSPIRATION BEHIND THIS ISSUE: There are some people, especially Latinos, who exude joy. They live it, breathe it and, when they speak to you, it oozes out of them. My mom is one of those people. Nothing gets her down. And, even if there’s bad news or something doesn’t go well, she’s quick to re-set and not let it kill the whole day.
Conchie Fernández has that same spirit. As soon as I interviewed her, I could sense that life that was bubbling inside of her. She couldn’t help but radiate that energy to anyone in her orbit.
That’s why I’m not surprised she’s been able to sell CEOs on her ideas as being must-have services that they need to buy and put into action.
You’ve gotta be that way. If you’re not excited about something, how do you expect to convince others to buy into it? There are just too many other options in today’s world.
She made me laugh by telling me an anecdote about how her mom told her she could do anything she wanted. There was just one career that was off-limits to her: becoming a flight attendant (as Fernández tells it, her mom thought Fernández was too short to be able to reach the overhead bins).
Fernández, who is determined to find a way to make things happen, still found a way to work at an airline. It turns out, she ended up working for American Airlines, anyway.
But she didn’t work as a flight attendant.
She worked for the airline for 12 years – in marketing.
Then there’s the example she gave of nominating herself for a national award – and winning it. She clearly knows how to play by the rules – and still do things her way.
That's how you play the game!
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