Women in Business

Meet L. Michelle Graham – Woman Means Business!

"Meet Woman in Business L. Michelle Graham"L. Michelle Graham is Sr. Executive Director – Soul Notes Arts & Entertainment, Inc. and Founder/CEO – The Mentoring by Example Foundation, Inc.

Tell us about your business.

I have two separate companies both based in and servicing the Washington, DC Metropolitan Area, Soul Notes Arts & Entertainment, Inc. and The Mentoring by Example Foundation, Inc.

Soul Notes Arts & Entertainment is the multi-faceted creative arts consulting firm I created in 2005 and handles the business of creative talents and their brands; coordinates events; and books talent for events. For the clients we represent – our mission is to provide them with the freedom to pursue their creative passions, enjoy their entertainment, or event, without the added stress of having to manage the less creative elements – the details. We manage everything – from contracts to phone calls; event registration to news blasts on social media – you name it, we handle it!

The Mentoring by Example Foundation is the nonprofit I started and it is organized behind the goal of reaching people, especially young people ages 12 to 21, with the message of achieving against all odds. We work with mentors and mentees, businesses, schools and community partners, to build thriving sustainable relationships that help our young people achieve their potential. We feel that the quality of instruction and guidance for our young people today, totally affects the quality of their life, and ours, tomorrow."L. Michele Graham of Soul Notes "

Please tell us what being a business owner means to you and why you became an entrepreneur in the first place?

Why did I become an entrepreneur? Initially I would say it was out of rebellion. My professional experience started at the age of 14. I began working in the summers through the Washington, District of Columbia’s Youth Employment Program and was assigned to the DC Courts. So by the time I graduated from high school and college I had experience, although at a junior level. Fast forward to my mid-twenties and by then I had worked for a few employers, had more training, more exposure, more responsibility, but I was noticing that I was not truly respected nor valued in terms of my skills, achievement, and commitment. And I got tired of it. So I decided to try to do my own thing and started consulting and contracting. But looking now – this interview helped me see this by the way – that it wasn’t rebellion in the beginning just me wanting to work outside the traditional business box. I needed the ability to be creative in my work, to be tied to it, and rewarded from it. I wanted to develop and apply thoughtful, meaningful solutions, instead of just applying the cookie cutter approach the employers were accustomed to.

What or who has been your greatest influence in business and why?

It would be VERY hard for me to say that there is ultimately ONE person who has had the greatest influence on my business because there have been several who’ve helped to make me the person I am today. Cynthia Graham, my mother—taught me about grace, strength, and dignity. John Graham, my dad—taught me about strength of character and professionalism. Michael Graham, Sr., my brother—has taught me the importance of loyalty. Charlotte James— my “mentor/big sister”. I met Charlotte will working as a contractor with the Federal Aviation Administration in the late 1990s. Our relationship has changed over the years, growing from customer to counselor to friends. Tracey Cooper — one of my closest friends and a business partner, who I met in college at Towson University, and have known for almost 20 years. My kids, Jazmyn and Jayden —keep my focused on the end game, creating a legacy – for them. Every time I see them I am reminded that what I am doing as a business owner is creating a place for them.

What would you say is your greatest professional accomplishment to date?

Wow. Ok, I have my company, Soul Notes Arts & Entertainment. I have the work I do with youth and young adults in The Mentoring By Example Foundation. I have my family. I have my kids. But honestly, I have to say that I actually feel that my biggest achievement is still yet to come. I am always looking to achieve more tomorrow than I did today.

What’s the best advice you have received in business that you wish to pass on to our readers?

Don’t forget to take a vacation. The success of your business depends on you – your health, your resiliency, your creativity. Don’t view vacations as distractions from business and forgo them. Vacations are essential for entrepreneurs – your time to relax, relate, and release!

What have been the most effective marketing initiatives or programs you have used to promote your business?

Word of mouth. When consumers make purchases, they most often are influenced by something someone said to them much more than any advertisement. Many people ask around about a product before they purchase to see if their friends or family have purchased the item, and to get their recommendations on who to buy it from.

What one thing have you learned as a small business owner that has served you well over the years?

People who pay me always have the right to tell me what to do. The people who pay me, my clients – my customers, earn the right to dictate what I do and how I do it– even down to the smallest or the last detail.

Are there any resources or tools you’d like to share with other small business owners that have helped you run your business?

Most small businesses sell something – a product, provide something – a service, or do they do a combination of the two. One of the smartest things a small business owner can do for their business is take the time to develop a business marketing plan. There are thousands of ways you can promote your small business. With the right mix of activities, you can identify and focus on the most effective marketing tactics for your small business. Barbara Findlay Schenck’s “Small Business Marketing for Dummies” is an excellent guide and useful tool.

Do you have any new projects coming up? If so, please tell us about it.

Soul Notes Arts & Entertainment has several exciting projects in the pipeline including a calendar series dedicated to Go-Go music, its pioneers, history makers, and major players; and a retail store in spring 2014, in Prince George’s county, offering formalwear, including bridal, shoes, accessories and more.

The Mentoring by Example Foundation is making major moves too. In the immediate future, we are partnering with several new Maryland School Systems, public and private, in order to expand our service territory; pursuing US District Court certifications necessary to support the work of our Restorative Justice program which provides mentoring, supervision and support to youth ages 12 to18 on probation, in custody, or at risk of illegal behavior; and have begun preparations to open a charter school in Prince George’s County in 2015/2016.

What do you do for fun/relaxation?

These days – I take my kids and go sightseeing, shopping, whatever fun things they want to do. We pick restaurants we’ve never gone to before to eat at. We go to the movies. I take time for them. This by default forces me to take time and have fun too.

What is Number One Business Goal you plan to accomplish over the next year?

Obtain one six figure consulting contract or research grant by the end of this fiscal year through the federal, state, private contracting and/or grant processes.

You want to write a book on ______________________ .

I plan to write a book on managing business and personal friendships and relationships. Creating work life balance is challenging for entrepreneurs, as we often live and breathe our businesses, and often times it’s hard to build and maintain traditional relationships, because we don’t have a lot of free time. But I have been fortunate enough to create friendships and relationships that are still with me to this day, and I think that part of my life story would be an interesting read.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?

Everyone says they go the extra mile. But almost no one really ever does. So I encourage business owners to go the extra mile. Be early. Stay late. Make the extra phone call. Send the extra email. Do the extra research. Help a customer unload or unpack a shipment. Don’t wait to be asked; offer. Don’t just tell employees what to do–show them. Work beside them. Every time you do something, think of one extra thing you can do. That’s what will make you different and successful.

What’s the best way for our readers to connect with you?

To learn more about Soul Notes Arts & Entertainment, visit www.SoulNotesArtsnEnt.com. Like our page on Facebook…follow us on Twitter @SoulNotesAE.

To learn more about The Mentoring by Example Foundation, visit www.MentoringByExample.org. Like our page on Facebook….follow us on Twitter @MentorByExample.


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