Entrepreneurship Stories: Black Business Month Series – Shalakay Gibbs of SuiteSciens
August is “Black Business Month” in America. To celebrate, we’ve teamed up with Cherokee By Choice Investor Georgia Power to feature Cherokee-based black-owned businesses all month long. These inspiring stories will shed a well-deserved light on their incredible leadership, business acumen, and resilience.
“Georgia Power is proud to partner with the Cherokee Office of Economic Development to feature black business month. Minority-owned businesses in Georgia provide over 575,000 jobs to hard-working Georgians and energize the state’s economy. Georgia Power strives to empower these businesses by building social and economic opportunities in communities across the state through our engagement and partnerships that incubate new business owners and ideas,” said Georgia Power Area Manager Jeff Butterworth.
This week, we’ll hear from Shalakay Gibbs of SuiteSciens – a NetSuite consulting firm that helps companies successfully navigate growth and expansion. This up-and-coming tech company, which started in Cherokee’s first coworking space – The Circuit Woodstock – recently expanded its corporate office to a new location in Holly Springs. Follow along on cherokeega.org and via social media to like, follow, and share.
What inspired you to start your business?
I was inspired to start my business when I worked at a consulting firm. While there, we implemented NetSuite for our customers, which helped us leverage the accounting services of a consulting firm. One day, we were challenged with helping a client improve the transaction flow in their system. We conducted an extensive strategy session that included 5 senior managers. Essentially, we were billing for consultants to determine how we were going to pitch a solution to this client. During this time, I felt we could better serve this client. So, I had a “lightning bolt” moment. If we were smaller and more nimble, I could serve clients better. This was one of my “ah-ha” moments, where I discovered I wanted to do this on my own.
How has being in Cherokee County helped grow your business?
I don’t have enough good things to say about moving my business to Cherokee. When we started SuiteSciens, we were not originally located here. But, Cherokee was a more appropriate place for us because of its size and its reputation for innovation. I’ve been able to benefit directly from my involvement in the North Atlanta Venture Mentoring Service (NAV), the Woodstock Business Club, 1 Million Cups Cherokee, and Young Professionals of Woodstock (YPOW) meetings. There are so many innovative concepts built into the infrastructure of Cherokee that are geared toward helping micro-businesses like SuiteSciens.
What advice would you give to other small business owners who are wanting to grow/scale their business?
First, consider NetSuite! NetSuite is an ERP cloud-based software that helps companies manage business-critical functions such as order management, revenue management, financial reporting, supply chain management, payment processing, and much more. This powerful integration helps simplify your business’ processes, eliminates silos, and helps you stay competitive. Because SuiteSciens is a NetSuite solution provider, we can negotiate preferred rates, help manage the user-friendly application, and customize it for your needs. That’s a shameless plug!
I would also advise businesses to have their financial ducks in a row. Business owners should carefully manage their accounting from day one. Without a good grasp on your financials, you won’t be able to perform historical analysis on your clients in the future. You need to start building up that data, so you can analyze whether your product or service line is profitable. Sometimes, when you do this analysis, you will find that you spend 80% of your time working on something that only brings in 20% of your revenue.
Additionally, plug into a network. It is important to build a community where you can share ideas. Without a network of others, it can be very lonely, challenging, and daunting to analyze everything and make decisions on your own. Personally, I turned to NAV. Through this program, I have built a network of diverse business owners with whom I can communicate with regularly.
How can we as a community best support you now and in the future?
SuiteSciens operates heavily on referrals. On August 18th, we launched our official referrals program. For each referral, we thank our friends with cash. We will also provide excellent service to the clients that you refer to us. In addition, following us on LinkedIn and liking us on Facebook gives us the exposure needed to build our business and help more companies grow and scale through NetSuite.
We are also interested in presenting at speaking engagements – anywhere that we can get marketing support. Knowledge about marketing grants, including educational grants or courses would allow us to learn digital marketing. These are all things that we need to support our business as we move forward into our next phase.
How can leveraging social media allow one to grow their business?
We use social media not necessarily to get leads but to establish social proof. After we speak to a prospective client, they look us up. They visit our website, but some clients dig deeper than the website. They want to know who they’re doing business with, the culture of our organization, and the type of energy we will bring to their team. In the future, we would like to learn how to use social media as a lead generator, but for now, we use it as social proof.
What are some of the greatest lessons you’ve learned as an entrepreneur?
One of the most important lessons that I’ve learned is…I don’t know everything and that’s okay. I’ve learned to ask for help a lot more. Again, I’m the biggest fan of the NAV program. Through this program, I turn to my mentors to help problem-solve. I also turn to the community for help or ask for suggestions from people who are in completely different industries. I have learned to ask open-ended questions, leverage my network as much as possible, delegate certain tasks to my team, and step back. I trust them with the process, and check in when necessary because checking-in too often can lead to burnout.
You have been a part of our NAV mentor program. How has this program helped you and your business grow?
This is one of the most important tools in my toolbox! Having a solid structure of checking in with my mentors helps enforce discipline within my business operations. These checkpoints with my mentors mean that we need to have our data and financial statements closed by a specific time. When I first started NAV, we were closing our books sometimes 20-25 days after the month closed – this was unacceptable considering we were a company that helps people close their books. After being in NAV, we now religiously close our books on the 10th of the month. Ultimately, this check-in helps us to strive toward future improvements. It is invaluable to have mentors who have been doing this for much longer than I have. There are so many things that I have learned throughout this process.
How would you explain your business to the younger generation (ex: fifth graders)? What pathway (whether it be internships, majors, etc.) would you advise them to take if they were interested in doing something like what you do?
Most businesses have many moving parts. For example, a restaurant has to keep track of many things. They have the food, a physical building, and staff they need to pay. I implement a type of software that allows them to keep track of it all.
NetSuite helps businesses clearly understand how much product they have left and how much they have paid their staff recently, but it also communicates the value of what they have in stock, and to see if their business is profitable or not.
The most relevant degrees for this industry are IT, accounting, and business. These pathways would be ideal to better understand what clients might be looking for so you can help them accomplish their goals. As far as internships or starting jobs, it would be helpful to pursue something related to cost or financial accounting, business systems, relational databases, and learning how to leverage Microsoft Access databases for tracking purposes.
To learn more about SuiteSciens, visit https://suitesciens.com.