Do you have dreams of starting your own business? In this episode, APU business professor Dr. Ashley Taylor talks to Dr. Wanda Presley about how she took the leap from being a social worker to starting her own consulting company. Learn how she turned fear, self-doubt, and naysayers into motivation to make her business successful. She also shares lessons she learned about finding experts in areas where she had little experience, like finance and marketing, to support important business functions as well as refining her management skills to oversee remote employees in a virtual business setting.
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Dr. Ashley Taylor: I’m Dr. Ashley Taylor. In this episode, we’re going to discuss entrepreneurship and creative vision. I have with me Dr. Wanda Presley. I want to thank you so much for joining me in this conversation.
Dr. Wanda Presley: Thank you for having me.
Dr. Ashley Taylor: Dr. Presley, tell us a little bit about yourself and your professional background.
Dr. Wanda Presley: My professional background includes a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in criminal justice and a PhD in organizational management. I’ve spent the last 15 years of my professional career working as a social worker in child abuse and neglect out of the state of Florida, but for the last nine years, I’ve spent my time working as a professor and a consultant with doctoral students that are trying to graduate from college.
Most of my students, they are struggling in some way with their program, trying to get through their program, and so they reach out to me asking for assistance with helping them with their writing and their methodology with regards to their current study. So most of my students are those that are struggling in some sort of way. I have other avenues that I also dabble in as well. I have an athletic clothing line and I also am an author and I write children’s stories as well.
Dr. Ashley Taylor: That’s very multifaceted. What made you decide to take a non-traditional route to employment, or to move away from that social worker aspect of things?
Dr. Wanda Presley: 15 years as a social worker dealing with child abuse and neglect is a lot.
Dr. Ashley Taylor: I can only imagine.
Dr. Wanda Presley: Yeah. The average stay is usually about six months, so I stayed in 15 years. And I think I did my bit for king and country at that point, so I needed to have something that was a little different, that didn’t have me struggling to sleep at night and dealing with other people’s issues, and so I wanted to teach.
I had already had my Master’s degree and I had dabbled in a little teaching at that point, but I really wanted to go further. So I felt that I needed to have more of an education in order to do that, so that’s why I went after my Ph.D.
I was just challenging what I wanted to do with my Ph.D., so I decided to look at something that was more business-related. I wanted to look at how the government, how they handed out money to private organizations and how that money was being spent. So I’ve spent a lot of time doing research and writing about how cost matters, how the government gives money to private organizations and what they do with it and how that impacts our society.
Dr. Ashley Taylor: Okay, so you stepped away from social work, but you still really kept that social consciousness and everything still going.
Dr. Wanda Presley: Oh, absolutely. Because I think that we have a responsibility as citizens to always ask the question, and so when you hand a private organization a $74 million contract, someone should be asking the question, “What’d they spend the money on?” If they can’t tell you what they spent the money on, it’s like “I don’t understand how that works.”
Because in every aspect of our lives, government is always asking the people to verify things that they have, and so this doesn’t make any sense why our social services and agencies are blowing through so much money and we’re having such a hard time trying to understand where this money’s going.
Dr. Ashley Taylor: Yeah. Accountability is absolutely necessary in that area.
Dr. Wanda Presley: Absolutely.
Dr. Ashley Taylor: Tell me a little bit about your current business. You mentioned your consulting and you mentioned your clothing line. There’s so many things, you’re writing. Pick up whichever one you want to start with and we’ll explore.
Dr. Wanda Presley: Well, my company, Absolute Management and Coaching Services is the primary organization that I’m with. With regards to AMCS, like I said, I work with college students that are struggling to get out of their doctoral program.
A lot of the people that come to me come to me with a challenge that they are currently having with their study, but also with their life. I have a lot of students that come with medical issues. I surprisingly have students that are dealing with life-ending medical issues and they want to finish their study. And they are asking for help because they may not have another two years to finish it, so they want to get some sort of direction on what’s the best way to go about doing things, so I spend a lot of time with that.
I have a unique array of clientele, all the way from your elementary school teacher to someone working in the White House. It just really just depends on what the situation is and why they are going after their degree.
It’s a lot of fun. I really do enjoy it because there are a lot of different studies that we get to go through and I get to learn new things myself, and it’s never boring by any means, and so we spend a lot of time doing the research and finding the information. And it gives them an opportunity to have someone to lean on as opposed to feeling like they’re doing it all by themselves. So it works well for us. I’ve been doing that part of the organization for nine years.
I also work with small businesses that are trying to get off the ground, needing a little bit of extra help with their marketing or with developing plans for staff, coming up with new ideas in order to maintain staff to keep them from turning over.
Of course, right now with COVID we’re in such a unique situation where companies can’t prevent people from leaving at this point or from closing their doors because of all the situation that’s happened. So that aspect of the company has had to lay in wait a little bit until we are finished with whatever this is we are doing with COVID.
Dr. Ashley Taylor: Yeah, we don’t even know what to name it right now.
Dr. Wanda Presley: Exactly. We’re in-between stage.
Dr. Ashley Taylor: I’m sure there’ll be many case studies we’ll have all kinds of names about what’s happening right now.
Dr. Wanda Presley: Absolutely, the COVID effect. That’s pretty much what it is, yes. As far as the sports line, the athletic clothing wear comes from, it’s called Premium Alpha Sportswear, and we are in the trademark phases right now with the federal government as far as getting all the paperwork and such done with that and hopefully that will be out shortly.
It’s been a project that I’ve been working on in the last year. I love cycling, a huge cyclist, so I wanted to develop something that was going to be comfortable for myself as well while riding. I know everybody likes to give us grief about the spandex, but the spandex is functional, and so it works out very well, but it’s a really neat project that I’ve been working on.
The proceeds from that are going to go to help fund the children’s books that I write and the stories that are created from that for the children that are in schools that I work with are in Title I schools. That’s all part of our being socially responsible to our society that we live in to ensure that we can help those, so I do a lot of volunteer work on top of all of these other things that I do. And helping kids to read and to learn a little bit more about the world that’s outside of their geographical neighborhood.
Dr. Ashley Taylor: Okay. For now, we’ll focus on your consulting, okay? How did you develop the mission for what you were planning to do?
Dr. Wanda Presley: Honestly, when I graduated from college, my only thought was I was going to find me a job as a professor somewhere in a university, I was going to pull up to that desk, and I was going to literally die in that chair. That was my goal.
I didn’t have anything else that I wanted to do. I wanted to get the position in the university, but because I wasn’t getting any interviews or getting responses from anyone, I had to come up with another idea.
At this point, I was still working as a social worker and I was not happy. So I had a peer in school, asked me if I would look at her paper for her and I thought, “Okay, fine. I can do that.” So I started looking and working a little bit with some of the students, but it was very minimal stuff.
But word got out that what I was doing was helping and they were getting out of school faster, there weren’t any delays. So more people started asking me to help and it got to a point where it started to interfere with what I was doing as a social worker and I had to choose.
At that point, I had to get serious about what exactly is it that I am doing here? So I jumped on the Internet and I began to ask Dr. Google, “What should I look at as far as my mission? What should I look at as far as my next steps?” and began to put together some things.
I used a lot of things that I’ve found on the internet, but I also had enough sense to know that some of these things were not my forte. So what I needed to do was I needed to find people that were able to do these things, such as building my mission, such as getting out and coming up with handbooks for rules of what I needed to do, things that would help me be able to function a little bit smoother.
Of course, at the time, it was just me and my son who works in IT was drafted into the mission with me, whether he wanted to be there or not, and so it started from there, so I had to figure out what exactly was I doing?
In the beginning, I was doing no more than trying to get from point A to point B, which was the client needed this information consistent with this information, and I needed to get paid. And so I needed to figure out how to bridge that gap. That’s what I eventually did.
I remember the first month of doing this, I left my social work job and I literally was like, “I don’t have any money. If this just does not work, I have no idea what I’m going to do.” But I let that part go.
First month, 30 days into it, no paychecks, no nothing, and on that 30th day, I was able to glean enough clients to where I was able to net about $15,000. I was like, “Whew, talk about last-minute stuff, but thank you.” I was really happy about that.
From there, once I had that pressure off of me, I was able to sit down and really start to map out some of the things that I needed to have in order to make this a successful organization, one that I would want to work at. That’s where we were born.
Dr. Ashley Taylor: You made two really good points I want to revisit. That first one was about you knew what you wanted to do, but you also recognized that there were some areas that you needed help. When you were talking about creating that vision and finding people to support you to help where you were weak, could you revisit that part?
Dr. Wanda Presley: Oh, absolutely. First off, I have a business degree. That’s not an accounting degree. I knew that I needed someone to help me with my books so that I was able to manage the money that I was making. Then also, I needed a way to earn money that was outside of the consulting firm as well. Then on top of that, I needed people to help me put all these little pieces together. I don’t do much with marketing, so I needed to find out where could I go to get logo stuff. I needed to know where could I get some catchy phrases, I need to get some video stuff put together.
Those weren’t things that I did personally, so I had to reach out and find out what was a good thing that I could do in order to find the people that I can put in my corner to do these things. I didn’t need to employ them full-time, I just needed to have them do project work for me. That’s pretty much what I did.
Facebook has been an amazing tool for me. With Facebook, I found my accountant, too, through Taylor Tax and he’s been with me for several years. Then I’ve had Fiverr, which I’ve been able to go out and get logo information, marketing stuff, help me with video things that I need to put together, commercial stuff.
I’ve gotten all of that from Fiverr, which is a phenomenal website where you have all of these people that have this talent that you don’t have and you can go out and get them for a reasonable price and not have to spend thousands of dollars on it.
I also have a financial consultant that I was able to track down to help me work my money that I did receive. That’s Kelsey Wilcox and she’s an investment advisor with WealthWave and phenomenal. So the money that I’m making, I’m able to put away for retirement and be able to prepare for myself as well as be able to have additional monies that I may need to do other avenues, other projects that come along, so Kelsey has been phenomenal in that respect.
These are things that I didn’t have that knowledge in and so reaching out to folks that do have that knowledge. Know who to employ when it’s necessary is very important in being able to maintain your business. The moment you think that you can do everything is the moment that you’re losing because you’re not going to have the time to do everything. I mean, I reach out to those that can help me do that.
Dr. Ashley Taylor: That rolls right into the other part that stood out to me. You started your business, left your social work job, and then there was that lapse in income. I feel like when people get into that space, it really drives them: “I have to make this work.”
Dr. Wanda Presley: Right, right. I had to eat.
Dr. Ashley Taylor: Right. You might have those doubts and everything, but when it comes down to it, you have to make that work, so I think that gives you an extra little push.
Dr. Wanda Presley: Right. Yes, there’s nothing like making sure that you don’t starve to death, that motivates you to get out and do something. I mean, seriously, there’ve been days when I actually thought about driving for Uber, because I was like, “Mm, we got to figure out how we’re going to maintain this.”
Dr. Ashley Taylor: Yeah, let’s fill in the gap, yeah.
Dr. Wanda Presley: Yeah, what’s going to happen here? But when I look back on all of this stuff, and I think about when I first started, there were a lot of days when I was sweating because I had so much self-doubt of my own, but I also had everybody around me telling me that I wasn’t going to make it. And I had to be able to fight through all of that.
When you have your naysayers, those are the ones that you’re fighting against to show them, “I can do this. I can make this work.” But if you go into it with, “Well, if he doesn’t think I can do it, I guess I can’t do it,” then you’ll never succeed.
I mean, you have to spend your time knowing that you’re more than good enough and that you can make this work. That’s literally the attitude I had to take, because everybody around me thought this was a crazy idea: “How in the world are you going to help all these doctors? But you just got out of school yourself. How do you know how to do all these things?”
You learn. You develop things. I mean, I know that what I needed when I was in school and I didn’t have it, so I literally made a company for college students to give them everything I thought I needed that would help get them through this process and 150 students later, have been successful at it. I think that’s a big feat.
Dr. Ashley Taylor: Absolutely.
Dr. Wanda Presley: Yeah, that’s not something everyone can say. You work hard at it and then it allows me to do other things. It allows me to do the volunteer work. It allows me to sit around and dream about what kind of bike shorts I want to wear and then develop a whole program around it, I mean, it allows me to do all kinds of things. I get to travel, I get to live a great life because of it. There’s nothing wrong with it.
Dr. Ashley Taylor: It sounds like some of the naysayers may have been one of the challenges that you faced. What are some of the other ones?
Dr. Wanda Presley: Some of the other challenges? When I started to grow, I knew I couldn’t do everything by myself, so I had to figure out, “Who’s going to help me? I need to hire some people.” But this is a virtual company, and so with it being virtual, I had to figure out how am I going to be able to maintain and oversee them?
I would think that that’s been one of my biggest challenges is dealing with people on the internet and them not being truthful about everything. I’ve had more than my share of staff members that have said they’ve done something and they haven’t.
Now, I’ve had some great staff members, too. Now, don’t get me wrong. I’ve had some wonderful doctors that have worked with me and have done great jobs and I loved it. But I’ve also, on the other side of that, had those that have not, and so being able to oversee that and be able to maintain things, that’s where I would say one of my biggest challenges are.
Because when you’re dealing with human behavior and people can either do the right thing or not and you have no control over that and you don’t know that they’re not going to do the right thing until it’s not done. Then that’s when you have to deal with things.
I had a young lady that she was employed with me for a while and I found out that she just wasn’t doing what she needed to do. She didn’t have all the skills that she claimed she did. She talked a good game, though. She talked a really good game. Having to wade through that with clients that were on timelines, it was a real struggle because in the end, it’s the client that loses if we can’t meet these timelines. So I had to let her go. But I also had to really talk to her because I felt that she had been in the same position that several of the clients are in, so there has to be some sort of compassion, and there was just none.
From that point on, I’ve had to be very cautious of who I do employ and then what type of overseeing that I do, because I’ve always been the type of manager to where, “Okay, here’s the assignment. I need to get this done by this date.”
As long as you’re making your deadlines, I’m good. I don’t stand over you. I’m not trying to harass you to death because I think that you have an ability already, if you’ve earned the doctorate, to be able to do a lot of these things.
And so I just found that some people are definitely in need of that handholding, but this is not the organization to do it with. I mean, I really need to have people that are independent and are able to move forward and get things done without me having to stand over them.
Dr. Ashley Taylor: How have you worked through that? When you get someone that has misrepresented themselves to do what you’ve asked them to do. How do you better screen these people?
Dr. Wanda Presley: I now do more of a comprehensive training than I did before. I require them to go through this training, which can last up to six months. There’s a lot of handholding and joint sessions that we do with the clients now as opposed to allowing them to just go off and do it on their own.
That way, I can see if they are following through and doing what they need to do during that time. Six months is a long time. If you’re going to hold out and do good work for six months and then not continue after that, you’ve got a deeper issue than not being able to do this job. So just hold onto them a little bit longer closer to the vest as far as the work that we get done.
In my employment, I have the other PhDs, I have the writing specialist, and then I have elementary school teachers, believe it or not. The reason why I have them is because I have a lot of clients that have English as a second language, so we are building up their understanding of the English language from the beginning. Something that they didn’t have the primary education here in the US, so we’re giving that to them as they’re going through their coursework to help them be able to write better out the gate, rather than us having to do such strong handholding once they get to the doctoral program piece of it.
Dr. Ashley Taylor: Okay. Were there any other challenges?
Dr. Wanda Presley: Other challenges? Dealing with finances of it is always an issue. I had a lot of college students come to me and say, “I really need your service, but I can’t afford it.”
How do I deal with that? And so I had to figure out how to deal with that, because if I didn’t, basically, I was not going to have a clientele, so I do my very best to try to come up with payment plans and different programs that they’re able to finance things through. Or if there’s something I can do that’s a smaller service, I’ll try to do that. It just really just depends on what the situation is.
I do my very best to help as many people as I can. Oftentimes, if I have a client that comes to me that pays for their service but they never show up, which believe it or not, does happen, I often take the time that’s been paid for and if I have someone that is in need of a scholarship, I will turn that into a scholarship in a sense. Because I can’t force you to come and work on your degree, because if I got to do all of that, then my degree is hanging on the wall.
Dr. Ashley Taylor: Right, you have to be… Right.
Dr. Wanda Presley: You have to be the one that has to go after and want your degree, and so I can’t fix that. But if you’ve already paid for something and you’re just choosing not to use it, then that’s on you, and so I do try to take those funds and do other things with them.
Dr. Ashley Taylor: That’s really admirable. Your social work keeps on shining through. I know that you had those tough cases back in the day that you wanted to get away from, but I mean, the care and time and effort that you put into your interactions with those students, it’s still there.
Dr. Wanda Presley: Yes. I mean, I really do believe that you have to be kind in everything that you do. So regardless of what is going on, I try to do my very best to treat people as well as I would like to be treated myself.
Dr. Ashley Taylor: Absolutely. How do you feel about your decision to become an entrepreneur?
Dr. Wanda Presley: Oh, my goodness. It’s the best thing I ever did because I can’t imagine working for anybody else other than myself. I’m tough to work for my own self, but I really enjoy what I do.
Like I said, it allows me the opportunity to do a lot of things that I wouldn’t have been able to do otherwise. For example, my daughter who’s in the Army, she lives in South Carolina and I’m on the other side of the world in New Mexico. There have been several times where I’ve had to go and help out with my grandson.
Had I been stuck in a traditional job, I would’ve never been able to make those kinds of choices to be able to pick up and move, but because all I need is an internet connection, I’m able to travel all over the world and be able to still live and do the things that I want to do, whether I’m across the street or around the world. So being an entrepreneur has given me an open door to do whatever I want wherever I want and when I want, which is what I really enjoy the most about it.
Dr. Ashley Taylor: Finally, what is your advice for other women who are considering a unique business venture?
Dr. Wanda Presley: Just do it. All I can say is just do it. Nothing else is going to happen, but you can fail, and then you just do it again and just keep doing it. If you’re going to make anybody’s dreams come true, they might as well be your own, rather than making someone else’s dreams come true.
I really encourage everyone that works for me at some point, for them to get out, to branch out, and to do something that they’re able to venture into as far as their own business as well because there is nothing like working for yourself.
It has given me financial freedom to be able to provide for my grandchildren, to provide for my kids, and to have the things that I want. I just think you should just do it.
We get so caught up in just working and getting a paycheck every two weeks, but you can still do those same things. I have health insurance. I have a wonderful 401(k), I have all of these things because there are people that are out there that provide these services to the entrepreneur and there’s absolutely no reason why you can’t have the same benefits you have at work that you have working for yourself.
I think that that’s the one thing that scares most of us because women, we rule the world, so we have a lot of responsibilities on our hands. Because of that, we’re a little bit less likely to step out on that ledge to just test the waters of success. But I’m the person that I will jump off the cliff because I know how to fly and so I’m not worried about it.
I’ve been successful, yes, but when I walked out that first day and I had that first month of no income, all I kept saying myself was, “I’ve got to make this work. There is no other option,” and so I just kept trying and trying and trying until I was able to be successful at it.
That’s no different than what I do every single day now, when at the end of each year, I sit down with a piece of paper and I say, “Okay, what can I do better for next year? What can I do better in 2021?”
I’m very proud of the fact that I’m probably one of the few small businesses that did not require any assistance from the government. I actually gave raises and bonuses out this year despite COVID because we’ve been successful across the board in every aspect of what we do and not just getting the work done, but I’ve also taken care of my people.
This was the one time that they definitely needed my help because of all the things that were going on, and so I needed to make sure that I was there and I was available for them because that’s what you’re supposed to do if you’re a good manager in what you’re doing.
Dr. Ashley Taylor: That’s excellent. That’s excellent advice to just do it. I know sometimes then we deal with the imposter syndrome, we deal with, “Oh, I’m not able to take that leap, I’m not sure,” but sometimes you really just have to go for it. Like you said, you have to make it work, so you will make it work.
Dr. Wanda Presley: Exactly.
Dr. Ashley Taylor: Thank you so much for spending this time with me, Dr. Presley, and having this much needed-conversation.
Dr. Wanda Presley: Oh, thank you very much for having me. I really enjoyed it.
About the Speakers:
Dr. Ashley Taylor is an Assistant Professor in the School of Business at American Public University. She has a D.B.A. from Northcentral University and a M.B.A. from the University of Phoenix. She has been a full-time faculty member at American Public University since 2008 and has spent over 14 years in higher education administration and management.
Dr. Wanda Presley specializes in academic consulting for doctoral students and developing innovative plans for the new entrepreneur as the head of the management team at Absolute Management and Coaching Services since 2012. She has chaired dissertation committees at Northcentral University and Grand Canyon University for more than 9 years.
Dr. Presley’s academic reign also includes teaching ethics at Saint Petersburg College for more than five years and business at Saint Leo University for more than a decade both online and on-ground. As an instructor, she firmly believes that education is a doorway that opens far beyond the parameters of simple theories and concepts. It is through learning that all students have the opportunity to develop and enhance their critical-thinking skills and foster a healthy skepticism of prevailing viewpoints. Through teaching, she provides her students with an array of tools and paradigms such that they avoid failure without understanding and cultivate a continuous initiative to refocus and grow.