APU Business Careers Careers & Learning Leading Forward Podcast

Podcast: Pivoting to an Online Business Model during the Pandemic

Podcast featuring Ashley K. Taylor, D.B.A., Faculty Member, School of Business and
Charisse Nelson, entrepreneur, founder, Flourishing Beauty and Wellness

Taking the leap to leave a traditional 9-to-5 job and its steady paychecks can be scary. In this episode, APU business professor Dr. Ashley Taylor talks to entrepreneur and model Charisse Nelson about her decision to start her own skincare and wellness business. Learn about the challenges she faced during the COVID-19 pandemic when salons and spas closed and how she pivoted her strategy to focus on increasing her online business and social media presence to connect with customers and clients.

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Read the Transcript:

Dr. Ashley Taylor: I’m Dr. Ashley Taylor and in this episode, I’m joined by Charisse Nelson. She has agreed to have a conversation with me about entrepreneurship and creative vision. Charisse, thanks for taking the time to speak with me. I’m looking forward to hearing the insights you have to share.

Charisse Nelson: Thank you, Ashley. I’m happy to be here.

Dr. Ashley Taylor: Good. Tell the audience a little bit about yourself and your professional background.

Charisse Nelson: Well, Ashley, I am a professional model, I’m a licensed aesthetician, and I’m an entrepreneur. I’ve been modeling beauty, fashion, and commercial for over 15 years. This includes magazines such as Marie Claire, Essence. I’ve modeled for different brands like Tory Burch and Vince Camuto.

I’ve done beauty shows for Nordstrom, Lord & Taylor, and with me modeling, I grew an appreciation for skincare and the beauty industry, so this led me to becoming an aesthetician. And as an aesthetician, I worked in different studios in Philadelphia and recently launched an online skincare and wellness business.

Dr. Ashley Taylor: I can see how that would all come together with your modeling background and beauty and wellness. I could see how that could all come together.

Charisse Nelson: Yeah, exactly, because with being a model, you have to take care of yourself. No one’s perfect, but skincare is important, having clear skin or achieving to have clear skin. Also, giving tips to people on how to have great skin or look good with makeup geared me towards being an aesthetician, taking it a step further.

Dr. Ashley Taylor: What made you decide to take a non-traditional route to employment?

Charisse Nelson: Well, it did not happen overnight. I’ve worked for many different companies, nonprofit organizations for over 20 years. It’s nothing like a guaranteed paycheck, having a security blanket, having that compensation package, but it took a lot of faith to get to that point.

I really decided to hone in on my skincare skills and go to school to be a licensed aesthetician and that brought me closer to realizing that I don’t have to have this traditional 9:00 to 5:00. I can actually make an income doing skincare and then as a model, I’ve been modeling for years, so that gave me an inspiration or gave me an outlook on a nontraditional job.

Pulling it all together, I was able to figure out that I didn’t have to take this route, that I could really go out and make a career for myself with modeling and being an aesthetician.

I also had some friends who, they’re mentors, who definitely encouraged me to go and do this. They inspired me because they’re in the same business. It’s easier when you see someone else is doing it when you’re an entrepreneur and they’re successful.

[Podcast: The Role of Mentorship in Career Advancement]

I have a friend, Ursula Augustine, she’s been my friend for years. She has a very successful makeup studio in Rittenhouse Square in Philadelphia called Ursula’s About Face. Appointment-only, very successful, so she was a great example. I also have a friend named Bridget who has a beautiful spot in Chestnut Hill that’s doing great.

These were visual people. These were people that I knew that were making it and it was becoming a reality to me that I could really see it happening for myself.

Dr. Ashley Taylor: When you had your traditional employment and nonprofit and everything, do you think that what you’re doing now, you were moved more by the passion for what you were doing than what you were doing in a traditional position?

Charisse Nelson: That’s exactly it, it was definitely a passion. I’ve always felt like that I didn’t belong in that world. I felt like it wasn’t for me, so I always felt out of place, even though I was a good employee, I did great work, but I felt like I didn’t belong. It wasn’t a passion, I wasn’t thriving for it. I wasn’t really living the life that I wanted, so I wasn’t completely happy.

When I stepped more into the skincare and modeling, when I decided to put more time into it and become a professional as far as skincare, that’s when things started to open up and make more sense.

Dr. Ashley Taylor: Tell us a little bit about your business.

Charisse Nelson: Well, as far as being a model, you’re an entrepreneur when you’re a model, even when you have modeling agencies. I have a couple of modeling agencies that represent me, but you have to market yourself. You have to get additional bookings on your own. So that’s always an entrepreneur way for me to make money or to make an income.

As far as my skincare business, I started out doing services in different salons and spas around the city, including different types of facials, cleansing, exfoliating, educating people about their skin. I did a lot with assuring people how to have healthy-looking eyes, especially camera-ready eyes. People worry about dark circles, they worry about bags underneath their eyes, tired eyes, so different ointments, different serums that will help them with that.

When COVID hit, I decided to change things around because I’m not touching people’s faces right now, a lot of people aren’t, so I decided to do an online business where right now I’m selling skincare products and also herbal tea blends and my business is called Flourishing Beauty and Wellness.

Dr. Ashley Taylor: You made an interesting point about when COVID hit. A lot of people that are in traditional forms of employment lost their jobs, they lost their sources of income, but working for yourself, it seems that you were able to pivot and then change what you were doing to fit what was happening in society and in the world.

Charisse Nelson: Yes. It made it easier for me to survive. When you have your own business, you have to pivot, you have to restrategize, figure out ways where you’re going to have your income coming in because now you don’t have that paycheck every two weeks coming into you from someone else. That safety net is not there, so your mind opens up, your creativeness is there.

You’re talking to other entrepreneurs, you guys are bouncing ideas off of each other, trying to see how we can survive through this situation. People are thriving now, businesses are thriving now online, so I had to become online-savvy. I had to boost up my social media. I had to really learn more about how to have a presence on the web, have a presence in social media and I’m still learning. I’m still learning.

Dr. Ashley Taylor: On social media, when people see all the different products and services there are, there’s something that you have to do to connect with those people, because it almost seems like instead of necessarily the product that you’re selling or the business that you have, they’re buying you. You know what I’m saying?

Charisse Nelson: Yes. Yes, they are buying you, yes.

Dr. Ashley Taylor: Yeah, you have to make that connection with them and COVID-19 certainly gave us an opportunity to really, like you mentioned, go online and start making those connections that way.

Charisse Nelson: Eventually, you will find your tribe or your tribe will find you based off of what you’re posting, the energy that you’re putting into your posts. I try to be very upbeat. People get my personality right away. I’m very caring. I try to inspire and whenever I post, people feel that, they feel that energy through that and I get comments back saying, “Oh, this brightened up my day, you just inspired me.” So people will start tuning into what you’re posting on social media or whatever feel your website has because that’s exactly what they need right now, especially online. That’s exactly what they need, so when you punch up your social media and your websites to give it a little bit of you and your personality in it, it helps.

Dr. Ashley Taylor: Yeah. It helps to build a connection.

Charisse Nelson: Yes.

Dr. Ashley Taylor: Yeah. Tell me a little bit about when you decided that this is what you were going to do, how you developed the mission and the vision for your venture.

Charisse Nelson: Well, the mission and the vision really stem from the passion, which was beauty, which was skincare, just pulling all of that together. Also, talking to different people that knew what my passions were, but also saw what other things that I might’ve been, let’s say, talented in.

Other people looked at me for, they looked at me for skincare advice. They looked at me for also seeing that, “Oh, here, she’s a model but then she’s also an aesthetician. She must know what she’s talking about.” So, some of that came together by just the passions colliding together.

I also love to use vision boards, putting vision boards together, taking out clips of exactly what I want to do, placing it on a board. Also, journaling exactly what needs to be done, what I want to do and what other people envisioned for me that I felt like fit into my mission, putting that all together. Each day, it just became a little bit more clear, a little bit more refined.

Dr. Ashley Taylor: Vision boards are an excellent tool. Earlier this year, when we were all planning for 2020, I hosted a group of women together and we did some smart goal planning and we created vision boards and it’s interesting that you brought that up because when you can see what you’re going for, it can spur you to keep you moving toward that opportunity. It really makes it real when you can see it, so that’s an excellent tool. I’m glad you brought that up.

Charisse Nelson: Not just that. I can definitely say this: When you’re posting what you want to do and the universe is out there and it sees exactly what you want to do and you’re speaking it into existence, it really actually works. It works.

You’re putting out there to the world what your mission is, what you want to do, and then that energy just comes back to you and it gives you the energy to go for it. It gives you the energy. It connects you with other people that’s in that same way of thinking. It actually works.

When I was at my 9:00 to 5:00, I would put quotes in my cubicle to keep me going, like “Leap and the net will appear,” like “Have that faith and it will happen.” I started typing notes to myself, emails to myself about things I wanted to do, almost like a little prayer. I was emailing myself little notes and prayers about what I really wanted to do sitting in my cube at my 9:00 to 5:00. It was almost like journaling, too.

Each day or every month, something different happened where it was moving more towards my goal. It was moving more towards leaving that 9:00 to 5:00. It was someone calling me saying, “Oh, can you work at my spa? Can you work at my spa part-time?” Never interviewed, never interviewed.

But you put it out there and then it comes to you. If you put it out there and be honest with yourself and honest with what you really want to do, it will come to you and you will see it.

Dr. Ashley Taylor: That’s very encouraging.

Charisse Nelson: Thank you, thank you.

Dr. Ashley Taylor: What are some of the challenges you faced? I think we’ve touched on a few of them, but, specifically, what are some of the challenges you faced when you decided to go this route?

Charisse Nelson: Well, the first thing, for this year, definitely COVID. Definitely COVID because it directly affected salons, spas, completely shut down where you cannot make any income. You cannot make any income. Everything is based off of touch.

I mentioned before that having to restrategize and do virtual consultations, I was doing that and also putting more time into an online presence. I’m home with my son, he’s home from school, he’s doing virtual learning, and I can’t sit in the salon right now, or a few months ago when COVID started to happen, I just couldn’t sit in the salon. I’m home.

So really, having to figure out how can I make an income while I’m at home most of the day being a mommy and also an entrepreneur? I also, I’m able to do some modeling, but some of that was taken away, too, because of COVID and still, it’s not what it was before. So definitely, being able to watch what’s going out in the world and being able to adapt to the different changes that’s happening and happening to your business.

You’re also coping with how things are different each month as an entrepreneur. Some days, some months are better than others. Some months, you’re making a little bit more income than others, and that’s where that real online presence and marketing and social media has to kick in and you have to get creative and you have to collaborate sometimes with other companies, other groups.

I do skincare, so I’m going to collaborate with someone who does candles. Let’s do something together. Let’s do something virtual. Let’s do virtual facials and light your candles and let’s do a sister moment. You get creative. We still have to get creative.

Dr. Ashley Taylor: With those challenges that you discussed, you also told us how you overcome some of those challenges, by networking and coming together and building new opportunities.

Charisse Nelson: Yes, yes, definitely building new opportunities. This is the time to really start reaching out to other entrepreneurs. This is a time to really start learning each other’s businesses, learning each other’s missions, holding hands, not literally holding hands, but really coming together and helping each other out and building a community.

It’s really needed now and people are looking for that. When they see two companies coming together and doing something beautiful and they can join in, they love it. It’s a win-win for everyone.

Dr. Ashley Taylor: I know that sometimes we think of this COVID-19 situation as a challenge, but it also is, as you mentioned, an opportunity. So many of us are at home with our children, and as I mentioned earlier, so many people have lost their traditional jobs. And so it really makes you think outside of the box and bringing other people together of like mind who have also had to think that way, it just creates opportunities and opens doors.

Charisse Nelson: Yes, and it’s been great. I’ve been enjoying a lot of the virtual workshops. You sit right at home in your pajamas or you have your hot tea or cocoa and you’re logged on. It’s been great.

You’re actually able to educate yourself a little bit more. Now that you don’t have to physically go outside and stomp the pavement, transportation, you’re able to do a little bit more and really get involved and focus on the new things that are out there now.

Dr. Ashley Taylor: How do you feel about your decision to become an entrepreneur?

Charisse Nelson: I think I made best decision. I made the best decision. The number one thing in my life, and most people are looking for this, is be happy, less stress, thriving, flourishing. I felt like I was not thriving in my old job, my 9:00 to 5:00. I wasn’t. I’m a naturally happy person, so that was there, but I wasn’t thriving.

I feel like I’ve come into my own right now. I feel like that I’m able to reach more people, that people know who I am, I know who they are. I feel like I’m growing into the woman that I’m supposed to be, the presence I’m supposed to have, and that feels good. I feel like I’m blessed with how things have evolved for me. I am completely pleased and satisfied with my move.

Dr. Ashley Taylor: You’re happy that you took that leap of faith?

Charisse Nelson: Yes, I did.

Dr. Ashley Taylor: Yeah, so what would your advice be for other women that are considering moving into a unique business venture?

Charisse Nelson: The first thing is definitely have faith. You have to have faith in yourself. You have to have faith in your plans and in your dreams. Find out what you want to do. You pray on it, you meditate on it, you tell some people about it, people who are in the industry that you want to be in, you want to communicate with them, you want to learn from them. You want to document your ideas, you want to journal about it. You want to make it real for yourself. Create those vision boards.

Also, learning how to market this on social media. Get on social media before you start your business. Do your research and see how other people are marketing what you want to do. Also, be around people who have positive vibes. You don’t want anybody to down you because of your decision to move forward with taking that leap of faith.

You also have to make sure that you are an expert in what the area that you want to be in, so you have to get the training or the education in order to do it. That goes along with following or connecting with those who are doing already, learning from them, doing your research online. First, dip your toe in it, and then once you have your education and once you expose yourself to that, then you can really go out and possibly be in that world.

I did mine part-time. I started out as an aesthetician and model part-time and that gave me the confidence and let me know that I can definitely do this full-time and let go of my 9:00 to 5:00.

Dr. Ashley Taylor: That’s excellent advice. It seems like it’s a common theme I’m picking up on these entrepreneurship episodes, that you have to take that leap. You really have to have, as you said, faith in yourself and believe in your product or service and get that education or training to back it up so that you can be an expert in your field and really go out there and go for what you know that you can do.

Sometimes, a lot of people will not do what they want to do just because they’re scared. As we mentioned before, that safety net is not going to be there, but you have to become your own safety net.

Charisse Nelson: Yes. You build those nets. I must say, and I should’ve said this earlier, that I have a very supportive husband who has been an entrepreneur, so it was easier for me to make that decision, too, because he’s been in that situation, so he knew that I could do it and that helped 100%.

He has been an entrepreneur for a year, so he was another perfect example that you can definitely do it. It’s not like something that’s out of this world, it’s not like something you just see on television, or you just see on the internet as stars or celebrities. It’s a thing that you can actually do. It can be your reality.

Dr. Ashley Taylor: Thanks, Charisse, for taking the time to speak with me and to share your insights. You have shared some valuable gems that other women will be able to use and I wish you well in your ventures.

Charisse Nelson: Thank you so much. I appreciate this opportunity. Thank you.

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.

Charisse Nelson is a Philadelphia-based licensed esthetician and entrepreneur. Charisse has grown a passion for skincare while working as a professional beauty and fashion model. As a model, she has appeared in national magazines like Marie Claire and Essence. Charisse has modeled for well-known fashion designers in New York such as Tori Burch, Byron Lars, Christian Siriano and the late Vince Camuto. Currently, she is a beauty model for QVC. 

As an esthetician, she has become proficient in skincare services and has worked at respected beauty and skincare studios in Philadelphia. With her knowledge and experience, she has created her business Flourishing Beauty and Wellness; a beauty and wellness company that creates organic loose-leaf tea blends and skincare products. She believes that beauty and wellness starts with self-care.

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