Nicole Valentine has been in business even before she could get a learner’s permit. Her first role in a sustainable business was ringing the register at her grandmother’s tailoring business. There she learned not only how to sew but the fundamentals of customer service—greeting customers, helping them get the perfect fit, and even accounts receivable— collecting IOUs from fashionistas on the New York social scene.
From there, Valentine set out on a three-year stint in her parent’s childcare business, managing the after-school and summer programs. Business, fundamentally, is in her blood. Not being able to escape her bloodline, she used those building blocks for the mental stamina to become an M&A and corporate securities lawyer in New York. Though advising clients in finance, insurance, and oil and gas proved to be challenging, she had a desire to do more and mean more to the businesses that she serviced.
She took a leap of faith in 2009, leaving her comfy role as a mergers and acquisitions attorney for a Fortune 500 company, making more than $300,000 per year, to dive into business feet first—launching Synergy Business Development Inc., a boutique business consulting firm.
Valentine’s move to consulting wasn’t a tough decision at all. “I have a creative spirit. I wanted to create my own culture. I wanted to create a product and service that fit my philosophy. Essentially, I wanted to create something that was missing,” she says. Since then, she’s been “bringing entrepreneurial visions to life” by making business strategy, development, and sustainability readily available at her clients’ fingertips via her mobile app Winly.
Building products and tools have enabled Synergy to focus on outcomes; assisting clients in honing in on a piece of the market to dominate.
Valentine sat down with Black Enterprise to share her secrets on how to dominate in any industry.
BE: How did you start your business consulting company?
I decided to blend my background in mergers and acquisitions with my passion for small businesses. Many businesses hit the market with a lack of capital and strategy. My first project created a strategic partnership plan and media strategy for a team of doctors in New York City. Over time, I gathered insights and began to build a systematic framework that could be delivered by consultants and coaches in my network.
BE: What made you decide to make business consulting mobile?
One day, I went with a client to pitch an idea to a venture capitalist in Silicon Alley. It was the beginning of apps as we know it. At the time, going mobile was a positioning strategy. I realized that an app could reach millions around the globe without me having to be physically present for each owner. I aimed to create a business app that felt like a game with playbooks and scorecards. Now there are over 5,000 Winly users in over 25 countries worldwide.
BE: Why the name Winly?
I wanted the name to include the word win because the ethos of the app is to create winners in business. We added a -ly to convey actively winning.
BE: How has technology affected business planning and development?
Technology has revolutionized business development. It’s changed the landscape of marketing, public relations, advertising, and finance. I’m a Gen Xer, so I lived in both worlds—before tech (BT) and after tech (AT). Doing business in BT meant being glued to your desk, your phone, lots of travel hours, and a manual business experience. Doing business in AT brings tools that shift the way we communicate, raise capital, and access information. Data changes daily and your business must have a “place” where you collect information so you can make better decisions.
BE: Is it necessary for businesses to be in the app space?
With any new technology, CEOs should ask themselves, ‘Am I going to be a user?’ And if so, how best can I use this tool for my growth? Or am I going to be a developer and owner? And if so, does this tool open up a doorway to a new market or opportunity? l liken the decision to go into the app space using the same assessment one would use when choosing which store they want their product to be in, or which channel or which market. Because the world is hypermobile, I would recommend businesses at least create a place on the web and then create a mobile version.
BE: What keeps your business owners inspired to start, continue and finish?
The business owners we serve are self-motivated, creative, strategic, and full of passion. We’ve tapped into what inspires business owners and that’s experiencing a win. Winning on their terms allows them to make it happen.
BE: What are your tips for sustaining a business in today’s economy?
- Keep track of market data and business trends. Invite your entire team into the strategy discussion. Ask once a week, “How are we growing? Where’s the opportunity?” For example, what does the $30 billion wealth transfer mean to your business?
- Read the news. Find the big gaps and voids and innovate to serve those markets: Think about how other companies solved problems. There’s more innovation needed.
- Hire a CFO or an accountant. Get advice on best financial practices, incentives, and strategies. Having someone at the financial wheel is critical for sustainability.
Valentine is inspired by a legacy and a spirit of people who are not content with their own success. They want it for others too. Over 70% of small business owners’ work from home; have no employees or partners. To have the power to create jobs, build lasting companies, and generate profits is a dream for her. Synergy’s big idea is to infuse the market with the mindset of partnering, merging and growing by being strategic. Valentine inspires success by believing “we live in a world where winning in business is available to all—you simply must think strategy every day.”
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