Next up in my series of solopreneur interviews is Marian White, creator and solo business operator of Grey Financial Group located in Owings Mills, MD. Marian’s interview has been broken into a two part series due to its length.
Since finance is at the forefront of many solo entrepreneurs’ minds, I felt it was necessary to drill down into some key aspects that affect us in today’s economic market.
As with the last interview, I have some questions applicable for all solopreneurs regarding inspiration, history, qualifications and target market while other questions are specific about Grey Financial Group and the finance market overall.
Let’s jump in.
TSG: What was the inspiration to create Grey Financial Group and when did you actually open your doors?
MW: The inspiration to create GFG came from me actually trying to open another business a year or so earlier. I was frustrated with the way I was treated when trying to apply for financing for the new business. Even though I met all stated qualifications, some lenders made the process more difficult than I thought it should be. I decided there had to be a better way for small business owners to get financing and education about the process. I talked with some other people in the business, received training and opened for business in May 2008. I initially worked it part-time and went full-time in August 2008.
TSG: Out of curiosity, what was the other business that you were trying to open?
MW: Completely different business idea that relates to my other interest – fitness. It was a small, neighborhood fitness center – part of a franchise.
TSG: Can you give percentages to the following four items as contributing factors in your decision for creating your business: previous work experience, personal strengths, a love for the type of business and the perceived amount of money that you could earn?
MW: Previous work experience – 20%
Personal strengths – 35%
Love for business – 25%
Perceived amount of money to be made – 20%.
Difficult really to list. My previous work experience was not directly related to financing at all, but my experience as a trainer on management/leadership topics comes into play heavily in the way I deal with my customers, which I believe is also one of my personal strengths. The amount of money to be made is nice, but everyone works differently so I find it hard to believe just because someone says “you can make this amount of money”, that it will apply directly to me in the same manner.
TSG: I believe that this is important to note. Many people that I have worked with have a very linear evolution to their career path. They start in a particular industry and feel that they must stay within that industry in order to be successful. However, there are certain strengths that you develop that can translate to the same role within other industries – as you mentioned above.
MW: Side note, my career path hasn’t been linear at all but I’ve been able to incorporate parts of them to help me have a better overall understanding of things. My undergraduate education is in Information Technology so I started out as a computer programmer, moved from the tech side over to Human Resources to work as a Technical Recruiter, went back to the Technical side to work as a Project Manager, then went back to HR to work as a Training Manager, all for the same company, until I left to run GFG full-time.
TSG: How much time did you spend on research and planning prior to opening for business?
MW: I spent about 6-7 months researching the financial business specifically. I was at a point where I really was looking to start my own business anyway; I was just looking to decide on what business it would be. The overall time I spent on looking at business opportunities has been several years. I still like to keep my ears open for potential opportunities.
TSG: What aspects of the financial business did you research and where did you go to get the data?
MW: Specifically looking to work as a broker seemed to be the most logical way to enter into the business since I didn’t have previous experience as an underwriter or such. I did speak to former bankers and bank owners (met through mutual friends) to get their take on the need for helping small business get financing for franchises and independent operations. I did online research on how to become a broker and compared some of that information to information I received from the bankers to see how feasible it was. I checked into the professional organizations that some of the training programs were affiliated with and tried to see what lenders I’d have access to once I completed the training.
TSG: Now that you are up and running, do you feel that you spent not enough time, just the right amount of time, or too much time on research and planning?
MW: I believe the time I spent on researching the business industry was adequate and I’m always trying to learn more about the business. I could have spent a bit more time on researching the various training programs for entering into the business.
MW: There were several training programs available and some were very easy for me to disregard. There were one or two other firms that provided programs very similar to the one I selected and I could have spent more time learning the differences, if any, between them.
TSG: What was the thought process behind naming your business?
MW: The name of the business came about as a combination of several factors. I knew I didn’t want to name the business after my name – WHITE, but I did want to incorporate it somehow. I took the combination of WHITE and one of my favorite colors (BLACK) and came up with GREY. Also, grey is a color frequently associated with finance/accounting and is considered a trustworthy, stable color (or at least that’s what I read on the Internet.)
TSG: How would you define your perfect customer?
MW: My perfect customer is an educated customer. When I say that, I mean that it’s someone who knows why they want financing and how they plan to use the funds they’re requesting and have an expected return on the funds. They don’t have to already know which financial product is best for them, but they should be willing to have the conversation with me and keep an open mind. Our customer is typically not the A-level person that can walk into any bank and get approved. They are a small business owner – considered B, C or even D level credit, with a firm idea of how they are going to repair their credit situation, keep the business running and not remain D level credit in the future.
TSG: Just as you were when you were trying to start your original business?
MW: Credit-wise, I would have been considered A level credit when I was trying to start the fitness center. Again, I met all the qualifications as listed by the franchise and the banks I approached for equipment leasing and start-up capital. That made the process even more frustrating because I wasn’t a difficult credit situation. I was never turned down for the loans; I didn’t care for the way I was treated and decided to take my business elsewhere. I got the feeling the banks felt I needed them much more than they wanted my business so they kept adding other requirements to the loan process. I believe a lot of it had to do with me being a female, and although I was married, my husband was not part of the business so I didn’t list his financials on the application. I still met all of their requirements, yet they kept asking me to put him on the application. When I asked if it was a written policy of theirs, I couldn’t get a direct answer so I decided to walk away.
TSG: Why did you choose this demographic?
MW: Again, I believe there’s a large pool of potential customers that fall in this category that need someone willing to talk and listen to them. I understand that not everyone is going to become my customer that 1st time we talk, but I want them to listen to the advice I can offer and then come back to me in another 3-4 or 6 months and then we can close transactions together.
TSG: If you had to take the Tweeter challenge of describing your unique value proposition (UVP) for your target market in 140 characters or less, what would you write?
MW: My Twitter challenge would say “We provide small business owners financial and educational services for the success of their business today, tomorrow and beyond.”
TSG: Are the educational services a paid program or do you offer education as a method for bettering your relationship with potential and current clients?
MW: Currently, we don’t charge. I see it as helping to build long-term relationships, helping to separate my services from others. I do plan to add in-depth webinars on specific topics that we would charge for.
TSG: What surprises have you encounter since launching your business?
MW: The biggest surprise would have to be the great economic downturn that happened very shortly after I decided to go full-time with the business. I had no idea that the economy was going to take such a sharp downturn, specifically related to the credit/financial industries.
TSG: Did you change anything in your business due to these surprises?
MW: We offered incentives for people to close deals with us and increased our educational outreach on how to handle the credit crisis.
Stay tuned for the second part of the series, set to hit my post in three days. In this second segment Marian discusses some further aspects about Grey Financial Group and then gives some great advice for solopreneurs who are looking for funding.
Grey Financial Group LLC
P.O. Box 1234
Owings Mills, MD 21117
Toll Free: 866-977-GREY
All The Best,
The Solopreneur’s Guide