Christine Edwards is a civic firebrand that has immersed herself in helping urban communities reach their highest levels of growth and success.
She founded Amplify Consulting in 2018, a company that delivers community engagement outreach services and resources for small businesses interested in winning government contracts. Christine earned her MPA with a concentration in Urban Management and Policy from UNC Charlotte.
In her spare time, Christine volunteers, enjoys southern food and loves seeing urban policy theory play out in daily life.
What You’ll Learn In This Episode
- Competitive bidding and government contracts
- How to be a good partner on a contract/project
- Competitive advantages in the consulting world
- The importance of equity in community engagement
Intro: [00:00:04] Broadcasting live from the Business RadioX Studios in Atlanta, Georgia, it’s time for GWBC Radio’s Open for Business. Now, here’s your host
Lee Kantor: [00:00:18] Lee Kantor here. Another episode of GWBC Open for Business. And this is going to be a fun one. Today, on the show, we have Christine Edwards with Amplify Consulting. Welcome, Christine.
Christine Edwards: [00:00:30] Hi, Lee. Thank you so much for having me.
Lee Kantor: [00:00:32] Well, I’m excited to learn what you’re up to. Tell us a little bit about Amplify Consulting. How are you serving folks?
Christine Edwards: [00:00:38] Sure. So, Amplify Consulting is a community engagement consulting firm headquartered in Charlotte, North Carolina. And I serve our clients by helping build trust in the community and helping communities grow with dignity.
Lee Kantor: [00:00:53] So, what’s your back story? How did you get into this line of work?
Christine Edwards: [00:00:57] So, I’m so glad that you’ve asked because I’ve had a lot of time to reflect on this kind of with the end of the year coming up and just thinking of what all we’ve done this past year. I really do believe I’m in my calling and I’m right exactly where I should be. I have about a decade of experience in local government, so I come from a local government community outreach background working in Charlotte and working in North Carolina in these growing communities that oftentimes just don’t get their voice at the table and they just don’t get their voices heard whenever our communities are growing, whether it’d be at the neighborhood level or you have these big, huge projects coming into town. And so, that’s how I really got involved was jumping from being an employee to being a business owner.
Lee Kantor: [00:01:54] So, now, when you’re saying the word community, like how do you define community because it’s multifaceted?
Christine Edwards: [00:02:02] Yes, absolutely. So, community is multifaceted when you think about it. I think about community in terms of belonging. You know, where do you feel you belong? A community could be at the neighborhood level. A community could be at your school, your faith house or your company that you work at. But community could also be like a cultural tradition or a cultural identity, even at the national level. So, I define community in a lot of different ways, but it’s really more so about belonging and where you feel you belong.
Lee Kantor: [00:02:41] So, now, when you’re working on a project or with a client, how do you help them kind of immerse themselves in the community and to serve their community?
Christine Edwards: [00:02:53] So, it can be kind of tricky because I really challenge my clients sometimes to think differently about how they’re engaging with folks. And my philosophy is to have an engagement-first approach. So, whenever a development is happening or a new project is coming online, let’s say the city or the county government, they’re building a new recreation center in your neighborhood, their approach typically is to get the research done, get the specs, get the cost and just get to building, but I would challenge them to have this engagement-first approach to first go out into the community and ask people, “Is this what you want? And is this what you need? And how would you like to see it come to fruition?” So, that’s kind of how I challenge them to look at community and get out of the office and start asking those questions of people who live there to kind of give feedback,
Lee Kantor: [00:03:58] So, you found that sometimes when these projects happen, then people may be in an office building or just making decisions without really engaging the people that are going to have to live with whatever this project is?
Christine Edwards: [00:04:13] Oh yeah, that definitely happens. I think that organizations have community outreach staff in house but oftentimes, these relationships that they have are not ongoing. It’s just project by project. And so, yeah, I’ve seen that happen before and it hurts trust. It hurts trust. And so, I just try to follow what’s going on in the national climate and what’s going on locally in my hometown where I work just to kind of see where that trust can be fostered.
Lee Kantor: [00:04:48] So, now, let’s play out, in your perfect world, a project occurs, so what would you do first? Like what would be the ideal? In your vision of how things could be, what would be kind of the ideal path for moving forward with a given project?
Christine Edwards: [00:05:03] That is a good question. I like this idea of sort of extracting all of the references from a project, all of the reference points. So, let’s go with the example of the REC center again. So, thinking about what you want to accomplish, what are the goals, is it about health, is it about fitness, is about literacy education? So, really just extracting everything out of that? And so, what that looks like is a work session. So, I would get them to sit down and have this activity where we would extract all those reference points and thinking about what are our goals.
Christine Edwards: [00:05:44] So, not only the goals in terms of how it would be things, but also looking at the history. What is the history of this particular area or location? Naming, look and feel, branding, future use. Not only looking back 50 years, but looking ahead 50 years. So, just sitting down with my client and just doing that initially, but then also thinking about who they could bring to the table and help them extract those reference points.
Lee Kantor: [00:06:18] And then, kind of really look at it holistically, and not just like, “Okay, we have this thing and we’re going to force fit it into this world that may or may not really exist, but we’re going to really get to know the people here that are going to be impacted and help them kind of bring out the most value from this.”
Christine Edwards: [00:06:35] Exactly, exactly. Bringing out the most value and really defining that value.
Lee Kantor: [00:06:42] And when you’re clear from that standpoint, when you have a clear kind of North Star, it helps everything move forward easier because, now, you all know what you’re aiming at.
Christine Edwards: [00:06:53] Exactly, yes, yes. And then, you know, when it comes to public sector projects, I mean, you hope that it’ll be that clean cut. Sometimes, it’s not. I know my story is probably similar to a lot of consultants where you want to get the project done on time and under budget. That’s important, yes; however, as a community engagement consultant, I try to get them to see that having the community on board in the beginning will make for a smooth project overall.
Lee Kantor: [00:07:25] So, now, are there some things you’ve learned on how to bid on and get government contracts, so you can share with our listeners?
Christine Edwards: [00:07:36] Sure. So, that is a question that I get a lot because 1000% of Amplify’s clientele is public sector. We work with cities, counties, universities. We work with the state. We have not worked on federal level contracts yet, but one of the things that I can share about working at the state and local level is the power of partnership. Really just looking to your peers, and look to your left and right, and see who can be your partner when it comes to servicing these contracts.
Christine Edwards: [00:08:18] So, a lot of how I got my foot in the door when we first started, Amplify was a subcontractor, because not a lot of projects are going to lead with community engagement. Maybe it’s a transportation project, or maybe it’s a utilities project, but there is a community engagement component. So, what I would say to listeners is think about who you can partner with and be a subcontractor. That’s a really big part of winning government contracts.
Lee Kantor: [00:08:48] So, now, what are some qualities of a good partner?
Christine Edwards: [00:08:52] Qualities of a good partner, I think just being open to the partnership, good communication, having a specific quality, like something that’s specific that you bring to the table that will make them keep coming back for more. I try to tell folks, you don’t have to be the jack of all trades and master of none. You really can master one thing. Even if you get sick of doing it, you will get really good at doing it. And for me, that is listening sessions, and focus groups and surveys.
Christine Edwards: [00:09:32] I cannot tell you how repetitive that can be at times, right? But we’ve really mastered this strategy of going out, talking to people, listening to folks. And so, you don’t have to be a master of everything. So, I think that’s a really good quality of a partner is that you have that one thing that people will keep coming back for you again and again. So, it would be that niche quality, good communication, but then also just being open to it in the first place and of course, being professional
Lee Kantor: [00:10:09] And then, being that go to resource is critical, right? Like you want to be the person they go, “Well, if we need this, we better call Christine”?
Christine Edwards: [00:10:17] Exactly. I listen. I will be your girl. Right now, we’re expanding our talent network to make sure that we can cover everything that we’ve been requested to do, making sure that we have facilitators that can work virtually and that can work in-person events, making sure that we have data scientists that can then take our listening session and focus group data and put it into reports for our client. So, I definitely want to be that go-to person for community engagement.
Lee Kantor: [00:10:52] And it sounds like you’ve started with something, and maybe the first iteration of this listening session that you created is a lot different than it is today, but you’ve kind of expanded upon it, and delivering more and more value and more and more kind of information based on those over time. You start getting really deep knowledge about this, and how to get the most out of it, and give your clients the most value from the investment they make in you.
Christine Edwards: [00:11:22] That is true. And when you say the word investment, the client is making an investment, but I also feel like I am making an investment when I think about hiring partners or hiring subcontractors that can do work that maybe I’m not necessarily good at. But as a leader, you need to be able to hire for those roles. And so, yeah, it’s a huge investment, especially when you’re good at one thing, like a focus group or a listening session, but if you need a data scientist, or you need somebody that can write reports or somebody that can do graphic design, that’s a huge investment too.
Lee Kantor: [00:12:02] Now, let’s talk a little bit about the importance of equity in this kind of community engagement. Can you talk about how maybe there’s a miss out there that’s happening and how a firm like yours can help?
Christine Edwards: [00:12:16] Sure. So, in terms of equity, I think equity and inclusion is just such a big topic right now, and it has been for a long time. But I think that organizations are finally starting to come around to building it into their policies and building it into their practices. And so, that is what we do is we help our clients reach diverse audiences, and we provide feedback opportunities for people who haven’t necessarily been invited to the table in the past on topics that impact everybody.
Christine Edwards: [00:12:56] These topics really impact everybody, but they’re not typically invited to the table. I’ll give you an example of, let’s say, there’s a huge transportation project coming on board. It’s important to talk to the people that use public transportation. It’s important to talk to people that maybe they don’t use public transportation, but maybe what they can add to the conversation is communication. Maybe they need signage in different languages. So, I try to go out into the community, and talk to people, and just provide a voice where there hasn’t been one historically in the past.
Christine Edwards: [00:13:34] But I mean, just from a broader standpoint, equity is just so important because you can’t be what you don’t see. And we get back to that definition of community, which is about belonging. And so, myself, being a black woman and being a black business owner, it’s so important for me to be able to go out into the community and have people see me and see my team because it provides that sense of belonging, I feel.
Intro: [00:14:03] And it’s so important because this goes to the heart of why this project even existed to begin with, right? Because it was built to serve the community. And like you said, the community is a lot larger, maybe than the people who are thinking about the word community. So, to have a voice for those people that aren’t obvious to certain people, it’s important. That way, everybody is included and everybody kind of benefits from this project.
Christine Edwards: [00:14:31] Exactly.
Lee Kantor: [00:14:33] So, now, talk about why it was important for you to get involved with the GWBC.
Christine Edwards: [00:14:40] So, once I first started my company, I knew that it would be important to get certified as a minority business owner and as a woman business owner because, again, having worked in local government, I saw the other side of it where we were hiring consultants and where we were making goals, MWBE goals on certain contracts, so I knew that would be an asset. And it turned out to be a huge asset. In 2019, I did get my MBE certification. And from that, I got my first contract. And so, and then after that, I said, “Okay. Well, I’ve got this formula down. Why don’t I go get my WBE certification.” And the only way I was able to do that was through WBENC and through the GWBC.
Christine Edwards: [00:15:38] So, it turned out to be a real awesome partnership. Not only did I get certified, but I also got access to a huge network of women business owners, going to different networking events, having opportunities for speaking engagements, and actually having opportunities to get into these databases to win contracts. I mean, it’s huge. So, it was one of the best decisions that I could have made. And I always tell people, if you want to get into the public sector or even the private sector, if you are a B2B business, you’ve got to get certified.
Lee Kantor: [00:16:18] And you mentioned earlier the importance of community and the importance of being a good partner. This, I’m sure, helps you vet good potential partners that you would, now, subcontract with or could be good subcontractors for you. It enhances and builds your network and your community.
Christine Edwards: [00:16:36] Oh, for sure. For sure. There’s one thing to say that you’re working with a woman-owned business or you’re working with a minority-owned business, but did they go the extra mile and get certified? That’s huge. It really shows people that you’re on top of your game and that you care deeply about this. Kind of going back to just the broader high level look, the more that we participate, the more that we win. So, the more of us that get certified, the goals will increase, and we’ll be able to contribute to this ecosystem. So, I always tell folks to get certified.
Lee Kantor: [00:17:18] So, now, what are the kind of the ideal projects you feel your firm is best suited for?
Christine Edwards: [00:17:27] Well, I try to niche as much as possible but, lately, we’ve been working on two or three main types of projects in the public sector. And that includes transportation. I know I’ve mentioned transportation a couple of times. Like transportation and mobility planning, local street design projects, and things of that nature. The second would be budget engagement. So, local and state level governments have been more transparent in how they’re budgeting and how they are spending taxpayer dollars. And so, now, there’s this focus on equity-based budgeting and participatory budgeting where the community actually gets to decide where that money is spent. So, that’s the second one.
Christine Edwards: [00:18:15] And then, the third one has been – and this is really interesting – public safety. So, there’s been this sort of magnifying glass on public safety and policing. And one of the projects that we worked on in 2020 was reimagining public safety in local police departments where we’ve held some listening sessions, and we talked with folks about where they would like to see those resources allocated and what their experience with the police has been. So, those are kind of my main three projects lately – transportation equity, public safety and public sector budgets. So, yeah, anything that has to do with the public sector, I could probably excel at but those three areas lately have been our focus.
Lee Kantor: [00:19:07] Is there a project you can share with our listeners that was the most rewarding for you where you felt, “Wow, we’re really making a difference”?
Christine Edwards: [00:19:15] I would say the one that really wowed me and just really hit close to home was our transportation project with the Charlotte Department of Transportation. We were actually able to earn some additional funding, so we could compensate people that participated. That was my first time actually having paid incentives for focus groups, and it just made a huge difference in the turnout, but I also feel like it made a huge difference in people’s willingness to be honest and give back.
Christine Edwards: [00:19:55] We were able to bring so many people to the table that we hadn’t heard from before. And I mean, you’re thinking, “Oh, well, of course they’re going to come because you’re paying them,” but I really think it just shows how much you value people, and it shows how much you value their time. So, that was the one that I loved. We were able to get, I think it was $25,000, in addition to our contract to do these focus groups. That 25K went directly to incentivizing people that came to the focus group. So, everyone received a gift card between $100 and $150 for their time.
Lee Kantor: [00:20:36] Wow, that is a great story, Christine. Congratulations on all the success. If somebody wants to learn more about your firm or maybe either partner with you or let you know of an opportunity, what is the website?
Christine Edwards: [00:20:51] It is amplifycharlotte.com.
Lee Kantor: [00:20:55] Amplifycharlotte.com. And they can get a hold of you or somebody on your team or learn more about what you got going on.
Christine Edwards: [00:21:01] Yeah, absolutely. Navigate to our website, amplifycharlotte.com. You can read about our projects, you can read about our team, and I welcome you to reach out.
Lee Kantor: [00:21:12] Well, thank you again for sharing your story. You’re doing such important work, and we appreciate you.
Christine Edwards: [00:21:17] Thank you so much. Lee, you’re awesome. I really appreciate the opportunity.
Lee Kantor: [00:21:22] All right. Well, thank you for playing along. You did a great job. All right. This is Lee Kantor. We will see all next time on GWBC Open for Business.
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