Montina Young Portis is the founder and CEO of CIA Media Group. CIA Media Group is an award-winning, client-first digital agency founded in 2013 that helps businesses rethink business for the digital age and certified companies win more business.
With 50+ combined marketing years of experience, she and her team have produced thousands of successful digital, and corporate campaigns helping companies with growth strategies and digital marketing.
Certified woman and minority-owned, the company has established a model of integrity, excellence and many long-standing client relationships. Clients include Law Firms, Fortune 500 companies, government agencies, mid-sized companies, certified businesses and more.
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: [00:00:19] Lee Kantor here. Another episode of GWBC Open for Business. And today, we have with us Montina Young Portis. And she is with CIA Media Group. Welcome, Montina.
Montina Young Portis: [00:00:30] Hi, Lee. Thank you for having me.
Lee Kantor: [00:00:32] Well, before we get too far into things, tell us about CIA Media Group. How are you serving folks?
Montina Young Portis: [00:00:39] So, we help our clients rethink business for the digital age. And we actually help certified businesses win more business. And we do this by helping our larger clients identify and solve internal problem with creative and innovative digital transformation solution. And we help our certified businesses that are DBEs, MDEs, and of course, our WBEs win more business by helping them understand how to leverage their certification.
Lee Kantor: [00:01:08] So, you’re kind of a matchmaker for both sides of the equation there?
Montina Young Portis: [00:01:13] We’re not a matchmaker. So, we are a service-based business. So, we work with Fortune 500 companies. We work with law firms. We work with housing authorities. Actually, one of the largest housing authorities, the largest here in Atlanta. And we, actually, go and create a solution. So, it might be video production. It might be training, marketing, digital solutions. And then, for our certified businesses, we have a library of content available that helps them understand how to leverage the certification. And we, ourselves, actually do work with a lot of the primes and Fortune 500 companies. So, we do it from the standpoint that what we’re teaching, we’re also doing.
Lee Kantor: [00:01:53] Now, do you find that that’s a missed opportunity for some small to mid-sized companies that they’re not pursuing certification, and they’re missing out on some opportunities that are available to them?
Montina Young Portis: [00:02:04] Absolutely, absolutely. So, I am a huge advocate for minorities, women and veterans being certified because it opens up so many doors and pathways to opportunity. Others that are in business like you, one of the things I love about being certified and being part of the Greater Women’s Business Council is that they have opportunities for us to network. And so, typically, outside of being certified, if I had a competitor in my industry, we wouldn’t work together. But through GWBC, when I have a competitor, we’re looking for opportunities to work together because the corporate opportunities are sometimes large enough where we can’t handle them by ourselves, and the corporate supplier diversity professional like to see us working together. They call it WBE to WBE spend. So, they want to see us spending our dollars with other women-owned businesses.
Lee Kantor: [00:02:56] Now, how did you learn about certifications? And how did you begin leveraging those certifications to grow CIA Media Group?
Montina Young Portis: [00:03:04] So, for me, my company was certified women-owned in 2013. And I was informed but, unfortunately, I was confused, I was frustrated, I had no idea how to leverage the certification. I wasted a lot of money, time and resources. And this was actually when I started my company back in 2013. We didn’t have any money to lose. I walked away from the largest IT financial company in the country. So, I really wanted to use my dollar wisely.
Montina Young Portis: [00:03:30] 2018, I actually had to get certified to participate in an event. My business was transformed because I picked the certification that was right for my business. I ended up cracking the code, one tier, one supplier of the year up to one million through the Georgia Minority Supplier Development Council and was a nominee for the Lace Awards through the Greater Women’s Business Council. So, I knew that the certifications were out there, but until my business was more mature, I didn’t truly understand how to leverage them.
Montina Young Portis: [00:04:00] But once I did, I used them to connect with other business owners, like I said earlier, that can guide me through the challenges and actually celebrate my successes. I use them to meet corporate suppliers that are actually interested in procuring my services. And then, I use them to build relationships, which resulted in an invitation to the White House in March of 2020. And actually, I was identified as a game changer in the entrepreneurial fields. So, leveraging certifications, minority-owned, women-owned really helped me scale my business.
Lee Kantor: [00:04:31] Now, do you think that some of the reasons that people don’t pursue these certifications, they think it’s too complicated, or there’s too many forms to fill out, or it’s too expensive? Like, what are some of the … Like why wouldn’t everybody kind of take advantage of these opportunities that are there?
Montina Young Portis: [00:04:48] Well, everyone cannot take advantage of the opportunities, which is why I like being a certified woman-owned minority business because certifications are really out there to help level the playing field. And like I said, many people are afraid to apply for the certifications. And money, of course, comes into it. But what I love about the WBENC or GWBC certification, which is a woman-owned, it’s based on your sales. So, it’s based on your revenue. So, I think the certification can be $300, and then it goes up in scale. So, $300 to get in front of a Fortune 500 supplier diversity professional isn’t a lot of money.
Montina Young Portis: [00:05:27] And then, on the federal level, the certifications are free. They are absolutely free. You can be certified woman-owned, veteran-owned. And then, also, one that’s available for everyone, regardless of color or minority status, is a hub zone. You just have to have your business in, at least, 75% of the employees that work within your business in an under-utilized served area. So, there are opportunities available for everyone to take advantage of these.
Montina Young Portis: [00:05:57] But there is a lot of paperwork, I will tell you. We have a lot of certification – federal, national, state, local – and the disadvantaged business enterprise is by far the most difficult certification to get, but it can be one of the most lucrative. There is an $11 billion, let’s call it MMIP Program in the State of Georgia. It’s the largest in the southeast. There are 23% DBE goals. So, for the DVE that take advantage of that, which in the State of Georgia, at the time, in 2020, is about 3000 but not a lot of people. There are some vast opportunities available. But a lot of apprehension of all the paperwork, and that’s one of the things my company does, actually, for free. We have free videos about that. We walk them through the paperwork because it’s something that they can do themselves. But we encourage people that can to leverage certifications to grow and scale their businesses.
Lee Kantor: [00:06:57] But this isn’t something that, “I’m going to get certified, I pay the money, I fill up it other forms. And then, I just sit back. And then, people just keep calling me up for business,” right? You still have to be proactive, and network, and get yourself out there.
Montina Young Portis: [00:07:12] Business is always about building relationships. And it’s funny because even though with my company, we do a lot of marketing, digital strategy, going and training, helping companies, specifically restaurants, we don’t work with restaurants at the time, but it’s something specific. I’m going to give you an example about rethinking business for the digital age because a lot of companies don’t understand how to think about their business as a digital business. I was invited to Google last year in 2019. And I went through, and they said every business is a digital business.
Montina Young Portis: [00:07:44] So, during COVID-19, when we’re going to pick up food, three things that I often wonder why I’m not asked when I go to get food is, number one, get my email address. Pick that up. You are a digital business. Collect texts, the cell phone number, so you can text message me. Do I have dietary preferences? I tend to be a very routine person. I like to order the same things. And so, am I celebrating something? So, now, as a digital business, you’ve captured me. There might be a day that I don’t want to cook, or there’s a special occasion. Now, you can reach back out to me.
Montina Young Portis: [00:08:21] So, again, that’s helping these companies rethink the business. And once you get certified, you still have to go out and do the work. But the best part about doing the work, with GWBC, I’m on the marketing committee, we have a committee set up. So, again, you can connect with other people in your industry. I’m also with the Georgia Minority Supplier Development Council, GMSDC. And on there, I’m a chair for one of the minority groups for professional services. We have monthly meetings available.
Montina Young Portis: [00:08:48] So, once you’re certified, there are opportunities that you do need to know that you need to go out and do the work. You need to be the absolute best that you can be in your industry. And you want to make sure that you have a website present, LinkedIn present because that’s where the supplier diversity professionals, government professionals and other professionals in your industry are. And make sure that you’re out there for the people who know what you do and how you do it.
Lee Kantor: [00:09:13] And that’s great advice for someone that is new to joining these associations or getting involved. You can’t just pay your membership dues and just think you’re involved. You have to volunteer, take leadership roles, demonstrate your skills by actually doing some work in front of people that matter.
Montina Young Portis: [00:09:32] Absolutely. And then. Again, it’s all about relationships. Even virtually, reaching out and building relationships because just because you’re the best at what you can do doesn’t mean that you’ll get the business.
Lee Kantor: [00:09:44] Now, do you have any advice for the small business owner that is maybe going through this pandemic, and they are at a lost that they feel like, “Oh, my normal business, I did it a certain way that I can’t do it now, and I’m going to have to make some changes”? Do you have advice for that person to help them rethink maybe some of the assets they have or how to remarket themselves?
Montina Young Portis: [00:10:10] First, just let go and breathe. I’ve been in business since 2013, and none of us have seen anything like we’re experiencing now. Before this, I worked at the largest IT financial company in the country and, ironically, I worked in the Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery Department. So, we were planning for a pandemic 10 years ago. We were planning for things like this but never at this scale. I have a friend that’s done over $10 million easily in her business. It’s the salon business. And I thought, how does she now transform her business?
Montina Young Portis: [00:10:46] And the biggest thing, I think, that business owners need to understand right now while we’re going through this that will get through this is to use their intellectual property. One of the reasons we expanded CIA Media Group to help certified businesses understand how to leverage their certification and add that as a service is because we saw that there were so many business owners that were struggling in that space. So, intellectual property. How did you start your business? What did you do as you grew your business? What would you have done differently in your business?
Montina Young Portis: [00:11:19] Over the past two years, we actually built up our business credit. And I just focused on it, put out 30 to 40 free videos on YouTube about it, and come to find out, so many people were coming to me that we were invited to a CEO school to actually start teaching business credit. So, that’s the advice I would give. Right now is the time to be using intellectual property, putting out content, making sure that you’re seen as that leader and that authority, and answering the question, and seeing right now if there is an opportunity for you to charge for that as a consulting service.
Lee Kantor: [00:11:56] So, creating content that’s built around maybe your day-to-day work that you’re doing that, sometimes, business owners take for granted a lot of their intellectual property. They don’t kind of appreciate that other people might not only appreciate learning from them, but also you might be able to charge for it. Is that what you’re saying?
Montina Young Portis: [00:12:17] Absolutely, absolutely. I actually spoke with the author of Boss Life, Paul Downs, which is what, my favorite business book, and we actually discussed that. He wrote this book, he was actually blogging. And literally, it was a blog in day-to-day operations. And he runs this phenomenal business that does work for the government. The other thing that I want encourage small businesses to do is to look at certifications one, but you don’t have to be certified to do business with corporations or the government.
Montina Young Portis: [00:12:45] But the second part of that is the government is not going out of business. They’re spending dollars. They’re spending a lot of money right now. Department of Transportation, I see construction going on. So, again, there are opportunities around us that we just really need to open up our eyes to see. If I run a restaurant, how can I provide catering for a construction site? So, again, those are just other opportunities. And again, how can I now work with another small business that’s in my space?
Lee Kantor: [00:13:17] Now, a lot of times, businesses have plateaus where it just seems like they’re just running in place. Do you have any advice or some strategy that can help them get their business to the next level?
Montina Young Portis: [00:13:32] Well, one is to reach out to your small business development center. They have been instrumental in our business and our growth for over a decade when I had a hobby that I started that I wanted to turn into a business before I had a business. I’m also on the advisory board for the Small Business Development Center in Georgia. And I can tell you, they truly do care. But I did want to mention, with that right there, there’s eight functional areas. I love to read, I love business books, and actually talk about these books a lot of my LinkedIn. And there’s eight functional areas from one of my favorite books called Simple Numbers, Straight Talk, Big Profit. And as a company, we want to look at those areas. The CEO, sales, marketing operations, IT, finance, customer service, and your HR function.
Montina Young Portis: [00:14:22] And with that right there, that strategy, you want to think about how you can leverage and look at those functions as you’re growing and scaling your business to the next level. What do you need to change? What do you need to assign to someone else? What are you doing that you shouldn’t be doing? I actually love that one, making the money as the CEO. I didn’t like my bookkeeping function. I had to make sure that I was not handling that. Again, even for us, doing a lot of marketing, we then outsourced our marketing to another company because we were too close to it. So, again, thinking about the function, especially right now that we can outsource or, at least, the future thing about outsourcing to someone else that can do it better.
Lee Kantor: [00:15:04] Now, you mentioned earlier the importance of having a way to contact your customers, whether it’s e-mail, text. Do you have any tips on how to create a mechanism that captures those kind of emails and texts in an elegant, maybe non-salesy way?
Montina Young Portis: [00:15:24] Well, it depends. So, for the type of companies I work with, I’m not interested so much in capturing email. So, a lot of internet marketing teaches, “Hey, you want to go around and have this free offer?” And it’s a free … I have a meeting coming up today with a large company that, I mean, if I name them, it doesn’t operate that way. So, the best advice that I would give for true business owners … I shouldn’t say true business but for business owners, especially, leveraging certification would be to invest in a CRM, which is a client relationship management tool. The one that I do like … well, I’m not going to endorse. Of course, I won’t say. But there is a client relationship management tool, Google CRM, but that’s where you should be putting email addresses then. In every three months, every quarter, just go in and send out an email. I mean, a lot of this, when you’re dealing with large corporations, when you’re dealing with federal agencies, needs to be authentic. So, it’s not something that you want to automate. It needs to be authentic.
Lee Kantor: [00:16:37] And that goes back to your earlier advice about the relationships matter and how to kind of stay top of mind by nurturing those relationships.
Montina Young Portis: [00:16:47] Yes.
Lee Kantor: [00:16:49] Now, if somebody wanted to learn more about CIA Media Group and have more substantive conversation, what’s the website?
Montina Young Portis: [00:16:57] You can visit us at ciamediagroup.com. And I am active on LinkedIn. I love having conversations on LinkedIn. So, you can just search Montina Portis, and I’m going to come right up.
Lee Kantor: [00:17:07] Good stuff. Well, thank you so much for sharing your story today, Montina.
Montina Young Portis: [00:17:11] Thank you. And again, I’m proud to be a woman-owned, minority-owned business. The Greater Women’s Business Council is absolutely amazing and has monthly workshops and opportunities available to help women grow in scale their businesses.
Lee Kantor: [00:17:25] Good stuff. Thank you again.
Montina Young Portis: [00:17:28] Thank you.
Lee Kantor: [00:17:29] All right. This is Lee Kantor. We will see you next time on GWBC Radio.
About Your Host
Roz Lewis is President & CEO – Greater Women’s Business Council (GWBC®), a regional partner organization of the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC) and a member of the WBENC Board of Directors.
Previous career roles at Delta Air Lines included Flight Attendant, In-Flight Supervisor and Program Manager, Corporate Supplier Diversity.
During her career she has received numerous awards and accolades. Most notable: Atlanta Business Chronicle’s 2018 Diversity & Inclusion award; 2017 inducted into the WBE Hall of Fame by the American Institute of Diversity and Commerce and 2010 – Women Out Front Award from Georgia Tech University.
She has written and been featured in articles on GWBC® and supplier diversity for Forbes Magazine SE, Minority Business Enterprise, The Atlanta Tribune, WE- USA, Minorities and Women in Business magazines. Her quotes are published in The Girls Guide to Building a Million Dollar Business book by Susan Wilson Solovic and Guide Coaching by Ellen M. Dotts, Monique A. Honaman and Stacy L. Sollenberger. Recently, she appeared on Atlanta Business Chronicle’s BIZ on 11Alive, WXIA to talk about the importance of mentoring for women.
In 2010, Lewis was invited to the White House for Council on Women and Girls Entrepreneur Conference for the announcement of the Small Business Administration (SBA) new Women Owned Small Business Rule approved by Congress. In 2014, she was invited to the White House to participate in sessions on small business priorities and the Affordable Care Act.
Roz Lewis received her BS degree from Florida International University, Miami, FL and has the following training/certifications: Certified Purchasing Managers (CPM); Certified Professional in Supplier Diversity (CPSD), Institute for Supply Management (ISM)of Supplier Diversity and Procurement: Diversity Leadership Academy of Atlanta (DLAA), Negotiations, Supply Management Strategies and Analytical Purchasing.
Connect with Roz on LinkedIn.
The Greater Women’s Business Council (GWBC®) is at the forefront of redefining women business enterprises (WBEs). An increasing focus on supplier diversity means major corporations are viewing our WBEs as innovative, flexible and competitive solutions. The number of women-owned businesses is rising to reflect an increasingly diverse consumer base of women making a majority of buying decision for herself, her family and her business.
GWBC® has partnered with dozens of major companies who are committed to providing a sustainable foundation through our guiding principles to bring education, training and the standardization of national certification to women businesses in Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina.