T. Renee’ Smith, CEO of iSuccess Consulting, Inc. is the secret weapon behind many small businesses and top corporations scaling and positioning themselves as an industry leader. Her super power is strategy.
T. Renee’ has helped raise more than $30 million in capital for small businesses and managed multi-million dollar budgets for diverse programming with Fortune 500 corporations.
iSuccess is an international business consulting firm helping clients in the corporate, government, and non-profit sectors in five key areas:
1. Strategic Planning
2. Supplier Development
3. Diversity and Inclusion
4. Board Governance
5. High-Performance Teams
Past and present clients include Delta Air Lines, British Telecom (Bahamas), Southern Company, and hundreds of emerging and established small businesses.
For over 25 years T. Renee’ has taught small businesses how to grow a sustainable business utilizing her CEO Life® Build Framework. She shares her step-by-step strategies in her best-selling book The CEO Life: A Holistic Blueprint to Scale Your Business and Life and through her online business development programs and workshops.
T. Renee has been featured in numerous local and national publications including Entrepreneur, Cosmopolitan, and The Atlanta Tribune.
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: [00:00:15] Lee Kantor here. Another episode of GWBC Open for Business. And this is going to be a good one. Today, we have with us T. Renee Smith with iSuccess Consulting. Welcome.
Renee Smith: [00:00:29] Hello. Hello. Thank you for having me.
Lee Kantor: [00:00:32] I’m so excited to get caught up with what you’ve got going on. Tell us about iSuccess Consulting. How are you serving folks?
Renee Smith: [00:00:39] Well, iSuccess Consulting, it is a strategic planning boutique management consulting firm. We work with clients on diversity, equity inclusion, supplier development, and leadership development and training. And so, we are worldwide working with corporations, government, and small businesses.
Lee Kantor: [00:00:57] So, now, how did you get into this line of work? Were you always kind of passionate about this side of business?
Renee Smith: [00:01:02] So, it’s funny because I remember I started my first company when I was 19 and I was interning with Coca-Cola Enterprise and AT&T. And I had great internships with them for about three or four years. And I found myself inside these companies at such a young age looking at their strategy, what they needed to do, how they should change it, what pivots they need to make in order for the businesses or the units to be more successful. So, I think I just came here really liking strategy and leadership development. So, I really kind of fell into it. I don’t think I woke up and I said this is what I want to do. I just was placed in a situation. I saw a need. And I had innate skill sets that I developed. And I just love working with clients and helping them achieve their goals.
Lee Kantor: [00:01:48] Now, when you’re working with the clients – and I would imagine this is clients of all kinds of shapes and sizes – is strategy something that they spend, maybe, too little time on? It just kind of happens. And instead of, like, being methodical and mindful and kind of having a purpose around that, it just kind of occurs.
Renee Smith: [00:02:07] It is. So, for most clients, there is not proactive. It’s very reactive. So, when something happens and things are falling apart, they’re not making the kind of revenue that they want to make, then that’s when they look down and say, “Hey, what is it that I need to do?” So, that’s most clients. You do have some that sit down and they will plan their strategy for one year or three years in advance. But most of the time with the clients, whether it’s a government, corporation, smaller and mid-sized business, it happens when everything is falling apart or they’re not receiving the results that they want.
Lee Kantor: [00:02:40] And do you find that you’re spending some time with these clients in just kind of getting to the heart of why they exist? Like, what’s their big why? What is, you know, their true north? What is the the outcome that they wish to influence and help people attain? Is that part of your work?
Renee Smith: [00:02:58] Absolutely. It is. And that’s all within the strategy. Really looking at what’s your vision for your company, what’s your mission, what’s your purpose, what is your promise that you have to your clients. So, I think a lot of times, companies are focusing on revenue or money. They’re focusing on how can they grow their revenue. Or they’re focusing on how they can streamline their operations to save money. And so, what we have to say is your revenue, all of that really is tied back to what’s your vision, what’s your purpose, what’s your mission, what is it that you’re doing.
Renee Smith: [00:03:27] And so, as companies get larger, they kind of a lot of times lose that north star of why am I doing this? What is the purpose behind it? And they’re focusing more on the executable actions or the technical items. So, one of the very first things that we do is, we sit down and we, of course, do a SWOT analysis to figure out what’s working well and what’s not. But then, we say, why are you in business? Why are you doing this? What is the heart and the soul of this business? And what is it that you give to your clients? How you serve them and offer them value, whether it’s a product or service?
Lee Kantor: [00:04:02] And I think that that information is critical, especially in times of kind of chaos like we’re in now, where there’s a lot of uncertainty and there’s a lot of disruption. If you’re not clear about those things, you could be kind of devastated. It’s like if you’re one line of business is now disrupted and you don’t have a true north of why you even exist, it could be kind of an end game for you, like it could be over. But if you really are kind of clear, then you have kind of other ways to serve people and then you can survive.
Renee Smith: [00:04:37] And I think that’s a great point. And I think in addition to people understanding or businesses understanding their purpose and their north star, they have to understand what are they good at. A lot of businesses, they get caught up in the shiny object syndrome or the me too syndrome and really looking at other businesses or looking at what is successful. And then, they try to implement that in their business. And that may not be what they’re good at. That may not be part of their purpose or part of what they’re supposed to be doing. And so, that’s what we always have to say, you don’t just chase the money. You really have to chase the purpose. You have to chase what you’re good at.
Renee Smith: [00:05:14] And so, I think in these times, you’ve had so many businesses that have had to pivot because their purpose or their service or product that they provide because of, you know, everything that’s going on now with the pandemic, that is just not a need for that. And so, they’re having to go back and really take a hard look and say, what are my skill sets, what are my expertise, what are my experience, my core capabilities. And align that with what the market needs right now and what the market is willing to pay for and pivot their business to ensure that they’re able to stay alive and to stay afloat. So, it is about your purpose as well as understanding your skills, your expertise, your capabilities.
Lee Kantor: [00:05:53] And I would think that when you start working with a client, then you kind of bring in these fresh eyes and, maybe, can educate them and see things that, maybe, it’s obvious to you. But they can’t really see because they’re so far in the weeds and maybe they’ve gone on this kind of rabbit hole tangent that wasn’t really part of their north star that you’re able to say, “Hey, remember. This is why you started this. This is what you used to do. Why don’t we get back to kind of some of the fundamentals?”
Renee Smith: [00:06:23] And you’re absolutely right. And one of the biggest things for us is, when you bring in an outside consultant to work with you, they’re able to see your blind spots. You’re so in it, you’re so inundated in it, you’re so emotionally attached to your business, and you know the amount of hours that you and your team are putting in your business. It’s difficult sometimes just to be able to step away emotionally and detach and really look at it and say what is the best for the bottom line or what’s the best for the direction of our business.
Renee Smith: [00:06:53] So, when we come in, we have a proprietary process that we take all of our clients through that helps us to be able to identify what are their blind spots, what are the areas of opportunities, what are their threats, what are their weaknesses. And be able to present it to them or help them through this discovery process so that, for themselves, they can look at their business objectively, look at the industry objectively, and not make emotional decisions. We have to look at data or we have to look at past history, and then we have to look at the direction that the industry is going in to make sure that we’re making sound decisions for businesses to be able to be sustainable. And when you’re in the business, sometimes it can be very difficult for you to do that because it’s your heart, and it’s your soul, and it’s your baby.
Lee Kantor: [00:07:37] Now, when you’re working with clients and you kind of agree on, “Okay. This is the true north or north star. And this is how we’re going to go about this.” How do you kind of – I don’t know what the right word is – but kind of encourage them to take risks and to try things that, maybe, they hadn’t done because there is a chance of failing? But if you’re not really pushing, you’re never going to really get to the next level. So, it’s a balance of you got to, you know, do the stuff you’ve always done, but you also kind of have to go out there and take some risks in order to really see what you can become.
Renee Smith: [00:08:13] That is such a great point. I think one of the biggest things that we do for our clients is we help them to understand what is your goal, what is your endgame, your end result, what is it that you want to achieve. So, once we’re clear on what the angle and the end objective is, now we’re able to backtrack and figure out what is the best way to reach that goal. And we do it by looking at the risk, but in mitigating the risk.
Renee Smith: [00:08:37] So, I think a lot of people, when they think about business ownership, they think that these small business owners, they just are adverse to risk. They just take all kinds of risks. They just leap. No. Most small business owners, they take calculated risk. And so, they look and say what is the risk involved? How will this risk affect my business if it works out well, if it does not work out well? So, we have to go through all the different case scenarios and then we can make decisions to figure out how do we mitigate that risk before we actually take a step forward. Because if it’s a risk that is going to collapse your business, if it doesn’t work out, because there’s always an opportunity that when you’re doing something new that is not going to work out. So, you have to take calculated risk and you have to go through the process of figuring out what’s the worst case scenario, what’s the best case scenario, and make sure that you prepare for either case.
Lee Kantor: [00:09:30] Now, in your career, has there been a risk you took that maybe didn’t work out that you’re willing to share?
Renee Smith: [00:09:35] Oh, my gosh. A lot of them leave when I tell you. I think one of the biggest risks that I took, and it was probably about 15 years ago, it ended my company in bankruptcy. I had to file business bankruptcy. I lost everything. It was crazy because the same day the shares were coming to evict me out of my office space was the same day that my company was featured in Entrepreneur Magazine as one of the top rising companies. But I had taken a risk and gotten into a business partnership with someone that offered complimentary services to the business that I did. And I did not do my proper vetting. I did not do my risk calculation. I didn’t go through the best case, worst case scenario. And as a result of not doing that, I ended up being in a business relationship with someone where we didn’t have the same north star. We didn’t have the same values. And as a result of it, my company closed and I had to start all over again.
Renee Smith: [00:10:38] But I think that was one of the biggest lessons that I learned is that, yes, you can take risks, but it has to be calculated risk. And you have to do your due diligence to determine if this is a risk worth taking or not. And that particular instance, it wasn’t. But I looked at it not as a failure. I just look at it as that was an opportunity for me to learn on really how to do proper risk mitigation. The same thing that I do with my clients today.
Lee Kantor: [00:11:04] Right. And that’s the lesson. I don’t like to look at things as failures or successes. But there are lessons that we can move forward and help other people so they don’t have to make that mistake. And I’m a big believer in, with the right partner, you can do anything. But you have to kind of do your due diligence. You know, it’s a trust but verify kind of thinking I think works best.
Renee Smith: [00:11:30] Absolutely. I think it’s a combination when you’re a business owner of your intuition, your gut, as well as doing your research and proper vetting and due diligence. I think it’s a combination of both.
Lee Kantor: [00:11:41] Now, recently, you wrote a book, The CEO Life. Tell us about what kind of compelled you to do that. Was this a way for you to answer a lot of questions you kept getting over and over again?
[00:11:56] You know what? I wrote it for two reasons. Number one, absolutely. Yes. Because the businesses that I was working with and even the corporate or government clients that I had in dealing with their suppliers, it was always the same questions. And so, I would find myself answering the same question over and over and over again. And so, I wanted to create a manual or playbook, as I call it, of how you can be successful in building and growing your business. That’s number one.
Renee Smith: [00:12:23] And then, number two, I think that I was at a period in my life where I was working to figure out how can you have success in both your personal life as well as in your business? So, I’m married with kids. And I think, what so many entrepreneurs or small business owners deal with that they don’t talk about it, and even anybody, is, how can I have success in both and still be sane and not be stressed out? And so, I went on a journey of looking for business books out there that taught me both of them. They taught me the business savvy and how to have success in my personal life. And I didn’t find it. And so, of course, as any entrepreneur would do, I wrote the book. I wrote it myself.
Lee Kantor: [00:13:05] And is there anything you can share from the book? Is there anything you learned, like maybe a common denominator or maybe a myth about CEOs that you want to share?
Renee Smith: [00:13:15] So, I learned a lot. And I think one of the biggest things that I learned is really what is required in order to be successful. So, I think that I often talk about that you have to have the right mindset, you have to have strategy, you have to have accountability. But when I was researching and looking at different CEOs that was successful in all kinds of industry, whether it was in corporate, small business, et cetera, they really had several things in common. Number one was consistency. I think number two was discipline. And number three was perseverance. And that’s in any area.
Renee Smith: [00:13:51] So, whether you’re looking at mastering marketing in business, whether it’s strategy, whether it’s supply chain, regardless of what it is, you have to have those three areas because business is not going to always work out the way that you want it to work. And I think if most people understood in the beginning what was required to run a successful business, most people would not even start one. They just wouldn’t do it. And so, I think that people have to understand that it just takes discipline, consistency, and perseverance, regardless of what you’re doing, regardless of what industry you’re in, you’re going to get knocked down, and you have to get right back up.
Lee Kantor: [00:14:26] Now, part of your journey, I would imagine, that you’ve had people that have helped you, whether it may be mentors or maybe it was just folks that were encouraging and, maybe, opened some doors for you. Can you talk about the importance of kind of aligning yourself with the right folks?
Renee Smith: [00:14:44] I think that that is everything in life, whether it’s in business or in your career. You are a sum total. And I’ve heard this quote and I just love it, “You’re the sum total of the five people that are around you.” So, if you don’t like where you are in your life, you have to really look at the five people that you’re in most contact with that you talk to or that you’re around, because that is who you are. That’s who you’re going to become. So, one of the biggest things that has accelerated the success in my business has been being around the right mentors because they’re able to lessen your learning curve. Because they’re several steps ahead of you, they’re able to help you avoid pitfalls, they’re able to see the blind spots that you’re not able to see, and they’re able to help to guide you.
Renee Smith: [00:15:31] And so, I remember as early as when I started my first company, I always had mentors. And initially when I didn’t have the access to mentors, so I didn’t have the money to become a part of a mentorship program. Books, videos, they mentored me. And then, as I got older and got more seasoned in business and I was in different circles, then I was able to have one-on-one contact with the mentors. So, I say to anybody, regardless of where you are in your business, you have to find a right mentor. And I think sometimes people have a misconception about what a mentor is. I think a lot of people think that it’s just going to be a person that’s going to pour into your life. But a mentoring relationship, it is a mutually beneficial relationship where you’re helping to pour into their life. You’re helping them as far as in supporting and achieving their goals. And they’re doing exactly the same thing for you. So, mentorship, the right kind of mentorship, really is a two way street. And it’s not just a one way where you’re doing all of the taking and they’re doing all of the giving.
Lee Kantor: [00:16:34] Right. And that’s something that young people, especially, should take into consideration. It can’t always be just about them. There has to be some give back in there. And the give back doesn’t have to be anything monumental. But just being there and listening and doing your best to open doors or whatever you can do and add some insight. It doesn’t have to be like, “Oh, I have to do it in the same dollar amount or value wise.” It doesn’t have to be that. It’s just really in your heart. If you have that heart of helping and wanting to give, that goes a long way.
Renee Smith: [00:17:08] And it can be something simple. “Are you doing an event that I can come and that I can volunteer and give my time?” “I was reading this article and I thought about you, so I wanted to send it to you.” So, it could be something that is very, very simple. It’s just letting them know that you’re appreciative of them taking their time to mentor you and anything that they need from you that you are available to help.
Lee Kantor: [00:17:31] Right. Now, let’s talk a little bit about GWBC. How has that organization helped you in your career?
Renee Smith: [00:17:38] Well, GWBC is an amazing organization. I’m a woman entrepreneur, of course, woman business owner. And so, to be surrounded by other like-minded women, I think that in itself. Because you’re in a company and you’re around people that want to be successful in business, that they’re going to put the hard work in, in order to be successful. And, also, the resources that they have as far as the training, the introduction to corporate buyers, for you to be able to talk about your products and services, I think that it is invaluable. And so, I would encourage any woman business owner out there to become a part of GWBC. Oftentimes, we don’t find the support that we’re looking for in our family, or maybe not necessarily, even our friends, about somebody that can understand the journey. Because I think that being a business owner, I always say it is a spiritual journey because of the amount of time and effort and commitment that is required. And so, just to be in a space around other CEOs and other business owners, I think it is invaluable because sometimes our family and friends, not that they don’t support us, they just don’t understand the journey and what is required to run a business.
Lee Kantor: [00:18:51] Right. You had mentioned it earlier, these blind spots. If you have folks out there that are along in the same journey, maybe not on the same exact road you’re on, but it might be a road that has similar pitfalls. They can really open your eyes to things that you don’t know. I mean, you don’t know what you don’t know most of the time. So, if you have somebody that’s a little ahead of you in this journey and they can go, “Hey, watch out for this over here. This can bite you.” That’s helpful. And it’s great to have an organization where that’s what you’re surrounded by. It’s very collaborative.
Renee Smith: [00:19:24] And I think that it’s so important, too, because it is a diverse group of businesses, a diverse group of industries. So, a lot of times we will attract people that are in similar industries to us. They may think similar to us. So, I think when you’re part of GWBC, it just opens your mind up and it opens up your exposure to so many different type of businesses, so many different types of industries to expand you, to stretch you, to help you to grow as a business owner, and to help you grow as an individual.
Lee Kantor: [00:19:55] Now, I know you work with companies of all sizes in lots of different industries, but if you were to give advice to, maybe, a young person that’s starting their own thing, what kind of advice along the lines of strategy is kind of the low hanging fruit that if they get this right, they’re going to have a better chance of success?
Renee Smith: [00:20:16] I’ll get to the strategy in a minute, but I think the one thing that I would say to a young person in reference to business is, be clear and understand why you want to be a business owner. If it’s that you want it because of money or you want it because you just want to set your own hours, then those are not the right reasons for you to go into entrepreneurship. So, I would, number one, say, you’ve got to be very clear on what your reasoning is for going into business. Because for most business owners, the amount of time that it takes for you to build a successful business is way more than the initial payoff. So, I know a lot of people, they start businesses on Monday and by Friday they want to be, you know, making six figures or a seven figure business. And so, it doesn’t work like that.
Renee Smith: [00:21:07] So, number one, do you have the discipline, the consistency, and the perseverance to go through what is required in order to build a successful business? And if you have that, then one of the first things that you need to do is you need to develop your strategy. You need to be crystal clear on what your mission is, what your vision is, what you value, and what you expect from the business, what’s the outcome that you want for the business so that you’ll know how you want to build. Is it something that you’re building to create as a legacy for your family? Do you want to sell it? Or do you want to just have a business that pays you enough where you’re able to work for yourself? Because depending upon which path you take, it’s going to be different things required to build a sustainable business.
Lee Kantor: [00:21:53] Now, when it comes to your clients, what is the pain that they’re having right before they hire you and your team?
Renee Smith: [00:22:01] So, it really, really depends. And I’ll tell you the top three. Number one is dealing with a team, is dealing with a dysfunctional team. So, you have a leader that’s trying to achieve certain goals or trying to have a collaborative spirit within their team. And for whatever reason, they are not able to have that. And so, one of the biggest things is a team that’s in crisis, as I like to call it. That’s number one. Number two is, when we deal with diversity, equity and inclusion, and accessibility work, that is where they’re in crisis because some event has happened that has brought awareness and attention that their organization is not as diverse and equitable as they thought that it was. And, oftentimes, this is something that is negative, that has been leaked to the press, employees have complained about, or there has been some negative ramification. So, that’s number two.
Renee Smith: [00:23:00] And then, number three would be where companies that they have not achieved their goals, whether it’s their annual goals, quarterly goals, et cetera. And so, a VP or someone is looking at them and they’re saying, “Why have you not achieve these goals? Why have you not reached these benchmarks?” And so, they’ll bring us in to do a full strategic plan and assessment to identify those blind spots as to why they have not achieve those goals and put in a plan of action to ensure that they meet those goals.
Lee Kantor: [00:23:34] Well, if somebody wanted to learn more, have a conversation with you or somebody on your team, or even get a hold of your book, what is the best way to find you?
Renee Smith: [00:23:43] Okay. So, first, you can find me at my website, which is isuccessconsulting.com. That’s isuccessconsulting.com. Or you can reach me on any of the social media platforms at iSuccess Consult. That’s I-S-U-C-C-E-S-S Consult. And The CEO Life is available where all books are sold, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, anywhere books are sold, you can find The CEO Life.
Lee Kantor: [00:24:10] Good stuff. Well, thank you so much for sharing your story. You’re doing such important work and we appreciate you.
Renee Smith: [00:24:16] Thank you so much for having me on. And this is amazing. Thank you for doing this for GWBC.
Lee Kantor: [00:24:21] All right. This is Lee Kantor. We’ll see you all next time on GWBC Open for Business.
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.