ExecMommyGroup, LLC Founder & Principal, Joelle Murchison combines inspiration and life experiences to facilitate dialogue and create strategic solutions to individual and organizational challenges. MetroHartford Alliance Content Manager Nan Price spoke with Joelle about her entrepreneurial evolution.
NAN PRICE: Give us a little background. How, when, and why did you launch your company?
JOELLE MURCHISON: I unofficially launched in fall 2018. I had just made the decision to step down from the inaugural Chief Diversity Officer role at the University of Connecticut and was working in a project role at UConn Hartford, supporting the director with some community and diversity and inclusion (D&I) related issues.
At the time, I was beginning to explore what it would mean to consult. So, I launched a website and began sharing information and participating in a variety of panels and events. I had done some consulting work with friends in the space, so I knew there was a network I could reach out to if I was interested in building my consulting practice.
In the spring of 2019, as my project was ending at UConn Hartford, I was dedicated to looking for another D&I role. I applied for a role in corporate and was a finalist. However, I had a strange feeling that I wouldn’t receive an offer. I remember a colleague asked me, “Do you want it?” And my answer was, “I can do it.” Her response was, “So, you don’t want it.”
Soon after, I got a call letting me know the company had decided to go with another candidate. I asked for feedback from the recruiter, who said, “Honestly, I don’t know what to tell you, you blew them away.”
From that moment, I knew that working in corporate wasn’t what I was supposed to be doing at that time. I had to consider what it would look like to be a full-time entrepreneur—but I wasn’t ready to say that out loud. When I received that feedback from the recruiter, I knew then, unequivocally, it was time for me to launch ExecMommyGroup. That was in May 2019.
NAN: How did you first build out the business and how has it evolved?
JOELLE: Initially, I had some clients who carried me through the summer and fall. I was still teaching at UConn and I learned about the opportunity to serve as the Executive Director of the Lawyers Collaborative for Diversity, which is a contract assignment. For most entrepreneurs, it’s critical to have a retained assignment; it gives you the freedom and flexibility to continue to move along with your plans and even be a little choosy.
I’ve built a niche in which I engage with organizations to help them navigate through their challenges to learn to leverage diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) as a part of their strategy—not a bolt on, not something that’s nice to have.
Because of experiences I’ve had in building and developing strategies at Travelers and UConn, I knew I could be helpful to organizations in all sectors. My clients are in higher ed, the private sector, nonprofit, and municipal government.
As far as evolution, I was recently thinking, this isn’t an interim kind of thing. When I initially launched the company, I thought I’d just consult for a while and then go back to corporate. Now I realize this is more of a longer-term strategy, although I’m not confident it will be forever. I’m coming up on two years in May, so it’s time to pivot and start thinking about scaling and what it really means to be a business.
NAN: How have all the events of 2020 impacted your business?
JOELLE: Last year, I attended the Women of Power conference Black Enterprise Magazine hosted March 5 – 8 in Las Vegas. I came back with a renewed sense of energy around marketing my company and positioning myself for new opportunities. The next week, the pandemic hit and it changed my whole mindset.
Initially, I couldn’t visualize how to be a consultant who depended on being in person in the midst of a pandemic. That first month was actually a blessing because it gave me some freedom and flexibility to figure out “the new normal.” I also have four children, so I was navigating and balancing many different things. I was still teaching at UConn and had to learn how to teach online when all the classes became virtual.
Also, I’d interviewed with the Lawyers Collaborative Board on March 12, 2020, which was the day before the world shut down. I’ve transitioned much of their work virtually and, in the process, really began to enhance and grow my business.
NAN: Let’s talk about that growth.
JOELLE: As soon as June 2020 came, my entire trajectory went through the roof. The opportunity to support organizations and help them create space for dialogue on the heels of the national uprising around George Floyd’s death was palpable.
Initially, personally, I was extremely impacted by everything that was happening. I had to contemplate how I felt as a Black woman in the United States. I was quickly able to pivot and pull together a framework I refer to as America’s Achilles’ Heel: Courageous Conversations on Race.
I was fortunate to share it with my network and deliver it to several organizations in June 2020, which created a genuine awareness and interest in going deeper within some of those organizations. That created opportunities for me to develop some longer-term relationships.
At some organizations, I even established retained relationships where I got to know the organization and its employees. We talked about their challenges and I helped them develop sustainable strategies to leverage DE&I with a lens around the national crisis we were experiencing—a double pandemic.
That became a huge transition for me as a still relatively new entrepreneur. I was very much operating as a sole proprietor without a lot of support. I’m just starting to put some systems in place. It’s helped me realize that I am running a business and that this consulting thing wasn’t just a little side gig. It really is my full-time job.
NAN: What other lessons have helped you grow as an entrepreneur?
JOELLE: I recently began interviewing for a project manager, someone who can partner with me and remove some of the financial and scheduling tasks from my plate so I can focus on delivering for my clients. I’m excited about that.
I think many entrepreneurs in their first year can tend to be frugal. You think you can’t spend any money on any thing or any one, because you’re so concerned about your profit margins—especially in your first year when you transition to full time. So, you work, work, work, work.
I’ve learned to turn work down because it just wasn’t possible as a one-person show to serve every organization interested in hiring me. The demand was that high. I feel very fortunate because I really didn’t have to market. My network by virtue of the organizations I’ve been involved in and colleagues I’ve worked with has provided all my opportunities. And, that is clearly a cost savings. I haven’t had to spend any money on marketing at all.
It also gives me a lot of hope and it makes my work that much more impactful, because I’m working in my community—certainly, there are some opportunities outside of Connecticut and this region. But I do feel somewhat humbled that my network in this region, when they want someone to come in, automatically thinks of me. That is probably the best referral process you can ever have.