This interview original appeared on LADYBOSSBLOGGER.COM.
Renée T. Walker has literally honed her business, branding, communication and leadership expertise through executive positions with multi-million and billion-dollar brands in the private, public and nonprofit sectors. Following nearly three decades of communications and leadership experience, she launched her own strategic communications consultancy, RENEE WALKER & ASSOCIATES (RW&A), in 2012. Renée is on a mission to help entrepreneurs, executives and organizations amplify their brands to achieve more and reach higher success. In 2014, RW&A achieved 300% revenue growth and is poised for continued growth.
With her enthusiasm and passion to educate, engage and empower small business owners and executives, Renée is a highly regarded national speaker and has launched Ensightium—a multichannel platform that includes a podcast and a blog with a vlog. Live and virtual events are being launched in the future—to share inspirational and insightful personal, professional and business growth strategies through a mix of influencer and thought leader interviews, articles and other relevant resources. She is the author of Brand Power for Small Business Entrepreneurs and is currently writing her second book. She also is an accredited public relations executive and a featured contributor to industry publications.
What motivated and inspired you to start your own business?
My entrepreneurial inspiration was encouraged and nurtured by my mom and aunt. Both are extremely brilliant, fierce and fearless women who broke gender and racial barriers throughout their professional careers.
Since my high school freshman year, launching my own company has been my goal. From majoring in business administration in high school, graduating with an undergraduate degree in organizational administration, and completing a Master of Business Administration in marketing. The establishment of my firm has been a long-time personal and professional goal.
HOW IT BEGAN
Tell us about your business.
RENEE WALKER & ASSOCIATES is a strategic communications consultancy, specializing in branding, strategy and ideation solutions. RW&A provides branding, public and media relations, public affairs, marketing communications, digital and social media, community, constituency and stakeholder outreach, professional development and training, and strategic planning services. RW&A works with select companies and organizations, c-level executives, elected officials, and advocacy campaigns to help our clients communicate strategically and to create significant points of differentiation that drive and accelerate results.
RW&A has turned delivering uniquely tailored solutions—including data-driven strategies and audience-specific communications programs—into an art form. We understand the growth-related business challenges, including client attraction and retention, go-to-market strategies and the power of strong brands in the marketplace.
At RW&A, we help our clients improve their efficiency, optimize their resources, and achieve long-term sustainable growth. Optimizing your competitive advantage requires an actionable strategy, to achieve your business objectives, and to drive and accelerate bottom line results.
We help our clients leverage their brands to attract customers, cultivate brand loyalty, and gain market share. We create sustainable growth by working with our clients to amplify their brand, cultivate brand advocates, and differentiate their products and services, to provide them unique positioning in the marketplace.
RW&A architects bespoke solutions to inspire game-changing innovations and solve complex business challenges. Our ideation solutions help our clients achieve more and reach higher, by helping them adapt to new marketplace realities, and achieve breakthrough innovations.
Are you currently running any promos/contests/giveaways that you would like our readers to know about?
Yes, LadyBossBlogger readers can download a complimentary copy of of my free resource: “5 Communication Faux Pas, Missteps and Mistakes“. Also, readers are invited to subscribe to my free business growth podcast and other resources at ensightium.com.
List awards, certifications and accomplishments.
2014 – Michigan Chronicle Women of Excellence Honoree
The Michigan Chronicle hosts the program to highlight the powerful impact that women have on empowering southeastern Michigan. These women are visionaries in their given fields and inspire those around them to go beyond the norm and strive for excellence. They are champions of equality and diversity, the backbone of our religious and educational organizations, and driving forces in politics and community service.
2008 – Public Relations Society of America Chair and CEO’s Citation for Meritorious Service
Presented in recognition for exceptional national service in the development and leadership of the Society
1998 – Public Relations Society of America Accredited in Public Relations (APR).
Internationally recognized, the Accreditation in Public Relations (APR) demonstrates mastery of strategic communications with the accreditation developed by PRSA and the Universal Accreditation Board.
Where is your business based?
From our metro-Detroit, Michigan offices, RW&A provides services to our local and national clients.
What were the first few steps you took to get your business up and running?
As a brand and communications expert, I recognized the power and importance of launching my firm with a clear, strong and impactful brand as part of my go-to-market strategy. Working with an award-winning team of global and local creative talent, I developed our visual identity to align with my positioning and market-entry strategy.
In 2012, my strategic communications firm, RENEE WALKER & ASSOCIATES, launched with an email announcement to 75 people that I met throughout my professional and personal interactions. The email achieved an open rate in excess of 80 percent, and a very high response rate with words of encouragement, congratulations and offers to help me. This communication yielded three introductory meetings and produced my first anchor client, resulting in a multiyear contract that generated $80,000 in my first five months of operation.
HOW IT GREW
What has been the most effective way of raising awareness of your business and getting new customers?
Building upon my professional reputation, many of my clients are based upon colleague, peer and friend referrals. Additionally, as a paid speaker, I am able to build awareness, capture leads and acquire clients.
What have been your biggest challenges so far?
As a very driven, high Type A personality and workaholic, I am challenged with work and life balance. These personality traits enable me to continuously work, but not always recognize diminishing returns. For most entrepreneurs, this is a real challenge that ultimately can stifle creativity, productivity and impede results.
How did you overcome these challenges?
During my participation in the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program, I learned that creating a well-rounded quality of life, working on and not in my business, and having a business exit strategy are imperative for my personal and business success, health and longevity.
Now, I have both personal and business goals to ensure downtime that enables me to relax, to think and to catch my breath. I also have acquired support that enables me to work on my business and not in my business.
How do you keep motivated through difficult times?
Being a business owner is an extraordinary opportunity and can be very isolating, particularly in difficult times. I’m fortunate to have a robust, dynamic and fierce network of female business owners along with my family and friends that keep me encouraged and motivated to face my challenges head on.
I also have a deep faith that provides me with the courage, belief and presence to recognize the privilege of building my consultancy and the opportunity to embrace my challenges and lessons and to celebrate my successes.
How do you distinguish yourself from your competitors?
Again, I have developed a well-known reputation for exceptional customer service and accelerated results for our clients. We have been successful when competing for business against larger and more established firms as we have the ability to custom build a highly talented and uniquely qualified team and to scale up or down for each opportunity. Another key differentiator is our ability to measure the effectiveness of our strategies and their contribution toward our client’s operational and financial goals.
That said, our primary competition is engaged in our niche, but does not pose a direct threat to our ability to grow our existing business or to pursue our growth opportunities. In fact, there is a genuine respect for our respective capabilities and oftentimes referrals among us are commonplace. Partnership and strategic alliances for specific business opportunities may also be a possibility with our competitors.
ADVICE AND RESOURCE
What is the best advice you have received recently?
The best advice received is to continually manage my growth to ensure our customer service delivery and experience remains exceptional and to incorporate my exit strategy into my business decisions.
What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs?
Here’s my advice for entrepreneurs.
Branding matters. Having a strong, clear and resonant brand enables a company to enter into the marketplace and secure customers within its wheelhouse. By being strategic in how you build, promote and employ your brand, you can unlock significant competitive advantages for your business. A strong business brand enables your customers and prospects to more quickly understand why your solution will fulfill their needs and why they must move toward a buying decision.
Sometimes the answer is NO. Saying no when a client or opportunity is not the best fit or if the client doesn’t value your service or product requires fortitude. Avoiding clients that are not a fit or are potentially difficult is very smart business.
Communication is not optional. Investing in a strategic communications program is critical to the success of your business. From marketing and branding to digital and social media, business owners must commit resources for communications and utilize them to attract and retain customers.
What are your favorite business tools/resources and why?
My favorite business tools are as follows.
Coschedule. This is a great marketing calendar tool that helps you plan, manage and post on social media.
Airtable. This is a great organizational tool that helps you plan, manage and implement an array of task, including customer relationship management and more.
Canva. This free tool provides easy and professional graphic designs to create a strong brand presence.
What is a good article or book you have read recently?
I highly recommend the following books.
1. “Scaling Up: How a Few Companies Make It… and Why the Rest Don’t” by Verne Harnish.
2. “Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High”” by Patterson, Grenny, McMillian, Switzler.
THE NEXT STEPS
What are you currently learning about for your business or looking for help with?
I am looking for help in two key growth areas. First, I would like to ramp up my paid speaking business. Specifically, I am looking for local, national and international paid speaking engagements on business growth, branding, communication and leadership. As my long-term growth strategy is to acquire a complimentary communications firm, I am looking for assistance with planning and preparation for the acquisition.
What are your goals for the next few months and how are you striving to achieve them?
As we begin the fourth quarter of 2017, I am continuously working to build my national thought leadership platform. This interview opportunity is one step. I’m also developing an array of content, including articles, podcasts, video clips, online courses and webinars. I am also pursuing a number of contract opportunities that expand my client portfolio and paid speaking engagements.
HOW TO STAY IN CONTACT
What social media outlets do you use? List them below.
Hashtags #reneewalkerspeaks #ensightium