Last night I attended the SWEET Group Atlanta launch event last night to hear Nichole “Nicci” Gilbert talk about female entrepreneurship and her evolution from being a singer (in Michael Jackson’s 90’s trio Brownstone) to becoming a reality TV executive producer (TV One’s R&B Divas) and plus-size fashion designer (Curvato Clothing). SWEET stands for Successful Women Entrepreneurs and the Extremely Talented, and has chapters in Charlotte, NC and Richmond, VA. The event was sponsored by SMS Advisors in Charlotte (which Nicci uses).
Marshawn Evans, Esq., is an attorney, speaker, author, and former contestant on Donald Trump’s The Apprentice was the host and moderator. Lillian Lincoln Lambert was the first Black woman to graduate from Harvard Business School in 1969. She is a partner with SWEET and has a fascinating story.
The word of the evening was “passion.” Everyone who spoke agreed that when it comes to your business, you have to be passionate about what you do or it won’t work.
Having it All: How Does She Do It?
Nicci started off telling us that in the past, she hasn’t always trusted her gut, but we should. In several episodes of R&B Divas, she told people that she’s really not into singing anymore, even though that’s what she’s best known for and people always ask her to sing. She’s able to do all the things she does now because she’s passionate, so it never feels like work. She admitted her difficulties: “I’m hard-headed, I hate to be told ‘No,’ or that I don’t have enough money to execute my plans.” She described herself as ‘crazy’ and ‘a space cadet’ and that’s how she can juggle so many tasks.
Nicci said, “The barter routine is the best ever (exchanging services instead of money). I choose not to focus on what is not right.” Lillian added that every obstacle has an opportunity attached to it. “I don’t like when people tell me I can’t do things.”
“Reality is Ratchet!”
Nicci: “I don’t know if ‘ratchet’ is a really a word, but everybody knows what it means so I’m gonna use it. Reality TV is ratchet! I thought about Claire Huxtable (Phylicia Rashad’s character on The Cosby Show) and others that helped me develop as a person. I wondered, where is that kind of TV today? Black women fighting each other seems to be a ratings formula that the reality shows want to stick with, but I wanted to show images of positive Black women with solid marriages and businesses.” Nicci is an executive producer of the #1 rated show on TV One ever (R&B Divas, whose first season aired last fall), said that spinoffs are coming, including an L.A. cast. Season 2 begins shooting on MLK Day.
“Love and Hip Hop Atlanta (on VH1) had 5 million viewers, and we had 1 million. I don’t think we can get to 5 million because more people want to watch what’s wrong with people than what’s right.” She also added that “Branding is the key for reality TV to make sense.”
Would You Change Anything?
Nicci: “I saw the movie The Butterfly Effect. It showed me that if I change one little thing, the course of my whole life could be different. So I wouldn’t change anything. Now of course I’d like to have more money [laughs], and I’m not patient [she said this emphatically and repeats herself]. But no, I wouldn’t change anything.”
Nicci: “Curvato was the result of a lot of pain and rejection [regarding looks and size in the entertainment industry]. At 24 years old, I had to have a tummy tuck because I was told how I had to look, and that I was too big. When Kanye West’s mother died, I said ‘Yo… this could’ve killed me!’ ” She said creating Curvato was a way for her to serve the community because she saw and experienced the need for plus size clothing–there was a void in the marketplace. “Put blinders on, have tunnel vision, and follow that passion you have.”
The intimate audience asked questions about knowing when it’s time to leave your day job, finding the right coach/mentor (that was my question), marketing your business to celebrities, and more. All three ladies were very knowledgeable and addressed each of us. They were all approachable, as I spoke to each of them after the event. Here are a few of their insights:
Nicci said social media is a way to test your ideas and see whether you (or that idea/product/service) is ready for the marketplace. Marshawn added that you can easily find your voice by getting into social media.
Lillian: “You know it’s time to transition when you feel uncomfortable at work, ask yourself ‘What am I doing here?’ or just hate going to work.”
Nicci: “The music business is as corporate as it gets. I had to get off the treadmill. I felt like a hamster in a cage. Whatever makes you good in corporate America will make you absolutely frickin’ amazing on your own, and you will excel.”
Marshawn: “Women are seeking significance, and that’s why they are leaving corporate American in droves.”
Nicci: “Is what you do of service to others? Don’t get into something because of the bottom line. Think about how much change you will affect, and how much happiness you will bring to your life. The money comes when you do what you love.”
Nicci is hiring people, and said that there has to be a mutually good fit when considering a mentoring/coaching relationship. Lillian echoed this.
Marshawn: “You have to hire pilots, not passengers. Create an ideal coach profile and assess the qualities you need. What’s their passion? Are they willing and able to teach? Not everyone who is successful can teach you how to be successful. If they don’t teach well, don’t spend with them.”
Nicci: “People think the entertainment industry is hard to break into, but it’s not. It’s small. There’s about six degrees of separation. [To get noticed and get celebrity clients,] do a lot of giveaways. Make sure you do giveaways with people who will help you and tell others about you. Even after being picked out by people like Michael Jackson and Tyler Perry, I still get funny [apprehensive] about approaching people, so I understand you’re hesitant. Send me a box of cupcakes and tweet me a picture—I’ll tell all my friends and everyone I know. Twitter and Facebook are your friends.”
Speaking of giveaways, we had a few of those, too. Lucky ladies in the audience won jewelry, a coaching session from Marshawn, Lillian’s book The Road to Someplace Better (me), and an off-the-cuff taped TV spot with Nicci about their business (she warned that it may end up on the cutting room floor—you know how reality TV producers edit footage).
I got Lillian to sign my book, and talked to her a little more about the coaching stuff (I’ve had 3 coaches in 2 years, but not much to show for it). I talked to Marshawn about this privately as well, and she’s having a 3-day boot camp in March that I may attend. Last but not least, I got a picture with Nicci, who said she’s lost 65 pounds. I told her she looked beautiful and she said, “So do you… I wanna get a short cut like that.”
What are your current business endeavors or goals for 2013?