Personal Leadership Development
Talking Business with Daymond John: R.F. Wilkins Consultants
Business consultant Francilia Wilkins Rahim touches upon knowing your worth — and charging for it.
BRG – JPMC – Daymond John RFW Consultants – Transcript
Hello everybody, I'm the Shark, Daymond John. And today we're talking business.
Welcome, I'm The Shark, Daymond John. And today I'm speaking to Francilia Wilkins, of R.F. Wilkins Consultants. I am so impressed by what you've accomplish and when you face the trials and tribulations and nobody wanted to hire, you said, I don't need anybody to hire me. Imma hire myself. So thank you for being here today. And why don't you tell us a little bit about your backstory?
We are, first of all, business development and management consulting firm, and we really help our clients to bring their most difficult projects to fruition. We do everything from compliance work to stakeholder engagement, developing diversity inclusion and equity initiatives. And our clients range from private firms like Google, to agencies, like the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and the City of New Rochelle. And the company really started, really when I was really young, I had finished in 2011, my MBA at St. John's University. And I came out equipped, and I expected to work with any fortune 100 firm out there because I'm like, I got my degrees, I got this degree and that degree, and I kind of felt like Kanye West in "College Dropout" because I couldn't get a job anywhere. I couldn't in 2011, pay anyone to hire me. So I decided to literally look at what I was good at. And I was always good at project management. And I started saying, I am an independent business development consultant, and I would go around and tell everyone that. Had no idea what it meant until one day a friend of mine came and his father was creating an organization for physically disabled ex offenders. And he was like, aren't you an independent business development consultant? And I was like, yeah, duh, of course I am. And so he asked me to come on board and help them develop this organization. And so from there I got my second client. They recommended me to a nonprofit in New York called Urban Strategies. I won a $10 million contract for that nonprofit. And from there, it became a word of mouth story. We worked with clients to help them access government contracts. And then from there, we started doing a lot of project management work and then compliance and oversight work. Today, we have raised close to $900 million for a plethora of projects, everything from afterschool programs to transitional housing and homeless shelters to affordable housing developments.
What was the first company that you work for or work with? How did you charge them?
I wish I came out with like all of this confidence and I think, and I wanna say in, I think this might be an issue even more so for African-American women. It's this always, you have to show how good you are. And my first client was a pro bono client. That second client, I was charging them $30 an hour to write grants and proposals. Imagine if somebody pays you $500 in total for all the work it takes to win them $10 million and build something up. So I was not charging how I was supposed to be charging. We had a client, organization, and these two guys, I loved working with them. They had a homeless shelter organization, but they were business men. And so I was charging them a very little money and had won them $100 million. At that point I finally realized, I need to charge more for these services. And so I remember I was so wrapped and just turns out thinking about like, what should I do? How should I tell them I'm gonna charge more and I'm increasing my prices? And I went to the gentleman, his name was Peter. He was an older guy. He was one of these, he'll tell you whatever. He didn't care, he was direct, which I love direct people. And I remember just being so nervous and the other gentleman was so upset that I was raising my prices. He couldn't understand why and this and that. And Peter puts his hand up like this. And he's like, you know what? You finally understand your worth. He said, she finally understands her worth. And he just said that straight out to me. And from then on, I think I have been so mindful of that. So mindful of the importance of understanding your worth and the value that you bring to clients. It took me raising millions and hundreds of millions for clients to finally have the nerve to understand my worth. And I think the thing that allowed that to happen is because I had this idea that I wanted to build a company that was beyond me. That would be a place where people who look like me could work in a space where they felt valued. And I knew I couldn't do that unless I could hire those people. And if you all know about hiring people, you can't hire people unless you can pay them a salary that consistently pays out every one week or two weeks. And so when I got to that point where I realized my value, I understood the value of the work that I was doing and the value that I wanted to bring to my community and my wife and my work, and that got me to charging properly. But before then it was a mess.
You took a lot of chances. You were willing to sit there and grind and do the work and say, if I don't deliver, then don't pay me. No problem. And then you started to say, and you grew the business. So now we're talking about, you're working with government, you're working with Google, you're working with so many different people, but I want you to talk like every other entrepreneur in the world, what is keeping you up at night and what are the things and the challenges you have right now?
What is on my mind today does have to do with the hurdles and issues and really how as a business to continue to survive, not only survive, but thrive in a period like now, a recessionary period or a pandemic period, a period when the market is shifting, your staff and the staff's needs are shifting and everything looks so different. How can we thrive as businesses, access contracts, build and expand and grow through the period. This is what is on my mind.
There are only two things you're ever gonna be control of in your entire life. It's going to be how you perceive something and how you respond, the actions you would take. How will you want to set that goal and what is the course you're gonna take to accomplish that goal? And again, of course, you have to take inventory on what you have, how many people do you have on hand, how much cash you have on hand? How many contracts do you have out there? What's your 80-20 when it comes to contracts and what's your specialty? And more than ever before, who's in your Rolodex? When you call that Rolodex, you don't just call and say, I'm doing this, I'm doing that. Sometimes you call that Rolodex and say, what are you doing? What are you up to lately? And sometimes once you tell them what you're doing, they'll go, I didn't know you were doing that. Wait a minute, I need you. Understand your goal and understanding your why, and understand the vehicles that is your inventory that's going to get you there. Cash on hand, knowledge, resources, Rolodex and all those things. But that's a very personal decision that you have to make.
You're hitting everything on the head. So now I've built a team and I continue to build a team. But now, especially a period of like now during COVID where everyone's home and everyone's in their fields, about so many different life changes that are happening. I feel like I spend so much time being a shrink. And I feel like, now we have a very intentional just work culture where it's like, this is a space where you can come and you can be, and you can speak and talk and communicate your feelings. Like this is the culture that I've always said I've wanted to build. And now we have this, and now I'm like, oh, we need to streamline the HR processes. Like this is the thing right now that we're hiring and looking at figuring it out because I'm like, it's so difficult, to run the business and do what you have to do as CEO, which is really make sure the company is being profitable and make sure you can pay your peak people.
And I'm saying that you are vocalizing right now, the 80-20. If you notice that you are spending a lot of time on the care for your people and they are your biggest investment and rightfully so, you also are an expert in certain things and certain areas. There's also experts who understand how to communicate with people and they have gone to school to study it. So you probably need to have somebody who could be virtual, of course, who is a trained expert in this, who can take some of that off of your table. So then your people feel good. They feel like you've invested in them. And remember, I know how it is, whether it's clients or whether it's staff, everybody wants you, you, you, but when you are transparent with them and you say, hey, I want to accomplish this for you. And what do you wanna accomplish? Well, here's the best way that you accomplish this because I need to do this. And I want this person to talk to you about this and this area. If you happen to have a challenge, I'm always here for you, but I need you to trust me on this, so that we can accomplish something bigger together. And people will always respect that. So that's something, an emotion that people go through business about and we don't often talk about in business, but mental health for your employees, for your loved ones and for everybody is extremely important. So this is no secret and with the heightened education of where we are challenged socially in this amazing country of ours, women of color have not had historically a lot of opportunity to run their businesses and be the CEOs. So what would you say people couldn't do? And if you're either a woman right now watching, or you're somebody who is supporting this movement, what would you say are some things that people can do and think about?
What would I advise, what would I say? The first thing is step out there. Step out there, build your team to do work comprehensively. I think now there's a lot of things like Chase that are coming up with different capital initiatives to help support the work that you're doing. So tap into them. Diversify the market. I think the government space is a really good space for minority firms to pet play in, whether it's on a city level or a state or federal level. There's the ADA certification on the federal level. And many cities have MWB certifications. I think at minimum, start playing, go after larger contracts and then diversify your work and diversify your clientele. So for us, we work government, private and nonprofit. We have a very diverse clientele and in lows in the market, we're able to say, okay, private is doing really well now, government is doing really well now. Let's just kind of switch how we're targeting. I think the final thing I would say for women and minorities, specifically women businesses, is don't put it all on yourself. The most drain I've had has been in the times where I felt like I had to do everything in my company by myself. But the most growth I've had was in those times where I said, let me figure out how I can pull dig the resources that I need to diversify my workload, to decrease my workload and to kind of expand the amount of people, human capital I have supporting the work that I'm doing. Finally, learn, research, always be a student of your work. I don't care how good you get or how much time passed by as markets change, and it's our job to be on top of the markets, because that can help us diversify the work that we have and the contracts and the work that we're doing. So those would be my recommendations.
Well said, thank you. But, I wanna also ask you because again, hiring experts to, or working with experts, strategic partners, to help you in your end goal so you can do what you do best. What exactly is your relationship and how do you, with Chase, and how do you use them and their products effectively? Where have you found the value in them?
So in 2019, I think it was, early 2020, Chase provided us with that first line of credit and they were the first bank to do so. I struggled, I'm not gonna call out any banks, but there was a bank that I banked with for years, they saw how much money was coming into our bank account. They own every single account that I have as a business. And right now, truly my accounts are very diversified over the different institutions, and they never would give us even like a $50,000 like line, not even a loan, a line. And so Chase was the first bank to really invest in us. And that came at the most critical period because truthfully that investment came right before the whole COVID period hit. And I can't tell you how much when our contracts stalled, some of them stalled, especially that things in the government space, the government contracts, the airport contracts, a lot of our construction work stalled. We had that line to fall back on, and it didn't last forever, but if we didn't have that cushion, we would have tapped out our reserves so quickly. So that's number one. The second way in which we have a relationship has been through just all the various programs that they have for minority businesses. We have done a lot of just learning and training sessions. And I involved with my staff and just been pulling the resources that Chase is providing to the market for small businesses. And I think it continues to be ever learning, ever educational process, even after being business for 10 years, I'm always learning. We're always diversified.
Well, I got to tell you, you are a rockstar, Francilia, and so many things that people can learn from what you just said. I love the fact that you use what I call the power of broke in the early days for about six years or seven years. And it created a discipline. And once you had that discipline, you found a great financial institution that believes in you, not only in your business, believes in you as a person and a community and believes in us, brought you to my attention and brought you as a rockstar to everybody else's attention. So they couldn't think they could do it before. They can find that inspiration in you. And I appreciate you for taking the time with me.
Thank you so much. Thank you for all the amazing work that you do. You are excellent and you are definitely an inspiration to everyone in the markets.
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