Jean Kristensen is president & CEO of Jean Kristensen Associates, L.L.C., a full service consulting firm providing tools and resources to small, minority and women owned firms seeking to increase revenues through government contracting, certification and innovative business strategies. Its program, MWBE Success, is designed to provide small business owners with an understanding of why certification programs exist and how to use them to increase revenues. The program offers guidance and support in such areas as marketing, business development and compliance. Agencies and private companies also reach out to Jean Kristensen Associates to assist them with identifying qualified small businesses for their corporate Supplier Diversity programs and government sub-contracting needs.
TNJ.com: What prompted you to start your company?
Jean Kristensen: I was part of a family owned business; my father started a security guard company in the ’80s and as a family we grew the business from 5 to over 500 employees. In the space of going from 5 to 500, I learned a lot things about running a small business, government contracting, labor relations, marketing strategic growth and finance. Although there were a lot of programs for small, minority and women owned businesses, I was unaware of any place where entrepreneurs could go to get the information I had acquired over the years. I wanted to share tips, resources, short-cuts and best practices with other small, minority and women owned businesses in the hopes of helping them build thriving businesses and showing them how to avoid costly mistakes.
I started Jean Kristensen Associates, LLC in 2007 for the purpose of providing tools and resources to small, minority and women owned firms seeking to increase revenues through certification, government contracting and innovative business strategies. I take great pleasure in working with entrepreneurs.? I coach and train them myself, and providing them with other quality resources (accountants, attorneys, web designers, HR professionals, etc.). I am also sought after by large corporations to enhance or create Supplier Development Programs and to monitor, report and maintain MWBE Outreach and Good Faith Efforts.
TNJ.com: What were some startup challenges?
JK: One of the biggest challenges I had as a start-up was branding. People knew me as a security professional and not as a leading provider of professional, administrative support services or as a trainer or a coach. Whereas I had years of experience in government contracting as a certified MWBE, I had to find a way to build credibility in the field. I felt as though I had a lot to offer, but I had to prove myself. The first thing I did was I create high-value content sharing information about strategies I developed utilizing government contracting and small business certification to bring in multi-million dollar contracts for my former firm and my consulting clients. The next thing I did was I create a workshop called, ?How to Increase Revenues through Government Contracting & Certification?, and market it for free to various organizations. I was very fortunate in that several organizations accepted my offer for the free talk, and because I delivered such high value content, quite a few asked me to come back to create additional workshops. I also had the benefit of attracting many small, minority and women owned business as clients that I was able to help by providing administrative and support services.
TNJ.com: How did you fund the company?
JK: For a brief period before I started my company, I had a job and while I was working I set up my corporation. I put things in place (website, registrations, certifications, business plan, and marketing plans) so that when I was ready to take the leap back into entrepreneurship, I would be prepared. I told everyone that I knew that I was going into business; I maintained contact with influencers and decision makers that could potentially help me get contracts once I was ready to move forward. I also spoke with my employer about the benefits of government contracting, and MWBE certification and got them interested in potentially hiring my firm as an MWBE sub-contractor ? they were involved, and remained flexible as I eventually started cutting back from full-time employee to full-time entrepreneur.
During the transition from employee to entrepreneur, I knew exactly how much money I needed, how many clients I needed to get there and how much marketing I needed to do. I took advantage of my employer?s COBRA plan and had a small amount of savings as a back-up. I started out slowly cutting back from five days to three days, to two days. On my days off, I gave workshops, attended networking events and worked on marketing my own business. After several months of consistent marketing, networking and signature workshops, I filled my practice with several paying clients allowing me to self-fund my business.
TNJ.com: What have been some of the challenges you have faced in building your brand?
JK: As I mentioned, one of the strategies I faced when building my brand was overcoming the challenge of being a security professional to becoming a firm that provides professional, administrative and support to MWBEs. Today, my challenge has become incorporating wellness into the MWBE Success program. After coaching and training over 200 clients last year, I felt compelled to add a wellness component to my programs because I found that the clients who had the most success were the ones who had adopted a healthy lifestyle. When I introduced the concept of wellness, it appeared to confuse prospects and clients ?after all, what was I selling? MWBE success or wellness? To overcome this challenge, I have incorporated the wellness modules into some of my training programs and workshops and created a separate d/b/a called JKA Wellness. I realize now that branding must remain targeted and focused to be successful and that combining two separate concepts will not work well long term.
TNJ.com: What do you see as some of the biggest challenges for women and minority owned companies?
JK: Statistically, about 50 percent of all small businesses faill in the first two years, so business is difficult for everyone. That said, I do feel that minority and women owned businesses face greater challenges than other small businesses due to the inherent discrimination in the contracting process. MWBE programs were not created just to create good will, it?s a fact that many government agencies are far behind in awarding contracts to minorities and women. In the federal government, the contracting goal for women is only 5 percent and we have yet to reach that goal with billions of dollars in contracts being awarded annually.
Minority and women owned business are also challenged by the lack of capital and access to resources. In today?s environment, it?s extremely difficult for minority and women owned businesses to get funding for their businesses. While I described a bootstrap approach to funding my business, that strategy is not appropriate for those seeking to do business with the government. Doing business with the government often requires an outlay of capital for start-up costs followed by a 69-day wait before receiving payment.
In my business, one of the ways we help small, minority and women owned firms to overcome issues around access to capital is by having them develop realistic goals around their capacity. We teach clients how to strategically plan for growth by reinvesting in their business, and we teach them to turn away contracts that are not in alignment with that growth strategy. We also put small, minority and women owned businesses in touch with large prime contractors and other qualified MWBEs that can provide resources needed for strategic growth.