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Be a Secretary, or Suffer the Consequences!
Determination and a Strong Belief in Your Idea Will Lead to Success

October 2017

Wanda Smith, CEO and President of Symphony Placements

Writing articles about my experiences while opening and running a business is new for me. I am typically the one who is explaining the cost-effectiveness and efficiency of flexible staffing. Putting my thoughts on paper and describing my journey is exciting and a new challenge.

While growing up in a rural area, I discovered the ability to start conversations with those whom I’ve never met, which has served me well in life. After high school, I took my Mother’s advice to “be a secretary so you will always have a job.” I was never encouraged to become an entrepreneur or business owner. I am usually the only one in the room without a degree. I often tell people that I was educated by the school of hard knocks. In the 1960s, there were many political and social changes happening. Encouraging women to become business leaders or entrepreneurs was not one of them. I married at 18 and took a clerical job for a large insurance company. They rang a bell when I was required to begin work, to take a break, to go to lunch, and when it was time to go home. It felt like livestock being herded. They did not want to know who you are, what your ambitions were, or even your strengths and abilities. You were expected to sit and follow direction. Those who know me, know very well that my personality is not suited for this type of position. Needless to say, the job was short lived.

After moving to Waldorf, Md., I became a Resident Manager for an apartment complex, a position much better suited for my outgoing personality and sales ability. I had an autonomous position renting apartments, collecting rent and having repairs completed for tenants. It opened a new world for me – each day I was meeting individuals, military, federal government, and private industry. These were eye-opening experiences for a girl with my background.

When I was given the opportunity to address the challenges and experiences a woman faces when starting and running a business, I jumped at the opportunity. I started to think back on 54 years of memories and the three business I’ve operated. My current business, Symphony Placements, was founded 11 years ago. In that time, we have had much to celebrate – three times on the INC. 5000, Finalist for the Ernest and Young Entrepreneur of the Year, as well as many other awards and accolades. I am so proud of each and every recognition, and I am proud of my team and all of the technology we have embraced to become a frontrunner in our industry. These achievements are the result of many years of tenacity and hard work by my team, family and myself.

When it was time to start Symphony Placements, I did not waste time going to the bank. Previous experience taught me that a loan for a startup was difficult to acquire. Compound that with a start-up operated by a woman, and it was next to impossible (at least at the time). I analyzed our resources and applied for a home equity loan. The loan, combined with my savings was how my I funded Symphony Placements. I remember when the Equal Credit Opportunity Act was passed in 1974. Prior to this Act, all my credit cards had my husband’s name. Once the Act was passed, all women were able to apply for credit in our names. Thankfully, when I began Symphony Placements, my credit was in good standing.

One of the defining traits of an entrepreneur is the belief and unwavering determination that your idea will be successful. I was ready, I felt confident and never once did I ever think it would fail. I had faith in my abilities, my experience, and my team. We had worked for some of the best within the same industry for the more than 20 years. We believed we could offer a better service, and we did!

The world was in the midst of major change. Companies and buildings had increased their security after the 9/11 attacks, and understandably so. Companies did not have receptionists; they locked their office doors and you had a security badge to enter. Canvassing and cold calling were becoming a thing of the past. Personal conversation and communication was the way in which we did business. Being denied the ability to walk into an office to introduce ourselves was world changing. This trend was new to our industry, and we had an ability to adapt and pivot quickly where many companies could not. We invested in scalable technology. I set the company on a path where if I desired to open additional brick and mortar locations, I could do so easily. Our ability to observe these changes, and predict how they would impact our company and industry long term was key to sustainability. As a small business owner and entrepreneur, it is easy to get caught up in the daily grind of operating a business. I found it vitally important to set time aside to review my industry and company for trends that would permanently affect how we operate. This is why we were one of the early adopters of technology and digital marketing.

This is one of many articles to come based on my 50 years of experience. It is important you understand my perspective and history. I’ve seen many changes in the political landscape, social environment, and business atmosphere. The simple fact is that no matter what the environment is at the moment, hard work and a determination to succeed will see you through. I95 Content Marketing

Wanda Smith is Founder, CEO and President of Symphony Placements. She founded two prior companies before launching Symphony Placements, one of the most successful and fastest growing woman-owned flexible staffing firms in Maryland. Symphony Placements is a full-service flexible staffing and human resource solutions company.