Marcia Nelson is the founder and CEO of Deals & Divas, an educational and networking organization that connects women entrepreneurs and investors. Marcia recently joined The Alberleen Group platform, an investment bank and merchant banking firm servicing middle market companies and family office investors.
Over the last 20 years, Marcia has developed a strong network of family offices and advisors who are increasingly seeking access to quality direct deal flow from trusted, experienced partners. She has a particular interest in women-owned businesses and impact investments.
In this interview, Marcia shares her passion for empowering women-owned businesses, sourcing partners and advisors for women entrepreneurs, networking and connecting them with customers and the community. Her biggest piece of advice to those who are thinking of starting a business of their own: Don’t quit your day job! At least, not right away!
Learn more from Marcia's entrepreneurial insights below and be sure to follow Marcia on Twitter for the latest updates on Deals and Divas!
What motivated you to start Deals and Divas? How did the idea come about?
I started Deals & Divas as a networking platform to support my business development efforts inside an accounting firm. We were looking to build out our women’s initiative and I came up with a catchy name.
Initially, I had no plans to turn it into a business, but it started to grow and gain traction, and we started to get some press around what we were doing. After four years of running it in-house, I launched Deals & Divas, LLC as my own company.
What was your mission at the beginning of starting your business?
The statistics about women in leadership positions and pay is terrible. If we can’t fix it from within, then we need to build it ourselves. My mission is to enhance the value of women-owned and led businesses worldwide.
Deals & Divas focuses on educating, supporting and connecting women and helping them harness their own unique talents and strengths to build bigger, better, more sustainable businesses while engaging a broad, supportive consumer and community base.
What do you attribute your success to? Is there a trait you have or a person who helped you along the way?
I am really good at connecting the right people to each other, and building a culture inside Deals & Divas so that every person (man or woman) who comes to our events meets someone else who can help them.
I focus on curating the attendees – almost like a host for a dinner party who makes sure the guests are seated next to like-minded people. After people come to a Deals & Divas event once or twice, they start thinking about how to make strategic connections themselves.
When times get tough, what would you say motivates you to keep going? To not hit the snooze button and to keep fighting for your goals.
There are definitely days when I think “What am I doing? How can I go on?” And then I’ll get a phone call or email from someone who came to an event who tells me that they made a terrific connection, found someone interested in investing in their company, or in one case actually hired someone they met. Those are the moments that make it all worth it.
Employees are one of the most important players to succeed in business. What do you look for in an employee?
I look for people who have a similar work ethic and goals. As a small business owner, I started out doing everything myself – from high level to low level jobs. I have been surprised sometimes by people who come to an interview and tell me everything they don’t do. I think, “Hey, I’m the CEO and if I need to empty the trash, I’ll do it. Why shouldn’t you do that, too?”
On the flip side, I love it when someone comes in and just rolls up their sleeves and takes over a project after I give them some direction. We’re still new and figuring it out along the way – and maybe that persons idea is better/faster/more efficient than how I was doing it.
What is unique about your business? Is there a competitive advantage that you have over the rest?
Deals & Divas is a full-service community that helps owners and executives grow their companies by providing necessary tools for success, matching them with appropriate advisors, giving them access to capital, and leveraging the network to create and grow a loyal customer base.
For example, we encourage our hosts/sponsors to hire women-owned catering companies to provide food and to source wines from women wine makers. During the cocktail receptions at our events we have an “entrepreneur showcase” where women-owned companies can have a table to present their products and services – this helps them build out their customer base, and also gives them access to advisors and potential investors.
For our educational events, we have experienced business owners (men and women!) share their success stories on how they raised capital, or formed strategic partnerships. We also bringing advisors from legal, accounting, banking and other services who talk about some of things that businesses need to know to be successful.
Have you ever gotten a disappointed client or customer? If so, how did you handle the situation?
We have been lucky so far not to have run into that situation. More often, I get people who offer to speak at our events, but they don’t fit the profile. I may invite them to come to an event and get a better feel for what we do, and let me know they’re welcome to attend in the future.
Is there a type of marketing that has worked amazingly for Deals and Divas? If so, how did you stumble upon it?
We use social media, but most of what we’ve built so far has been through word of mouth. Email is still the best way for us to promote our events, and we find that people forward the invitations along to others, which helps expand our network.
Is there any resource or resources that helped you on your journey to becoming a business owner?
My company has been incubated inside another firm. Under the incubator, I have access to legal counsel, accounting/CFO services, and a network of other business owners that all share the same space.
It has been invaluable to have a real office to go to, with a receptionist and conference rooms when I need them as well. I also have been able to tap the other businesses for introductions to potential speakers as well as attendees for our events.
What are the three best pieces of advice that you would give to anyone starting a business in New York? What do they need to know from the very beginning?
- Make sure you have capital and a cushion. There are a lot of start-up fees that you don’t think about – in addition to legal fees, there are initial registration fees as well as annual costs to maintain the company. And lots of little costs: domain name registration, website hosting, logo and website design. And don’t forget about insurance! Be prepared for some costs that you didn’t anticipate or didn’t know about. In addition to personal savings, I had an angel investor, which helped me get a little more runway to get my company going.
- NY State and NYC have some great resources for business owners. (Check out the START-UP NY Program) Take advantage of free workshops and other resources such as the Business Library on Madison and 34th street. Some law firms and accounting firms have fixed rates for new companies – don’t hesitate to call around and ask for a fixed fee for your new business.
- Don’t quit your day job! At least, not right away. I think part of the reason Deals & Divas has been successful to start with is that we built a brand and a following before I quit my job. That following helped me find an angel investor and an incubator so I had them lined up before I started the company and gave me a longer runway.