A newly certified WBE, Nancy Conner shared her transition from supplier diversity professional to entrepreneur. Nancy Conner Consulting, LLC is a WBENC-certified consulting practice headed by a results-driven diversity leader who understands the value of inclusion. Today, Conner’s passion for small business development has been recognized by industry leading organizations, customers and suppliers.
Q. When did you decide to start your business?
A. In May 2016, after working my entire career for Fortune 500 companies, I felt the impact of corporate downsizing. I had to make a decision about what to do next.
Q. Why did you pursue entrepreneurship?
A. I asked myself — what am I most passionate about? As a supplier diversity professional, I always knew I was motivated by the economic impact of diversity and inclusion in the supply chain of major corporations. I have been inspired by successful entrepreneurs but never saw myself as a risk-taker and never imagined myself in their shoes.
When the unexpected happened, I suddenly saw clearly that I could continue to add value to diverse suppliers and the corporations they serve, just in a different capacity. Throughout my career, I have coached and advised suppliers on how to position themselves with corporate buyers. In addition, I have developed a nationally recognized supplier diversity program for my corporation. It was not difficult to develop a business plan to leverage my vast experience and results into a consulting business model.
Q. How different is it being an entrepreneur as opposed to a supplier diversity professional?
A. Sitting on the other side of the desk of the corporate supplier diversity officer, I need to remember my own advice! My feedback to diverse suppliers always included differentiating themselves by knowing the customer, identifying pain points and offering real solutions to business problems. Also listening more than you talk, and being patient and receptive to the feedback of the corporate representative.
Most corporations have an online supplier registration processes. Some suppliers feel these databases are a “black hole” or “dead end,” but these tools are essential to help busy diversity professionals manage supplier information and identify partners to participate in the RFP process. In my corporate role, I always encouraged suppliers to follow their customer’s process and be patient while waiting for the next opportunity. Now I need to hear my own words and do the work, keep my certification documents current and follow up.
Q. How do you keep your company top of mind with potential clients?
A. I believe it is essential to continue to volunteer and support important diversity organizations.
I know that being true to myself and my values gives me the greatest personal satisfaction and reward. That’s the reason why I continue to volunteer with USBLN (US Business Leadership Network) , DMSCA (Diverse Manufacturers Supply Chain Alliance) and WBENC (Women’s Business Enterprise National Council), to name a few. It is important to participate in industry specific conferences to continue visibility, remain current and demonstrate the viability and sustainability of my business.
Q. What are your biggest fears?
A. One thing that scared me about becoming an entrepreneur and kept me in a “safe” corporate role – namely loss of steady income – isn’t as big a fear as I thought it would be. I understand that developing a client base takes time. It helps to be disciplined and have a bit of reserve to make ends meet. Yes, there are days when I worry, but most days, I am encouraged and excited about the future.
Q. What does success look like for Nancy Conner Consulting, LLC?
A. As a new business, my goal for the next 12 months is to connect with a diversified customer base that includes corporations as well as diverse suppliers. The best corporate client for me is one that needs to start up or elevate their supplier diversity program. They are typically a prime or Tier 1 supplier to the top corporations who already have supplier diversity programs and who want to drive inclusion within their supply chain. My ideal diverse supplier client is an established business that wants to get to the next level within corporate supply chains. I will demonstrate results and return on investment for my clients. If I can do this and continue to drive economic impact within the minority, womanowned, disabled, veteran and LGBT business community, my business will be a success.
Conner is a graduate of DePaul University and Lake Forest Graduate School of Management. Her expertise in supply chain, supplier development and small business partnerships, combined with her ability to interpret corporate requirements, have led to hundreds of long-term relationships. For more information, please visit nancyconner.com