“Let me tell you sweetheart, you keep coming to events like this, somebody will give you some business.”
Those are unlikely words from an unlikely source that was said to inspire confidence in a budding entrepreneur. They did just that for Diversity Spend Solutions CEO and Founder Melanie Rhodes.
After eight years in her successful business, Rhodes shared some of the ups and downs of her journey to become, as she puts it, “a bona-fide entrepreneur.”
Armed with only an idea and a little help from her first client/champion, Rhodes attended her first trade show. She was filled with fear and self-doubt, which she believes, at times, came through in her presentation. However, that unlikely moment gave her the confidence to continue. Because she bought into the notion that if she showed up consistently, someone would eventually give her business—and they did.
“Being an entrepreneur is like growing up all over again,” Rhodes said.
She continued, “You’ve got to have an alter ego for a while. You’ll know when that alter ego is no longer needed.”
Rhodes’ introduction to supplier inclusion came while she was an IT employee at Toyota in Erlanger, Kentucky. As so often happens in life, Rhodes had made some cursory relationships within supplier diversity, and when a serious challenge hit the department, she developed a solution. She then was asked to join the department when an opening became available.
Rhodes credits her early success to Adrienne Trimble, general manager of Diversity & Inclusion, Toyota North America, for believing enough in her to give her the first opportunity as an entrepreneur.
Although Diversity Spend Solutions was founded and is based in Atlanta, Rhodes was born and raised in Cincinnati. She comes at everything from her strong midwestern values perspective. She believes that when you don’t have a brand, you go where you are loved. In essence, where you have relationships, is what Rhodes recommends to new business owners, and for her that meant the Midwest. It is likely to get your first contract in your own backyard. In fact, the majority of her business today still comes from Midwest corporations.
Diversity Spend Solutions is certified by both the Women’s Business Enterprise Council and the National Minority Supplier Development Council. Upon returning from a recent regional event, Rhodes discussed the importance of showing up.
She said, “When you don’t have a lot of money to brand your business, boosting your personal brand is essential. Make a decision to show up even if you aren’t getting paid or don’t have the budget.”
Rhodes learned this lesson early on and continues to rely on prayer, wisdom and her faith as guidance. A recent example is when she financed the travel for an unpaid meeting and walked out as she put it, “$25,000 richer”, one hour later.
Making and solidifying relationships is how she’s grown her business. Three years in, she was completely broke and thought she would have to find a job to survive, when she made a decision that turned the tide.
She had a series of conversations with a prospective client, and when given permission by the prospect to charge him for her consultation, she refused.
Rhodes proved her value by listening and learning about the prospect. She learned that “the more they talk, the more you get to showcase your value.” She landed a contract in 2012 and continues to do business with that client today.