Women Who Lead: Fabi Preslar with SPARK Publications

Women Who Lead: Fabi Preslar with SPARK Publications

Each #WomenWhoLead feature will be showcased on a wall mural in South End Charlotte. If you know a woman leader who you want to feature on the wall, please click the button to nominate her.

Fabi Preslar (we’ve learned is pronounced “Faybee”) and her entrepreneurial life fueled by SPARK Publications have been one of perseverance and thriving through opportunities to get to a sparklier creative situation on the other side.

Although it seems like she lost a great deal as a teen, courageously leaping into her own new life eventually brought about a dream life of creatively working with her family, a great company serving high-profile business owners, and receiving national recognition. As a firm, SPARK Publications has won over 250 industry awards celebrating their marketing design and publishing work for clients.

Although little of this came easy, Fabi has been awarded an international 2021 Gold Stevie Award for Chief Happiness Officer of the Year, a national 2020 FOLIO magazine: Top Women in Media, was inducted into the 2019 North Carolina Women Business Owners Hall of Fame, and the 2018 First-Generation Family Business of the Year by the Charlotte Business Journal, and as Woman Business Owner of the Year by NAWBO Charlotte in 2017. 

We had a quick conversation with Fabi about her entrepreneurial life, providing her such a deep opportunity for personal growth while creating a successful business publishing for other entrepreneurial rock stars.


You are the founder of SPARK Publications. Tell us how you got to where you are now.

My business ownership story started several generations ago with my great grandfather and numerous other family entrepreneurial attempts. Each one ended with great detriment to the livelihood of our family. My parents immigrated from France to start their young married life. My parents, sister and I lived in many places including Canada, Bahamas, Paris, as well as various places along the East Coast in the United States. The summer before my senior year of high school, the restaurant my parents launched in Columbia, South Carolina, closed, which led us to lose our home and the farm we lived on. A family friend in North Carolina opened up her home to take in my family. Once my parents got back on their feet and started their new lives, it was time for me to start my own life. At seventeen, I moved to Charlotte without family support, no car, no money. I knew no one. I worked three jobs to put myself through Central Piedmont Community College to become a graphic designer. From there, I slowly built a life of creativity, love, and business as I worked as an art-director, general manager, and designer for various firms. While working at the Charlotte Observer, I met and married my husband, Larry, less than six months from when we met. At twenty-two, I gave birth to our daughter, started my first business, and then merged that graphic design business with a small printing company to form a corporate newsletter publishing company. That ended after six years with some really hard business lessons learned.

Today I am the founder and president of SPARK Publications, a twenty-four-year-old national award-winning, publishing firm specializing in custom magazines for trades and association and independently published non-fiction books to help grow businesses, brands, and platforms. Every day I get to work with my husband, daughter, a great team of SPARKlers, and a client base beyond my wildest dreams.

What has surprised you about owning your own business?

My biggest overarching surprises are the depth of what I’ve learned about myself and the amazing opportunities that come my way each year. I launched SPARK Publications with several goals: 1) to spend time with my family (everyone was spending more time with my husband and daughter than I was). I hadn’t placed the proper focus on my role as wife and mother, and I really wanted to. The first six years were home-based. 2) I’d gathered so much knowledge and applied skills as a designer, pre-press tech, the many steps in publishing and customer service, I couldn’t find a position that encompassed all the skills and creativity I had to offer. 3) I had lived life so fast from the age of seventeen that it was time for me to emotionally and spiritually get a better perspective, grow up, and truly discover who I am and how to best live my purpose (be careful what you ask for!).

Ten years into this business journey, my husband joined and at twelve years, my daughter became part of my firm’s full-time team. This enabled us, along with my other SPARKlers, to continue to grow ideas from my heart along with their exceptional talent. I have deep gratitude for these beautiful surprises. Owning a business brings constant surprises. I’m learning to celebrate the fun ones and more easily work through the tougher ones.

What’s something new you’re learning right now?

I love the impact my team makes with our magazine and book clients. Lately, the requests for me to become an entrepreneurial speaker, guide, and consultant are growing. I’m getting to vulnerably and authentically help business owners get clarity to love their life and businesses even more. I’m doing more speaking and workshops around the topics of “Fabulous F WordsTM to Fuel Your Future Story” and the fun concept of “Flailing ForwardTM”. I didn’t think I’d love it as much as I do. My time is currently limited to serve those increasing clients and opportunities while growing and managing SPARK Publications and SPARK Digital Design®. A third venture has me learning to get much better at scheduling my energy and time.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Although most who meet me for the first time wouldn’t know, I’m a deep introvert and still struggle with a lack of confidence. So, I’d let baby girl Fabi know that everything she experiences is going to be of value in a future situation. Everything gets you ready for the next thing and the next thing will be less hard because of the previous hardships and lessons. Be confident that you’re always on the right path for the next great lesson and experience. And have a bit more fun—hard times and challenges are a way of life and so are the good times.

Who are your mentors?

Joan Zimmerman, Dee Dixon, and Sara Blakely (from afar) are some of my business mentors. I was recently selected for a page feature in Entrepreneur magazine. When the printed issue arrived, and Sara Blakely was on the cover and our features were just a few pages apart…that was an energetic nerdy dance celebration moment for me.

Dee and Joan have always been there to cheer me on and provide that needed real-world kick and kindness just when I needed it most. Even with a great family, having mentors that can call you out and cheer you on is priceless. I’m paying it forward now with several amazing women in business.


How can you become a good leader?

I think to be a good leader we have to first be a good student of life. We need to be willing to take the time to be the best we can be as a person and take the courage to honor, and at times, rebuild the foundations we previously built that no longer serve us.

Women Who Lead: Devin Allen with Soul Food Healing Company

Women Who Lead: Devin Allen with Soul Food Healing Company

Each #WomenWhoLead feature will be showcased on a wall mural in South End Charlotte. If you know a woman leader who you want to feature on the wall, please click the button to nominate her.

When Devin Allen’s grandmother fell into a coma, doctors offered a grim prognosis: She would never wake up. But the hospital’s nurses had hope.

“They were a positive light,” says Allen. “They told us, even though she wasn’t interacting with us, that we could talk to her and play her favorite gospel music. They gave us something to hold onto during a very difficult time.”

When her grandmother did wake up, Allen decided that she would provide families with that same glimmer of hope. She would become a nurse. 

Today, as an RN at Atrium Health in Charlotte, Allen’s goal is to help patients be partners in their care, not just participants. As such, she offers patients alternatives to prescription drugs and crafts holistic health products through her business, Soul Food Healing Company

We sat down with Allen to hear more about her approach to wellness.  


What’s the difference between traditional and holistic medicine? How did you learn about alternative medicine?

Traditional medicine is what we’re all used to seeing: prescription medications, over the counter ointments, injections, and so on. Holistic medicine is in a realm of its own. Holistic medicine uses acupuncture, healing herbs, teas and syrups, to name a few, that have been proven to help treat common ailments, such as anxiety, headaches, insomnia, and arthritis pain. 


Let’s dig a little deeper here: What initially lit the fuse and sparked your passion for holistic medicine?

My niece recently started attending daycare and she was bringing tons of germs home. Well, guess who was catching all of her colds. During this time, my niece would be fine, running around, full of energy, and there I was, completely debilitated in bed, not feeling well at all. So, like most people, I went to my doctor to get a prescription. Often, I would finish the prescription, but I would still be feeling terrible, and in some cases I would actually feel worse than I felt before I took the medication.

After catching several of these colds from my neice, I knew I needed to find an alternative — something I could take that actually made me feel better. Something natural, free of preservatives, dyes, side effects, and chemicals. This was a pivotal moment for me, I began researching and testing out my own recipes. I can recall a specific time when I was sick for two weeks. When I took a dose of the elderberry syrup and turmeric tea I made, I began to feel much better just a few hours after. 


What services do you provide through Soul Food Healing Company?

A customer might come to me and say, “Hey, I’ve been struggling to sleep at night. Do you have anything natural that will help?” I might have a tea blend or a syrup that I’ve crafted. Additionally, I have often made recipes that are unique to what my clients are struggling with. 


Of course, in addition to being a business owner, you are a nurse. How does owning a holistic healing company affect your ability to provide patient care? 

Having an understanding of holistic medicine has made me a stronger nurse. Now, my mindset has been expanded in terms of options for treating various conditions. Many people have been taking prescription medications for years and have yet to see improvements in their health. There are so many people who are excited to try something different and who often see rapid improvements when they switch to holistic remedies. 

Healing your body through natural foods and holistic medicine has been around for a very long time, but it’s not my job to convince anyone to switch to this lifestyle. My goal is to provide an alternative option for those who are interested, and in most cases, for those who are simply sick and tired of feeling sick and tired. 


What unexpected challenges have you faced, both as a registered nurse and as a business owner?

As a nurse, there were many struggles we all had to face associated with the pandemic. We had to learn how to care for patients with a virus that we hadn’t seen before, all while dealing with the constant changes in hospital policies and procedures. Taking time to decompress during the pandemic has certainly been one the biggest challenges. 

As a business owner, my main challenge is meeting the demand — ensuring the products get to those who need them as soon as possible. It’s also important to me to network with other people in the natural health community. 


You have been a registered nurse for seven years now. How do you continue to grow and evolve as a practitioner?

I have been intentional about venturing out and exploring a wide range of areas of nursing. Upon graduating, I worked in critical care. This was a significant challenge, but I gained a wealth of knowledge and experience.

Working in critical care also gave me the confidence I needed to start travel nursing. When working in this field, it is critical to be confident in who you are as a nurse. The process is extremely fast paced — often you’re in a new city,  state, and sometimes a new country. Travel nurses often have only one day of orientation before they are out on their own, compared to the 1-3 months most new hires receive. I was blessed with the opportunity to travel to California for a while, during this experience many of my patients were Spanish speaking only. This was very challenging, but it made me a better nurse. Now, I’m able to communicate with Spanish-speaking patients more efficiently. I am currently pursuing my Master’s in Family Nurse Practitioner, while also being involved with committees that work to identify opportunities for improvement in the nursing field. These committees help us progress forward as a profession. 


Can you talk more about your committee work? What problems are you trying to solve?

Far too often in nursing we have people making decisions for us, even though they don’t always understand the different challenges that we experience. My goal is to help bridge that gap. 


Do you have any other passion projects?

There are many communities in Charlotte that do not have access to fresh produce. These communities are considered food deserts. My goal is to help eliminate food deserts, by providing access to fresh foods and promote improvement in health quality. I have cultivated a community garden that is a source of fresh produce for underserved communities who are living within these communities. 


That’s such important work. How did food access become an interest of yours?

Unfortunately, ailments like hypertension and high cholesterol, to name a few, plague the African-American community as well as some other underserved communities. Though these diseases can be hereditary, often disease prevalence is about access — or lack thereof — to healthy foods. 

In nursing school, we had an assignment where we had to spend a day in the life of someone who lives in food deserts, and the journey they must embark on to obtain healthy, fresh foods. Through this process, I was able to gain a better understanding of the struggles of these communities. As a group, we took city buses, evaluated the costs, and so on. This experience sparked something in me. I started to think: How do we make it easier for people to access healthy food? How do we eliminate or reduce some of these common ailments that occur disportionately in these communities?

When caring for patients in the hospital, I see patients on multiple medications who have no knowledge of what their medications are for. 

My dad, for instance, was a newly diagnosed diabetic, I remember him mentioning to me that nobody discussed the importance of changing his diet and exercise, even though this is one of the most therapeutic steps you can take when managing diabetes. The vital importance of eye exams 1-2 times a year and checking his feet daily for wounds, was also not taught to him. 


Do you think community involvement allows you to be the best practitioner possible?

Absolutely, connection to the community is one of the most important things to me. It keeps my heart centered and reminds me of why I was called to do this work. It keeps us human. As nurses, if we feel disconnected, a patient can become just a number. Most will stop going the extra mile. It is so important in healthcare to provide people with options and allow them to be involved in their care. Asking people questions such as – “What’s working well for you?”, “What are your goals?”, and “How do you feel about  your current treatment regime?.”  It is my desire to change the healthcare narrative and help people become actively involved in their own care and treatment plans.  


What are your goals moving forward?

I’m currently studying to become a nurse practitioner. My goal is to open my own practice after gaining experience upon graduation. Through this practice, I plan to integrate the products that I’ve created within my business. This would be a natural option for patients who are struggling with various medical conditions while providing an alternative to taking prescription medications. 

Women Who Lead: Emma Allen with Emma Allen State Farm

Women Who Lead: Emma Allen with Emma Allen State Farm

Each #WomenWhoLead feature will be showcased on a wall mural in South End Charlotte. If you know a woman leader who you want to feature on the wall, please click the button to nominate her.

Before Emma Allen emerged as a successful financial professional, she was Chuck E. Cheese — the iconic mouse who cheers on children as they win arcade games and eat pizza. 

“That was probably the worst job I’ve ever had,” Allen laughs. “The outfit weighed 100 pounds and kids would knock me over. My teammates thought it was funny.”

Though Allen doesn’t miss those days working at the family entertainment center-turned-pizzeria, she doesn’t regret them. “Nobody wants to be Chuck E. Cheese, but it was on the path to where I needed to be,” she says.  

Since January 1999, Allen has managed Emma Allen State Farm, an insurance agency in Charlotte. In this position, she has helped thousands of families achieve financial literacy. She has also mentored the next generation of financial professionals. 

We chatted with Allen to learn a thing or two about personal finance. We also spoke about how to pursue your dream job, even if you are weighed down by a Chuck E. Cheese costume.   


State Farm Insurance does business differently. How do you get that point across to potential customers? 

Our best cheerleaders are people who’ve done business with us over the past 30 years. Because I’ve been at it so long now, people are referring their grandkids to me. That’s really the biggest testimony about who we are and what we’ve done. 

There are a lot of people who get into this financial services business and they’re in it for a year or two. But there aren’t that many people who have been in it for 30 years and have the kind of reviews that we have. That really is our barometer.


What specific services do you provide?

We sell traditional policies like home, life, and auto insurance. But we also provide free financial planning for everything from building your basic budget to knowing what things ought to be part of your long-term financial plan. 


What about your character has helped you maintain such a long and successful career in this industry?

I would not provide a service for you and your family that I don’t currently provide for me and my family. So, oftentimes, I’ll turn my computer around and show people the products that I’ve had and how they have performed. That makes a difference to people. 

Even when people come to me and are thinking about a financial plan, I say to them, “Shop around. There’s no pressure. If you find a plan that you like better, I’ll review it for you.” Not many people are willing to do that. 


Throughout your career, you have held very forward-facing positions. Have you always had a knack for interacting with people? Or did you develop those skills over time? 

It was quite intentional. From the time that I was in junior high school, I saw how people in my minority community were treated by the bankers, insurance agents, and other financial professionals in my town. So, quite intentionally, I decided at a very young age that I was going to be an advocate for financial literacy. 

There’s no question that there are people who have preconceived notions about who they want to do business with. Some of those people are people of color. Some of those people are not people of color. I had to learn to chart my own path. There are people that don’t want to do business with me because I’m a woman or because I’m a woman of color. And I’ve decided to let the success of my clients and their families tell our story for us.

I tell my team, “We are not here for everyone. We are here for the people who are on the same path as us and who want to do business with us.”


You have been in the industry for 30 years. What has changed? What do we still need to work on to help underserved communities achieve financial literacy? 

What I’m noticing is that my generation understood the need for savings and the need for insurance coverages, but didn’t have the right distribution sources. They needed people who were willing to teach them about the right products.

What I’m experiencing now is that the younger generation — people in their 30s — seem less concerned about that kind of stability. For example, many people believe that life insurance is just for death. And it’s not. There are many ways to use life insurance as part of a financial strategy. 


How has your company pivoted to adapt to these cultural changes?

We’re having to meet people where they are to tell the story. Social media is now a really big part of what we do. My community involvement has also shifted so that I’m in places where I can meet these folks. I’m broadening my horizons so that I capture this generation that, frankly, needs more education. 

We also hire young people in our firm. We want people to do business with people they can relate to and who look like them. So, I’m here to coach, train, and build a new generation of financial professionals. That’s part of my legacy.


You’re obviously very passionate about financial literacy. What advice would you give to someone who is struggling to find a passion and leverage it to advance their career?

I’m not naive. I’m aware that people every day have to, for whatever reason, go to a job that they don’t like. There’s no shame or embarrassment in doing work that you don’t like. However, while you’re doing that work, prepare and dream. Write it down and crystalize where you want to be. Be as specific as possible and start working toward that. 

I’ve heard people say, “Oh, I’m going to step out on faith. I’m going to leave this job that I hate because I really want to do this or that.” Well, I’m not going to jump out of a window when I don’t see anything underneath that might break my fall. We need to prepare first, whether that looks like networking or saving six months — though really it should be 18 months — of an emergency fund. All that preparation matters and puts you on the path to your ultimate dream.


Can you think of a time when you were dreaming and preparing while working a job that wasn’t your calling?

I’ve had a number of jobs and bosses that I hated. For instance, I managed a call center and that was a job from hell. But I put a date in the sand in my own mind and noted the things that I needed to accomplish.

One of those things was to get a few mentors who were where I wanted to be. It’s so important to be around people that you want to be like, not necessarily from an income perspective but from a personality or internal competence perspective. These folks are always pouring into you. 


Do you still have mentors?

Absolutely. Some of the young people in my office teach me things every day. I consider them mentors. I think defining who your mentors and coaches are more broadly is a valuable asset. Some people would say, “Oh, that person has a job that I did 10 years ago. They don’t have anything to teach me.” They may not have anything to teach you from a career perspective, but they may have something to teach you from a cultural or human perspective.


What is something you have learned recently from one of these mentors?

I’m somebody who didn’t know how to turn a computer on, so Instagram and Facebook were completely foreign to me. I have learned so much in the last 24 months from my younger coaches and mentors. 


Hindsight is 2020. Is there any advice you wish you had given your younger self?

I would have started my financial plan a whole lot earlier. What if I had started right after college, at 23 years old, just putting a little bit of money away? What if I had started buying some real estate? I guess the bigger lesson is don’t wait for the motherlode. Take smaller opportunities consistently because they may grow into something really, really large.

Other than social media, what have you learned recently that has helped you grow and evolve both professionally and personally?

Don’t stop doing good. Sometimes, when you try to do good, people don’t appreciate it or, on the contrary, resent it and hurt you in the process. But don’t let their actions change who you are. Stay on your path. 

Previously, I would be hurt for a lot longer. I would carry it for six months or a year before I could let it go. But now, I move on much more quickly. I don’t have any desire to harm them back or retaliate. I believe that the world does what it does and that karma is what it is. It’s not my job to provide justice. It’s my job to continue to do the good work.

Women Who Lead: Kelsey Mayo with Poyner Spruill

Women Who Lead: Kelsey Mayo with Poyner Spruill

Each #WomenWhoLead feature will be showcased on a wall mural in South End Charlotte. If you know a woman leader who you want to feature on the wall, please click the button to nominate her.

As an employee benefits attorney at Poyner Spruill in Charlotte, Kelsey Mayo finds the way to “yes.” Rather than discredit unconventional proposals or write off passion projects for lack of time, Mayo pauses to ask herself: “How do I find my way to ‘yes’?” In other words, what compromises need to be made to reach the goal? 

“I like to fully vet an idea to decide whether it’s really worth it,” says Mayo, who graduated from Wake Forest Law School in 2008. “Engaging people in this way — rather than shutting them down — is much more productive, even if you come up with a totally different solution.”  

In addition to serving her clients, Mayo acts as Director of Regulatory Affairs for the American Retirement Association, an organization that advocates for legislative and regulatory matters to benefit America’s private retirement system. 

Despite her packed schedule, Mayo said “yes” to a quick interview during which she shared her personal philosophies on work, life, and balancing the two. 


You are an employee benefits attorney. What does that mean exactly?

I work with human resources professionals, legal counsel, and business owners to keep retirement plans in compliance. I generally don’t go to court like traditional litigators. I laugh that what I do is the much softer side of law.


How do you juggle working with clients, advocacy, and your other personal passions? 

People joke with me and say that I’m a lot. I always laugh and say, “Oh, you should’ve seen me when I first started.” I was very, very driven and Type A. But I’ve always had a strong desire in life to find the way to “yes.” 

Wanting to say “yes” does lead to a very full plate. People ask me all the time, “How do you balance it all?” A more honest answer is that I don’t do it alone. I have a team–both personally and professionally–and I’ll go to them to ask, “Can we do this?” And then we talk about how we can get to “yes.” Sometimes we rearrange work schedules or partner with someone outside the firm. Oftentimes, they find a way to get me to “yes,” and that’s fantastic. Sometimes, we all regret it in the midst of stretching ourselves to meet the goal, but we get there together.     

And sometimes I do go through the analysis and I know it’s not right to say “yes.” For example, I am routinely asked to do volunteer work for causes I’m passionate about, and I really want to say “yes.” But it doesn’t always happen. I’ve had to learn, particularly over the last few years, to say “not right now.” Then, I’ll offer a way to add value or stay connected in the meantime.


“Find the way to yes.” That’s a very interesting mantra. What’s the origin story?

It originated from my mentor within the firm. I had a fantastic partner who retired a couple of years ago. We had lots of long discussions about balancing. When he was counseling me, he always suggested that I needed to say “no” to things. I think during one of those mentoring conversations I said, “I’m okay with saying ‘no,’ but I’d rather find a way to ‘yes.’”

After that, when we were talking about new opportunities, he started to say, “What’s it going to take to get you to ‘yes’?” That would allow me to reframe the question in what do I have to do–to acquire, to give up, etc.–to achieve this goal.


So your mantra is a prompt for reflection?

Yes, and I like it because I’m frustrated by “no” people. I’ve worked with folks who, when you come up with an idea, seem come up with every reason not to make it work. They start with “no.” I like to start the other way. I say, “Okay, let’s think about your idea. What does the idea take? What is the result? What does it take to get to ‘yes’?” 


After being named one of Charlotte’s 50 Most Influential Women, The Mecklenburg Times asked what your greatest accomplishment was. You mentioned handling a situation in which two partners at your firm had left. Can you talk more about that experience? 

At the time, I was a younger partner. I had three experienced partners, one of whom was very part-time. One of the partners, unfortunately, had a medical incident and left the practice overnight. On Monday, we had to come in and take over his clients. It was a very stressful few months. I worked so much. I woke up as early as I could and worked as late as I could. I went to sleep, and then I did it again. But we did a great job as a team and we didn’t lose a single client due to his departure. 

After seeing this very close friend go through a life-changing medical issue, my other full-time partner decided to make a change and retire. So I went from having two full-time partners to one part-time partner in a matter of months. Managing the work during that time felt like being in a hot forge every day. 

Fortunately, we were able to rebuild quickly. My practice administrator and paralegal really stepped up during the turmoil. I hired the partner that I still work with now, and he’s freaking amazing. Our associate has been with us since that time — she joined us in the midst of all of this — and she’s fantastic. And we’ve had other wonderful attorneys contribute to the team over the years. 

The forge analogy is really fitting–it was a tough time, but we came out stronger and built a brilliant team. We are preserving the legacy of the practice for the firm. It’s one of the biggest accomplishments I can think of. 


Wow. During those months, did you ever have moments of doubt? Did you ever question your career path?

In the midst of it, I definitely questioned whether this was what I wanted to be doing. I wondered, “When is this going to end? How long can I sustain this?” But at the end of the day, the firm stood behind me, supported the changes I wanted to make, and I ended up taking over the practice.


What did you learn about yourself?

That was the high watermark of my personal tolerance. When anything bad happens now or we worry about what could happen, I always think, “It’s not as bad as that.” If I can get through that, I can get through pretty much anything. 


What did this experience teach you about work-life balance?

It’s funny because I don’t know that I have a great work-life balance, but I will go to the ends of the earth to protect your work-life balance. The other side of that coin is that when I do sign off, my team will bend over backward to protect me and give me space to disconnect. My team has created a culture of protecting one another. My team also understands that work-life balance doesn’t mean that you don’t put in the time when it’s needed. It means you take the time when you can.  

No matter our title, we are always growing and developing in some way, shape, or form. With that being said, what’s a new skill you’re learning right now?

I’m a very passionate person and I have very strong feelings and opinions. When I see someone who disagrees with me, I tend to want to convince them of my opinion. But I also believe strongly that we should be able to have robust dialogue and not agree and it still be okay. 

So, I’m trying to be sure that when I communicate my ideas to people that it’s with a very clear intent that we’re on the same team–we both likely want a positive outcome. This is just a discussion of how to achieve a positive outcome. You’ll see my point of view and I’ll acknowledge yours. If we don’t agree, that’s okay. 

Who are the people you are potentially disagreeing with?

I’m on our management committee for the firm. We have seven partners who are on this committee and we’re from very different walks of life. We’re in different practice areas, we’re in different geographies, we’re different ages, and we come at things very differently. But, at the end of the day, we all want the same thing: We want the firm to be successful and prosperous. 

I think it’s really important to have strong, passionate dialogue with people who disagree with you and then to walk away still liking each other and wanting to do it again.


Does this want for civil disagreement conflict with your solutions-oriented personality?

It does. Like most people, I’d love it if everyone thought I was right all the time. Who doesn’t like to be right? Disagreeing can be frustrating; it can discourage you from engaging. 

But my law partner has this saying: “You have to remember to question their methods, not their motives,” which I believe he took away from an address Joe Biden gave at Yale. In other words, we’re all on the same team and we want the same things. Just because we have different views on how to achieve those things doesn’t mean you should avoid engaging with someone. In fact, I want to engage more with them because I want to understand where they’re coming from so that I have a better understanding of how to serve. 

When you do have to step up and put in long hours, what makes it all worth it?

The unique nature of our role is that we’re here to serve people. They need us. I will absolutely tell you that part of what gets me up in the morning is being of service. That’s what I love about being a lawyer. Each day, I add value to my clients. 

Women Who Lead: Brittney Bogues with Bogues Consulting Group

Women Who Lead: Brittney Bogues with Bogues Consulting Group

Each #WomenWhoLead feature will be showcased on a wall mural in South End Charlotte. If you know a woman leader who you want to feature on the wall, please click the button to nominate her.

Brittney Bogues grew up in an arena. Her father, Tyrone “Muggsy” Bogues, was drafted into the NBA the same year she was born: 1987. He soon emerged as a star for the Charlotte Hornets and eventually debuted in the live-action comedy, “Space Jam.” Meanwhile, his daughter lived and breathed basketball. 

“I grew up hanging out with Stephen Curry,” says Bogues. “I went to every home game.”

Today, 34 years later, her passion for the sport shines through in her “go hard or go home” leadership style. As the owner and founder of Bogues Consulting Group, a PR firm rooted in Charlotte, Bogues believes in bringing her A-game to every ghostwriting project and media planning session.

We sat down with Bogues to hear more about what it takes to be a female entrepreneur in the Queen City and what’s next for her business.  


On your website, you mention that you have a “go hard or go home” leadership style. What does that mean? What’s a good leader?

“Go hard or go home” means bringing your A-game. My team is great because we put our clients first. But we also make sure that we take time off for ourselves and treat ourselves well so that we can give our clients the best product. That’s how I lead. I try to stress work-life balance and team bonding so that people feel supported and heard. 

Leadership all comes back to self-awareness. A good leader is someone who knows what they don’t know. Even though I have my graduate degree and experience, I don’t have all the answers. That’s why I’ve built a team — because there are things I know I don’t bring to the table. 


Throughout your career, you have been very focused on women’s rights. You worked at a domestic violence and sexual assault shelter, for instance. Now, at Bogues Group, you offer the C-Suite Boss Camp for women. What, in your opinion, has changed regarding the culture of women in the workforce? What still needs to change?

What’s exciting now is that more women are launching their own businesses, especially during the pandemic. That’s so exciting. Women have always had passion and drive, but society’s expectations and norms have stunted their growth. 

I’m a huge nerd and love looking at statistics. So, women make up almost 50 percent of the workforce but just 25 percent of leadership. Then, if you look specifically at the C-suite, it’s just ten percent of women. And, if you dig deeper, only two percent of women in C-suite positions are women of color. Those numbers just don’t make sense to me. The math isn’t mathin’, as the cool kids say.  

My partner and I wanted to create spaces and places where women could see other women doing it. That’s where the C-Suite Boss Camp idea came from. This whole initiative is about seeing what you want. And, if you do want to be a leader, having the resources and access to women who can help you get to the next level. We had our in-person even pre-pandemic and hearing from those women was so inspiring and refreshing.


Three years ago, you left the nonprofit sector to start your own business. What can you do now, on your own, that you couldn’t do before?

Let me start by saying that I don’t think everybody should be an entrepreneur. Entrepreneurship is risky and a lot depends on you. You have to be truly motivated, even when things aren’t going your way. But, for me, seeing my vision come to life makes it all worth it. Being an entrepreneur gives you the freedom of deciding what your day looks like — when you start it, when you end it, and how you create your work-life balance. 


You mentioned that entrepreneurship isn’t for everyone. Can you unpack that?

If you don’t have the hustle to endure not knowing if you’re going to get a client and not knowing what tomorrow may look like, entrepreneurship isn’t for you. 

Plus, entrepreneurship isn’t for everybody because not everyone wants to lead. In the beginning, a lot of the work is on you. But as you grow, you have to learn to delegate. You have to learn to create systems of delegation and automation. You have to support and highlight your team’s strengths because that’s what makes everybody better. It’s a collective effort.   


How do you blend your personal passions with your professional aspirations in a way that’s profitable for your company?

Consulting keeps me happy because I’m passionate about many different things. At the core, I’m doing what I went to school for — marketing and communications. But I’m working with clients from so many different backgrounds that it doesn’t get boring. 

I’ve also learned that you want to stay true and authentic to your brand. If it’s not something that you’re authentically passionate about, how can you be an ambassador for it? So, I center my personal and work life around faith, family, and health. As for health, I’ve lost over 50 pounds and maintained it, so living a healthier life has helped me have a healthier business. 

My passion for health is why we’re focused on getting into the CBD industry right now. We see all the benefits of CBD. But we also see all the legalities that they face and we think that more could be done to tell a story about how CBD is changing lives. 


What advice do you wish you could give your younger self?

Lean on your faith and just be fearless. Life is short — you’re not promised tomorrow. So, go after it. Believe in yourself.


Sometimes being fearless is easier said than done. Is it challenging to take your own advice? 

Definitely, but I have mentors in my life. For example, when I started my first business — All In PR in 2011 — I talked to a few people because I was scared. They said, “If you fail, you can still use this as a learning opportunity. Your resume will show that you literally created a business. Then, you use that experience to parlay into something else.” And that’s exactly what I did. 

So, taking the leap is easier said than done. However, the mentors in my life have helped me take action throughout my career. 


Just because you have reached this goal of founding your own company doesn’t mean your journey has ended. So, what’s something new that you’re learning right now?

First of all, I’m learning to play golf. That’s been a fun and humbling experience for me. 

But I’m also learning about the power of learning what you don’t know. So, I’ve joined a forum that meets for four hours every month. During that time, you meet with advisors and delve into business strategy. It’s a professional development opportunity that I’m excited about. I’m looking forward to what that can do for my personal and professional growth, but also my business and team.


You also have your own vlog. Is that something you taught yourself recently?

Yes, I learned that recently. Social media has been its own kind of whirlwind. I’ve been doing social media for others for so long. But now, learning to do it for me has been a very interesting experience. It’s been a great way to connect with people in the community and also with my family members. 

I had my family members record an episode of “Family Feud” and it was hilarious. Vlogging helps me not take myself too seriously. I can be a super serious person, especially when I get these goals in my head and I’m just trying to knock them out. But I’m working on trying to be present. I realized that we’re sometimes on autopilot. So, my goal is to be intentionally present when I’m with someone.

Would you also advise your younger self to find mentors?

Yes. Honestly, social capital is so valuable. Most opportunities happen not because you’ve applied on a website but because you know someone. So, it’s important to make those connections but also to be true to those relationships. Treat them well. You never know when your name is being spoken in a room you’re not in or when an opportunity will come. 

But it’s also important to add value as a mentee. You shouldn’t always be taking — you should be offering value in return as well. For instance, one of my mentors might be sitting on a board and they may be working on a peer-to-peer campaign for their nonprofit. I might suggest that they use a template on Canva or show them how to make a Bitly link.  

I provide mentors with quick suggestions that are super, super simple to implement. It doesn’t always have to be a major lift — it’s the thought that counts. 

Women Who Lead: Cheryl Butler with StudioEast Styling Salon

Women Who Lead: Cheryl Butler with StudioEast Styling Salon

Each #WomenWhoLead feature will be showcased on a wall mural in South End Charlotte. If you know a woman leader who you want to feature on the wall, please click the button to nominate her.

Cheryl Butler’s parents were perturbed by her pivot in her new career. At least at first.

After studying accountancy at Johnson C. Smith University and securing a full-time position at a credit rating business, Butler became restless. She was living the American Dream, but she felt bored and disinterested. And so, after seven years, she quit her corporate gig to pursue her career as a full time cosmetologist and open StudioEast Styling Salon.

“My parents couldn’t fathom the idea that I would leave this job with a salary, benefits, and stability to style hair,” says Butler. “That’s how simple it was for them.” 

Today, nearly 20 years later, StudioEast is thriving. That’s because Butler, a “master stylist,” offers much more than haircuts and highlights. As a small business owner, she feels a certain responsibility to mentor other aspiring female entrepreneurs. We sat down with Butler to hear more about woman-to-woman mentorship, cosmetology, and passion.    


Where did your love for hair come from?

I grew up in a hair salon. My sister is a hairstylist and she’s about 17 years older than me. When I got to high school, I started working with my sister. I would assist her by blow-drying or shampooing clients. Those skills just stuck with me.

Then, when I was in college, I started using my skills. I started doing friends’ hair and those friends became paying customers. I had a small, but not necessarily legal, business in my dormitory for about four years. It kept some change in my pocket.


You earned a degree in accountancy and were living the American Dream at a corporate job. Why did you leave that behind?

I have more passion for serving others by doing their hair than by crunching numbers. But it took me a long time to open my salon. Right out of college, I went to work for a credit rating company called Moody’s Investors Service. I enrolled in cosmetology school part-time a few months after I started that job. Then, after I graduated from cosmetology school, I started working part-time in a salon while still working full-time in corporate America. I did that for seven years between two salons. After the sixth year, I realized that I just wasn’t passionate about my corporate job in the same way I was about the salon.

I could be creative and innovative in the salon even after working for eight hours at Moody’s Moody’s Investors Service. I had a second wind. It was like I was starting my day all over again. My clientele was growing so much that I would go to the salon at 6 a.m. before my 8-to-5 job. Then, I would go to work. At 5 p.m., I would rush back to the salon for afternoon appointments. It was just common sense — I could see that I had so much more passion for hairstyling.


What about your corporate job didn’t jive with your personality and lifestyle?

When I was in corporate America, I enjoyed the people, but I never developed a passion for the job. It was just that — a job. I was crunching numbers and I knew the product. I had even grown in the company, transitioning from an analyst to an editor. But I realized that the job was no longer interesting to me. It was the same thing, month after month after month. It was the same information, the same data, the same timeline. Nothing was ever different.

Another thing that bothered me about the corporate world was that I had to wait a whole year for someone to tell me that I was doing a great job. There was no instant gratification. But in the salon, it’s all instant gratification. When a client reschedules with me, it’s like they’re saying, “Hey, I appreciate you.” When they send a referral, it’s like they’re saying, “You’re doing such a great job that I want everybody to experience what you have to offer.”


Did you receive pushback from friends and family when you left your corporate job?

I most certainly did from my parents, who paid my tuition and put me through school. They were concerned about security. They wanted to make sure I could provide for myself. It was hard to tell my parents that this was what I wanted to do. The saving grace was that I didn’t rush. I didn’t just jump into it. It was definitely a leap of faith, but I planned. I didn’t have to move back home or sell my car. I was still able to take care of myself, and that helped.

My friends didn’t judge because they saw me working so hard. They saw me working two jobs. They saw my social life diminish to nothing. They saw me working in the morning and the evenings. They saw that I couldn’t accept invites for events. Sometimes, if I did go out, I would just fall asleep because I was so tired. But I had a goal and a purpose.


Tell us about the early days of your salon.

When I first started, I was working part-time in a salon as a booth renter. It was a small space for a reduced price. It was pennies — maybe $75 a week. I worked there for four years and then I went to a spa as an independent contractor. Then, in 2002, I opened StudioEast Styling Salon in a 1,200-square-foot building. I was there until March 2020. I downsized just before things closed because of COVID-19. I’m in a salon suite now.


You’ve owned your salon for nearly 20 years. How do you ensure that your business doesn’t stagnate?

In 20 years, I did sustain and grow a great business it was definitely not completely stagnated by the change in our community around us. 

Marketing and branding were an expenditure we could not afford to work without. We ran commercials on Time Warner, annual print ads in the USA Black Pages and a sponsorship walk with “Bottles and Bottoms.  I continually provided advanced training to new and existing stylists.  I offered business training and coached stylist to assist them with growing their own strong clientele.  We traveled to trade shows and participated in community events like “For Sister’s Only” to build a strong team that worked well together. We even sponsored a Live Television show here in the Queen City “Give Me The Mic Charlotte”, I drove for a teamwork environment that would promote our business and better service our clients.  We also used exclusive professional products only that set us apart. Providing a warm, clean and welcoming professional environment was a huge part of our customer service. The environment around us changed over the years. 

I did stagnate, out of fear. I knew for a while that I needed to relocate my salon. The environment around it was changing. There was less foot traffic of potential clients and more panhandling. A lot of people were hanging around and they weren’t always pleasant. The experience that occurred on the inside of my salon didn’t match the outside.

I needed my stylists to feel like this was a place where they could grow. I knew that it was time to make the change. I dragged my feet because the location was convenient to my home and my son’s school. I wish I had moved forward faster.


Small business owners are constantly growing and evolving. What’s something new that you’re learning right now?

COVID-19 was unfortunate overall. However, for my business, it was a blessing. It gave me time to reorganize and restructure. For a while now, I have wanted to become more of a business operator. I have wanted to get out from behind the chair and run, manage, and grow the salon. But that has been hard because I wear so many hats.

While we were home from March to June, I was able to reorganize my business by making calculated decisions. I looked at my time — how much time I was spending with a client and how often the client came to me. I also looked at my products. There are only so many services or clients I can do, so retail is important. I needed to make sure I was offering my clients products that could help them. If they aren’t going to buy hair products from me, they’re going to buy them from somewhere else. I reimagined my business plan completely.  My advice, trust the process, be prepared to pivot, plan, prepare and move forward when the need arrives.


As a female business owner, what do you think needs to change to help more women become entrepreneurs?

In this industry, female hairstylists have more many challenges because we’re mothers, we’re homemakers, and we’re caregivers. We’re more stretched than our male counterparts when it comes to home/work balance in many cases. My fiancée works for himself as well, our work loads are somewhat different when I get off work at the end of the day than his home responsibilities. The long hours and the 7-day work week required to grow a strong business in the beginning is challenging if you have a family and you are a mother. That might be because when women are more focused on business than family, it’s judged. Women support groups and more shared responsibility all the way around would even out the playing field.  

Also, when I talk to people in this industry, they’ll say, “Oh, it’s hard to work for women.” Or they’ll say, “Women are so catty. I’d rather work for a guy.” That’s something we need to improve on. We need to respect and honor the leadership of women in business.

Is there anything else you would like to share?

I’m so passionate about this industry, particularly African American salons.  It is my dream and hope to see more licensed cosmetologists retire successfully from this industry. People like to sit in the chairs of people who look like them. Multicultural salons would add such value to the artistry of our business. So, I offer training for others, one-on-one sessions, and mentoring. I go to beauty schools and give back because it’s something I enjoy doing. I want to inspire other stylists who want to do this as a career.