Dr. Valerie James with VisionSpot Consulting Group

Dr. Valerie James with VisionSpot Consulting Group

In this episode of The Mobile Alabama Business Podcast, we sit down with Dr Valerie James with VisionSpot Consulting. Listen in as we discuss how she got started with her own business after 25+ years in corporate America, and she gives us a few tips that most business owners can benefit from!

Produced by Blue Fish


Dr. Valerie James: Hi, my name is Dr. Valerie James. I am with VisionSpot Consulting, a performance management and training firm here in Mobile, Alabama.

Marcus Neto: Yay! Well I'm glad you're here with us. This has been a number of months in the planning. Right?

Dr. Valerie James: Yes.

Marcus Neto: The good doctor and I serve on a number of different boards and stuff like that together and run into each other all the time because she's super involved over at the Chamber which I love seeing. And I think I've been asking you for probably about six months now or something but I mean I get it.

We're both busy. We only really record once a month.

Dr. Valerie James: Okay.

Marcus Neto: So if you're not available on that day it's like, "All right. I'm getting you next month.".

Dr. Valerie James: All right.

Marcus Neto: But no I'm glad that you're here. So-

Dr. Valerie James: I'm glad to be here.

Marcus Neto: Yeah.

Dr. Valerie James: Thank you. I'm really excited. And I'm so proud of you. I'm seeing a lot of growth in this city and I'm seeing businesses like yours grow as well and as well as ours.

Marcus Neto: Yeah.

Dr. Valerie James: And it's really exciting to see the progress in the city, the progressiveness that's happening in spite of everything else that's happening.

Marcus Neto: Well thank you for saying that. And I would 100 percent agree. I am a we-can-all-have-our-piece-of-the-pie person versus "You've got my piece of the pie!". So I love seeing people succeed and anything that we can do to help people, we usually try to as much as we can. So.

But this isn't about me. This is about you. So why don't you tell us the story of Valerie? Why don't you tell us where you're from, where'd you go to high school? Did you go to college? Obviously you did, because you've got a doctor in front of your name.

Where did you get those degrees from and what did you get those degrees in? And then are you married? Which I know you are. But just give us some of your back story.

Dr. Valerie James: Sure thing. So I was born here in Mobile, relocated to California with my parents at a very young age, and full circle back home. I got married again and my husband is here so we decided to move here versus California.

My degree is in Organizational Leadership from Pepperdine University.

Marcus Neto: I've never heard of that before.

Dr. Valerie James: Pepperdine University-

Marcus Neto: Just playing. I'm just playing.

Dr. Valerie James: Super Malibu. The beaches. All of that. [inaudible 00:02:06]. And I went to high school, Banning High School in Wilmington California. It was a magnet school, a magnet program.

Marcus Neto: Okay.

Dr. Valerie James: But yeah all of my education was in California.

Marcus Neto: So your undergrad was from Pepperdine? Or was that your bachelor?

Dr. Valerie James: No. So I attended University of Phoenix, USC Marshall School of Business, and Pepperdine University.

Marcus Neto: Okay. So Pepperdine is where you got your doctorate?

Dr. Valerie James: Yes.

Marcus Neto: Okay. Very good.

Dr. Valerie James: Mm-hmm.

Marcus Neto: Yeah and what made you ... I mean, one, what possessed you to go and get that much schooling? Because I mean obviously you could have entered into the business world and done very well for yourself with just one degree.

Dr. Valerie James: Yeah.

Marcus Neto: Instead of ... And then what are the other two degrees in?

Dr. Valerie James: That's interesting. Business Management, Organizational Management, and Leadership Development. So everything around business-

Marcus Neto: And leadership.

Dr. Valerie James: Yes. Business, management, and leadership, yes.

Marcus Neto: So what possessed you to get the three degrees then? To go into business instead of just getting one and going into business? What did you see that you needed to do that for?

Dr. Valerie James: I felt like I wanted to be a true practitioner of business and leadership development. I worked in corporate America for over 27 years. I know that's confusing because you think I'm probably about 30 or so.

Marcus Neto: I mean you're only 25 so yeah.

Dr. Valerie James: Exactly. Exactly. So yeah and my roles in Human Resources and business really, really motivated that. And I wanted to be the authority in the matter because I saw that there was a lot of work that was needed.

Marcus Neto: Yeah.

Dr. Valerie James: Yeah so I got excited about just doing the work and also making sure that I was really offering relevant and rich information and not just based on my experiences and just feelings about it, right?

Marcus Neto: You may have worked one or two, corporate job, yeah. No I get that. Actually that's really smart of you. I mean, most people that find themselves in the position that you're in don't have that foresight. So that's cool that you did.

Now why don't you tell us a little bit about what you do and how you operate and stuff like that just before we get into all the rest of the questions and stuff. So you offer professional services, consulting. But what would somebody come to you for?

Dr. Valerie James: Right. So we take the growing pains out of expanding businesses by working with high-growth organizations to help them align their leadership strategy, structure, and talent to help them scale growth and create great places to work.

And we do that by ... We first go in and do a needs assessment for the organization. So we stress test the business to find out where their biggest gaps are. Whether it's in their staffing, through the HR space, their processes, and how they're structured. And we also look at their strategy. Their strategy and vision to see if it really aligns with what the whole organization's purpose is and their vision for how they want to operate and how they're measuring those outcomes.

So oftentimes our way in the door is typically through training and development. We do CEO training. So the solution's Maximizing Brilliance School of Leadership. It is a CEO training program that we offer for founders, corporations, nonprofits, and collegiate organizations.

Marcus Neto: Okay.

Dr. Valerie James: Yeah. So that's typically our way in the door because we teach them how to do it. Then we teach them how to operationalize the learning.

Marcus Neto: Which is-

Dr. Valerie James: Mm-hmm.

Marcus Neto: I mean, it's one thing to sit in a seminar or go through a class and absorb the information. It's a completely different animal to actually execute on that information.

Dr. Valerie James: Right. Right.

Marcus Neto: And then to have somebody come alongside of you and kind of keep you with some guardrails on the path knowing what you're trying to achieve. That's pretty powerful stuff.

Dr. Valerie James: Right. And that's important because the "how" is the most important part, not just the "what". The "how" is the most important part.

And we gear it around the customer experience. So there's three dimensions of service. There is the personal dimension, the human dimension, the business dimension, and the hidden dimension. So we look at all those different elements to make sure that they're aligned with each other and it's helping you to be able to be more sustainable, scale, and create great places to work.

So if you think about the human dimension, that's your relationship with your customer and the engagement. What their needs are. Do you have your customer persona identified right and your services aligned with that?

The business dimension is how your organization is structured to execute on that. And what are you measuring? How you're measuring success internally and externally with the customer.

And then the hidden dimension is the area where the work happens. Where your people, you're handling problems, your processes.

Marcus Neto: What processes you use.

Dr. Valerie James: Yes. And your procedures, your standards for excellence is being put into place and also realized as the work is happening.

Marcus Neto: Well I wish you'd gotten here like ten years ago. Because I've got that all figured out now.

Dr. Valerie James: And it's hard and some people don't.

Marcus Neto: No, I'm joking.

Dr. Valerie James: Yeah but-

Marcus Neto: I don't.

Dr. Valerie James: It's hard.

Marcus Neto: I don't know ... I've done over 200 episodes of this. I would say the percentage of people that actually know that stuff, very small percentage.

Dr. Valerie James: Yeah.

Marcus Neto: Because most small business owners, and we used this analogy in the last one, it's like the lamp unto my feet. I only know the information or know the problems that I'm dealing with that that lamp lights up. But I don't know what's in the darkness outside of that.

Dr. Valerie James: Right.

Marcus Neto: And I understand your way of operating is one in which you would know a lot of those and how they would impact the business and you can prepare for them and set them up. So that's pretty powerful stuff.

Dr. Valerie James: Process improvement is really big. Operational efficiency is a big part of what we do and it was birthed out of my experience in corporate America.

Marcus Neto: How so?

Dr. Valerie James: Because I worked in Human Resources ... So one of my most privileged roles in corporate America was working in Human Resources. I was put in that role not by design but by default because somebody was on leave and my boss asked me to serve in that capacity for a period of time and she decided not to come back and it became my life's work.

Marcus Neto: [inaudible 00:08:10]

Dr. Valerie James: It was the best thing that ever ... Her getting married and pregnant and having a kid was the best thing that ever happened to me. But one of my most privileged roles I would say is mediating relationships between managers and employees. And I saw the effect of ineffective leadership and communication breakdowns as well as the rewards and improvement in those areas. But I also saw great people leaving great organizations.

And as I evaluated the challenges that the leader was having, they weren't familiar with business acumen and they didn't know how they were showing up in the process. It's more than just knowing how to lead and control people. It's also what you bring, your emotional intelligence, your style of leadership, and understand the business of a business.

Marcus Neto: Yeah.

Dr. Valerie James: So that was key. And then on the flip side, we had great people leaving great organizations because their operational structure wasn't sound to help that employee become successful.

So you had a customer service queue and the phones are not being answered but the queue is stuck. It's not the employee, it's the system.

Marcus Neto: Yeah.

Dr. Valerie James: So that's where the operational efficiency came in. How is the system working to ensure effectiveness on this end?

Marcus Neto: Yeah.

Dr. Valerie James: So that's where the people, process, and productivity became our best practice.

Marcus Neto: Now that's really interesting and funny that you kind of fell into that by way of somebody else's-

Dr. Valerie James: Yeah.

Marcus Neto: Not being able to do the position for what would have been just a couple of months and it changed your life forever.

Dr. Valerie James: 27 years.

Marcus Neto: Yeah.

Dr. Valerie James: 27 years. And so doing that work I decided to start a business. My dad told me. He said, "You're doing all this work for other people. Why don't you do it for yourself?".

Marcus Neto: Thanks Dad.

Dr. Valerie James: And I was like, "Yeah great.". Every two weeks confirmed. An I-don't-know paycheck does not sound foxy to me.

Marcus Neto: Yeah.

Dr. Valerie James: But the company that I was working for forever moved to Salt Lake City. I worked for [PageNet 00:10:11] Wireless Communication Company, I'm really aging myself. That was before phones. Everything.

And I did that. And the same amount I was making in corporate America ... Well I used my hot leads first. Because I started my work and I would go on vacation to do projects and work in other places, training, and associations similar to what we're experiencing, being active in associations. Chambers. HR associations. And I started speaking and talking and people started engaging with me and wanting me to come and speak at their companies or different associations.

So I realized that the work was needed because people start engaging and say, "Yeah! That's what we're missing.". 22 years later.

Marcus Neto: Wow. That's really cool. And how ... Well, two questions. I'll ask this question first. If you were to say there's one problem that you see over and over and over in organizations, what's that one problem?

Dr. Valerie James: It's leadership effectiveness.

Marcus Neto: And what do you mean by that?

Dr. Valerie James: So I think the biggest problem is leaders understanding business. Leadership development I would say. Because people are oftentimes hired or promoted because of their skillset, not because they know how to manage people and business.

They are great at their craft. But then they're moved up and then they fail because they're not developed. They're not given the training and development to become intrapreneurs versus an employee of a process.

And oftentimes a lot of them fail.

Marcus Neto: I love that term by the way.

Dr. Valerie James: Yeah.

Marcus Neto: And I don't know ... If you're listening to this and you didn't catch that, intrapreneur.

Dr. Valerie James: Mm-hmm.

Marcus Neto: Right, so that's an employee that thinks somewhat like an entrepreneur. Like, "How can I grow this business? How can I be there to kind of expand? What are some things that aren't necessarily part of my job title that I can help because it moves the organization forward?". And so on and so forth.

Dr. Valerie James: Right.

Marcus Neto: I'm sorry I didn't mean to interrupt.

Dr. Valerie James: No absolutely. And that's it. You want them to have the mindset that this is a business. I'm operating in a business mode. And if it was my business, what would I do?

Marcus Neto: Here's what I would do.

Dr. Valerie James: Yes.

Marcus Neto: Yeah.

Dr. Valerie James: And how you would handle things.

And I've seen a lot of leaders fail as a result of that. Because the organization is not growing them or creating that succession plan which we often support with ... We do a lot of CEO succession.

Marcus Neto: Then they have to have the talk [inaudible 00:12:41]. This is a conversation, right folks? We're way off script now but ... Now I'm going through the process of redoing my will because it's been over ten years. A lot has changed including marital status and so one of the discussions that I'm having to have with myself and the people that are close to me, including some of the people that work here is a succession plan.

Like what happens to Blue Fish when I get hit by a bus?

Dr. Valerie James: Yeah. And you don't want the company to die with you. Yeah.

Marcus Neto: No. We didn't spend all this time, 15 years, to see something just vaporize because I, again, get hit by a bus. Why would I do that?

There are things that ... And I don't think many business owners think about this. But if I had a partner, we would fund buy-sell agreements. And if you're not familiar with that term, then go look it up. But it's an insurance policy that you buy on the other person so that if they die, you can buy out their loved ones.

So say I had a partner who, his name was John, I would buy a life insurance policy on John. The business would pay for it. And then if John dies, I'd give that life insurance money to his wife and kids to get his portion of the business and then we continue on.

I don't have a partner.

Dr. Valerie James: Mm-hmm.

Marcus Neto: And so it's just kind of like, "Okay well now what?". Well, okay does so-and-so want it? Have a son or a family member or whatever? And it's just kind of like I have to go down that path. And "Okay. Well, there are people here that have really invested themselves. They deserve some portion of what it is that they're helping to build.".

Dr. Valerie James: Yeah.

Marcus Neto: So I'm having to kind of go through and think through all those things. It is not an easy thing to think about. It's not an easy thing to think about. It's not an easy thing to document. I mean, it's a pain in the butt.

Dr. Valerie James: It is.

Marcus Neto: It'd be really easy if there was another partner. Because then you'd just fund those buy-sell agreements and you're done. But.

Dr. Valerie James: And that's not even easy either. But I'm sitting here almost in tears because your story is so much like my dad's.

Marcus Neto: Yeah.

Dr. Valerie James: And that's why I started doing the work that I do too. What happened in corporate America and what I saw happen with my dad's business. My dad was a multimillionaire. He wanted to make sure that he created an inheritance for us. And he had an automobile franchise and finance company in Inland Empire in Los Angeles, about four car lots and a finance company.

We were not into ... I was like, "I don't care about cars.".

Marcus Neto: Yeah.

Dr. Valerie James: I don't care. You know? But he wanted us to come to the business, come to the shop. He wanted us to do work. He wanted my brother to see what was going on. He was young at the time and I was not engaged at all. I mean, well I worked in the business, but I promise you at 4:45-

Marcus Neto: It wasn't your cup of tea. Yeah.

Dr. Valerie James: The light went off, I mean, the bell rung and I was gone. He had employees and everything take advantage of him. I saw him do business well. I saw people take advantage of him. I saw him give things away. I saw people take from him and I saw how he didn't do business well in a lot of different fashions.

But when he died, his business died with him. And as I became an entrepreneur, a true sense of the imagination, where I knew what it was really all about, it hurt my heart. Because he didn't want me to sell cars. He wanted me to manage his business.

Marcus Neto: Right.

Dr. Valerie James: And he was trying to build that inheritance for us too.

Marcus Neto: I don't know how many siblings you have but that's another sibling. Yeah it's your third ... That's your third child that you had.

Dr. Valerie James: And it really hurt my heart because we could have allowed the business to thrive and my brother says now, "Dang. I wish I would have done this for dad. I wish I would have done this for Dad.". But it allowed me to think through what succession planning looked like. Some children don't want to do what their parents did.

Marcus Neto: And that's fine.

Dr. Valerie James: You know?

Marcus Neto: Yeah.

Dr. Valerie James: So having somebody like you said within your organization that could potentially be that successor is great to think about. Or someone outside that you haven't connected with yet. But thinking that through because these years go by pretty fast.

Marcus Neto: Oh they do. As I-

Dr. Valerie James: Yeah.

Marcus Neto: You know it was funny, I was having a conversation with Ethan who is my 13 year old. And he was talking about how time just flies.

Dr. Valerie James: Mm-hmm.

Marcus Neto: And I love it.

Dr. Valerie James: Yeah.

Marcus Neto: I love who he is. I love how he is growing. But I'm sitting there, thinking ... And it wasn't to take a jab at him or anything. But I literally had that thought like, "Dude, you have no clue!".

Dr. Valerie James: Right?

Marcus Neto: Because I know like-

Dr. Valerie James: Enjoy this time.

Marcus Neto: I don't know. I mean it was just, "Wait until you get a little bit older.". Because I wake up on Monday morning and I enjoy my work but I'd much rather spend the day in bed. And before I know it, it's Friday afternoon and I'm going, "Where the hell did the week go?". And I don't-

Dr. Valerie James: Right. And the month! It's half a year now.

Marcus Neto: I got a lot done ... Yeah. Don't even start with me. But I mean I'll look at it and I'll think, "Man I got a lot done this week.". But really I didn't get enough done. It's always the plight of a business owner. There's always more work than there is you.

Dr. Valerie James: Yes.

Marcus Neto: There's always more work than there is money. There's always more you know ... I don't know. Anyway. This isn't about me Valerie. Stop making this-

Dr. Valerie James: No I'm loving it. I'm loving the conversation.

Marcus Neto: Interview about me. What was your first job and are there any lessons that you learned from it? There. Back at you.

Dr. Valerie James: So my first job ...

Marcus Neto: Yeah. Very, very, very first job.

Dr. Valerie James: So I think my very first job ... PageNet was really my real first job.

Marcus Neto: Well I mean, flipping ... I'm not saying real job. I'm saying you were flipping burgers or you were pushing a broom or ...

Dr. Valerie James: No. So-

Marcus Neto: Babysitting even. I'll take that. You know.

Dr. Valerie James: So I think ... So was it my dad's car lot? I think that was kind of one. But I remember working at Pat's Beauty Salon as a receptionist. And I was just so happy to have a desk. You know that was a big deal.

Marcus Neto: Yeah. I've made it. Yeah.

Dr. Valerie James: That was a big deal. And then I could get my hair done and I just heard shop talk. Beauty shops are almost like barber shops.

Marcus Neto: Yeah for sure.

Dr. Valerie James: You know? Just having ... But women conversations were more about church and work and style and fashion.

And so I learned a lot about being a lady. You know? And how to be poised and different things like that. I think transferrable skills are one of the best educational tools ever. Yeah.

So from there I went to my dad's company. I mean with the automobile shop and we did a lot of work and DMV work. So that was another office job. I always wanted to work in an office. I wore blazers in high school and I had a briefcase in high school. I always wanted to be a business person.

It was crazy. I think I was the only one ... I have pictures that I can ... As proof where I had a briefcase in high school and wore blazers. And I did not want my jacket to get wrinkled. So I would lay it on the back of the chair, [inaudible 00:19:42] every class.

Then, we had to wear seatbelts. I was devastated.

Marcus Neto: Don't even start on the seatbelts.

Dr. Valerie James: Well we had to wear these seatbelts, I don't want a wrinkle.

Marcus Neto: I was just thinking it's so funny because you walked in today and I was like-

Dr. Valerie James: Casual. Yes.

Marcus Neto: It's the first time I've seen you ... And you have your badge on. But I was like, "This is the first time I've seen her without a blazer on. I don't even know what to make of this.". Like, did she forget that we're getting a photo of her today?

Dr. Valerie James: I didn't know that. I didn't know there was a photo. But I'm glad you're going to give me a casual like-

Marcus Neto: I think it's amazing. And I love it.

Dr. Valerie James: Yeah.

Marcus Neto: But I just love hearing this story even that much more because it makes me understand you so much more.

Dr. Valerie James: I just wanted to be professional all my life.

Marcus Neto: Oh my gosh. That's funny.

Dr. Valerie James: And like I said, I wanted to ... And, yeah.

Marcus Neto: This podcast is amazing. I just love that I get to hear these stories. Because I never would have known that about you and that's amazing. That's so fun.

So one of the questions I always ask is, "How did you start your business?". I think you've kind of covered that but let me add this to it. Do you remember the first client or the first job that you got as your own ... You're the business owner that made you think, "Ah. There is definitely something to this."? Like, "I'm heading in the right direction.".

Dr. Valerie James: Yeah. I had an automobile shop that wanted me to help organize their front office.

Marcus Neto: Okay.

Dr. Valerie James: And it was interesting to me because I realized that instead of me ... Because I was doing more administrative office management work on the spot. But I realized once I did that and set them up and got things rolling, when I left, I took the skillset with me.

So I realized, that's when the development had to happen. Where I needed to train someone to do what I did so it could be sustainable. And he started referring me. The majority of my business has been based on referrals for the most part in the beginning. And that's when I realized that there's a niche for leadership development.

Marcus Neto: And I guess I'm sitting here thinking, your business is not that different than mine in that you have a skillset that can be applied across any industry.

Dr. Valerie James: Yes.

Marcus Neto: Do you focus on one specific industry? I hear you talking about car dealers and stuff like that a lot. But I didn't get the impression that that was the industry that you worked in.

Dr. Valerie James: No. Actually I worked a lot in the ... No. It is across industries. So leadership development, leadership impact training across industries. But I do work a lot with healthcare, law enforcement, the automobile was in the beginning, the infancy stages. And corporations.

So like Toyota, State Farm, Verizon. So yes. Different industries. Across industries.

Marcus Neto: Because going back, one of the things that I think would have been interesting, is if Blue Fish had picked an industry and focused on that.

Dr. Valerie James: Yeah.

Marcus Neto: And the only reason why I say is that because one of the difficulties is if you do have a skillset that can be applied across any industry ... And let's be honest. I can build a website for a dentist just as well as I can build a website for an accountant.

There's no difference. Still going to function the same.

Dr. Valerie James: Yes.

Marcus Neto: You know, whatever. And so ... But when you do that, you then have this very [inaudible 00:23:07] population of people that you can work with instead of being very narrowly focused in on one. So I was just curious as to whether you had focused in on one or not.

And we've actually even kicked around the idea of not necessarily formalizing this but almost thinking in the sense of subsidiaries to Blue Fish that are focused in on specific industries. We had some ideas surrounding website templates for churches at one point in time. And we've got some website templates for doctors, dentists, restaurants, and things like that.

So we've kind of done that but not really pushed it too far in that direction. So I don't know. Anyway but I was just curious.

Dr. Valerie James: I think that that's a great question. Because we explored that a little bit as well. Healthcare is a big area because a lot of the work that I've done over the past, probably I would say, ten years was in the healthcare space where we developed the medical assistants, the doctors, providers, and helping them, teaching them how to operationalize their business because they were great at their craft. Again.

Marcus Neto: Right.

Dr. Valerie James: As a doctor, they know how to do surgeries really well. But managing operations or their offices or practices was something that was a little bit more difficult. Or clinics I should say.

But so if you see on my website, it does narrow it down to a couple. So founders of corporate organizations. Corporations. Nonprofits. And collegiate.

Marcus Neto: Okay.

Dr. Valerie James: Yeah.

Marcus Neto: Yeah that's cool.

Dr. Valerie James: Mm-hmm.

Marcus Neto: Now if you were talking to someone that wanted to get started in running their own business, what's the one bit of wisdom that you would impart to them?

Dr. Valerie James: Wow. First of all, write it down. I truly believe if you haven't written it down, you haven't thought it through.

Marcus Neto: Okay.

Dr. Valerie James: And don't lose sight of your vision. Because everybody else can tell you what you need to do and how you should change it. And you have a vision. I mean, take advice. Definitely seek advice. Filter it the way you want to and use it the way you need to.

Marcus Neto: Sure.

Dr. Valerie James: But definitely don't lose sight of your vision. And I even asked my dad this question before he expired. Actually, [inaudible 00:25:21] I was working on the program. I said, "What advice would you give to a budding entrepreneur?". And he said that same thing.

Marcus Neto: Wow.

Dr. Valerie James: Don't lose sight of your vision. And do the research.

Marcus Neto: Yeah. Oftentimes, because being in the position that I'm in, I hear a lot of pitches. And the thing that I'm struck by a lot ... Especially here in Mobile, it's funny. And I'm sure people get tired of hearing me say this.

27,000 micro-businesses, 30,000 plus small businesses, and a couple thousand medium and large-sized businesses here in Mobile. But having said that, I think people lose sight of writing things down and formalizing them and understanding the basics of what it takes to run a business.

They just think, "I'm going to go start a business.". And then they get into it and they realize, "Oh I'm underfunded. I don't have this information. The contracts aren't coming as quickly as I can ... ". You know, all these things.

And so, there's really kind of a ... There is definitely a bootstrapping community here in Mobile where people will start businesses and then use the money from the business to fund it. That's the typical definition of a bootstrapper.

But I had a meeting ... And if you're listening to this, I'm not going to say who you are. But I had somebody come in a couple weeks ago and I met with them even though ... I mean I could tell within a few minutes, because I think they even told me, they just didn't have any money.

But I was just thinking, "How much better would that business be if instead of me walking into the room and telling them, 'Well the minimum that you need to spend is X.' ... ?".

Dr. Valerie James: Mm-hmm

Marcus Neto: How much more powerful would it have been if I had walked into the room and they had been able to tell me, "No. We have this for our budget.". And it's two or three times more than what my minimum is.

Because what people don't understand is all these little things that you do to set up a business, whether it's advertising or software or processes that you put into place or people that you hire ... Well, one, we all know they cost money. But two, those formal pieces that you put into place help your trajectory go ... What do we call it? Up and to the right.

Dr. Valerie James: Yeah. Yes. You're speaking my love language.

Marcus Neto: Which is where we like to see them. And one of the things that I'm ... Because I'm one of those guys. I started with a laptop.

Dr. Valerie James: Mm-hmm.

Marcus Neto: And I guess a dream, is that romanticizing it too much?

Dr. Valerie James: Mm-hmm.

Marcus Neto: I started with a laptop and a dream. I wanted to be an entrepreneur. I liked the internet. I knew how to kind of build websites. And so I just kind of started down this path. And here I find myself and I'm thinking, "Man.". And I even said this in another podcast before, it's like, "What would this have been like if I had had the proper funding?". You know?

And I said that in a podcast and like three days later, somebody was knocking on my door like, "Hey we want to buy you.". Or, you know?

Dr. Valerie James: Yeah. Mm-hmm.

Marcus Neto: Or fund you if you want to stick around. And I'm like, "One. It's not big enough for me to sell it to you yet because you're not going to give me the money that I need to go away.".

Dr. Valerie James: Right?

Marcus Neto: Have you seen ... ? Anyway. It's-

Dr. Valerie James: [inaudible 00:28:22]

Marcus Neto: Yeah exactly.

Dr. Valerie James: Yeah.

Marcus Neto: I mean, all that to say is just if you're out there and you're thinking about starting a business do what she's saying, which is like, make sure to write things down. When you're casting your vision, think in, not just now, but think in three and five-year plans.

Dr. Valerie James: Yes.

Marcus Neto: One of the most powerful experiences that I ever had was when I was going through the emerging leaders program that's done by the SBA and the Mobile Chamber, a friend of mine said, "You have to envision what your life is going to be like in five years.".

And I was thinking that he meant here. Just in Blue Fish. That's not what he meant. And we walked through it and he was like, "No. What your life is going to be like.".

Dr. Valerie James: Life. Yes.

Marcus Neto: Where are you waking up? What does your house look like? What car do you drive to work? Where do your kids go to school? What are they wearing when they leave to go to school? What do you have for breakfast?

When you go to work, what does your office look like? Who's there? What are they working on? What kind of customers are you working with? When you leave work, where do you go? Are you going home? Are you going to meet people for dinner? Are you going to an event?

I mean all these things. When you go out on the weekend, what are you doing? I mean ...

Dr. Valerie James: Yes.

Marcus Neto: And those are the things that when you start casting that kind of vision for your life, one, hey, guess what? They come true.

Dr. Valerie James: Mm-hmm. They do! They truly do. They do.

Marcus Neto: They come true and this is not hocus pocus bullshit. This is literally the same as setting goals for yourself.

Dr. Valerie James: Yeah.

Marcus Neto: But then the second thing is you can start to see where the inefficiencies are and you can start to kind of put yourself in ... And I mean obviously that's how these things come true. But it was just really an interesting ... And actually I need to sit down and do that again because the last time I did it was when I was in Emerging Leaders which was I think 2017 or 2018? I think it was 2018.

Dr. Valerie James: Yeah.

Marcus Neto: And so I've learned a lot since then. And I've learned a lot about who I am and how I want to operate and how I work within all the things that I want to do. Because Blue Fish is just a small piece of what I do and what I want to do. And so anyway.

No, we're talking about me again.

Dr. Valerie James: Yeah. But that vision ... no! I'm loving what-

Marcus Neto: No stop it.

Dr. Valerie James: No I'm loving the vision. That's why the business is called VisionSpot Consulting. A place where visions for the future are created.

Marcus Neto: I feel like I need to be laying on the couch there like, "Okay doc. Tell me what I need to do!".

Dr. Valerie James: Don't lose sight of your vision. If people don't laugh at your vision, it's not big enough.

Marcus Neto: Yeah that's true.

Dr. Valerie James: That's important. And I love Walt Disney, he said, "If you can dream it, you know you can do it.".

Marcus Neto: Yeah.

Dr. Valerie James: Yeah. But you definitely have to write it down and set goals. Put some action to it. Put some meat to it. And that's setting goals that's measurable. You know those actions that-

Marcus Neto: SMART.

Dr. Valerie James: Yes. Very SMART. SMARTER.

Marcus Neto: SMART goals.

Dr. Valerie James: Yes. Mm-hmm.

Marcus Neto: And that's an acronym. I'm not just saying, "Hey they should be really intelligent goals.".

Dr. Valerie James: Right. SMART.

Marcus Neto: No. SMART.

Dr. Valerie James: Specific, measurable, relevant, and timed.

Marcus Neto: Yeah timed.

Dr. Valerie James: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

Marcus Neto: There was something I was going to say as part of that.

Dr. Valerie James: Evaluation and results. So those SMARTER goals. The "ER" has been added to it.

Marcus Neto: I haven't heard that.

Dr. Valerie James: Mm-hmm.

Marcus Neto: What was it again?

Dr. Valerie James: SMARTER. Evaluation and results. So you got to assess-

Marcus Neto: Okay so after the fact just making sure that yeah.

Dr. Valerie James: Yeah. Evaluate and yeah. Any rework or any rewind that needs to be done.

Marcus Neto: What ... I've lost track because we're having so much fun here. I'm being selfish in this so I do apologize but if you're listening, I hope you're getting something out of this and I'm sure you are.

Are there any books, podcasts, people, or organizations that have been helpful in moving you forward?

Dr. Valerie James: Wow yes. Lots. So organizations, the National Sales Network in Los Angeles. NAAAHR, the National Association of American Americans in Human Resources was pretty phenomenal in teaching me how to lead outside of my own box so to speak when it comes to organization. Definitely the Mobile Area Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Women Business Owners, NAWBO has been great.

As far as books, there were three that helped really build a trajectory I think for my business was I trying to ... You can't speak this love language to everybody. So sometimes, you have to develop yourself because everybody doesn't want to talk shop talk with you all the time.

So I think Jim Collins Good to Great. Stephen Covey, Seven Habits of Effective People.

Marcus Neto: Highly Effective Leaders yeah, yeah.

Dr. Valerie James: And yeah. So many different habits that he has. That whole series. And then John Maxwell-

Marcus Neto: 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership?

Dr. Valerie James: Yeah. That and just everything that he does. I like the fact that he is ... It's faith-based to some degree but it's not overly pushed. But it's aligned with morals and positivity and empowerment and all of that.

And then I have my own books that I pour into myself, even with my own. Because I've got to make sure that what I'm saying, I'm doing ... It's a reflection of what I do and I'm living it. So I have a book as well ... Well, actually a couple. But the one that I'm talking about is Leadership Intelligence: Beyond the Basics.

Marcus Neto: Okay.

Dr. Valerie James: And it focuses on four levels of practice, a holistic approach to leading from the inside out.

Marcus Neto: Okay.

Dr. Valerie James: So personal leadership, interpersonal, influential, and organizational. And I start with self first because of that journey of working with leaders and organizations and seeing that they wanted to do what they knew how to do but they didn't know how they were showing up, was a big part of it.

The focus there and just the trajectory of leadership has changed. The dynamics and the trajectory of leadership has changed from before the 21st century to now.

Marcus Neto: For sure.

Dr. Valerie James: You know, control, autocratic, and all of that. Now it has shifted a lot so.

Marcus Neto: Much more distributed.

Dr. Valerie James: Mm-hmm.

Marcus Neto: Yeah. I remembered what I was going to say just a second ago. And that's that I don't want to deviate from where we're heading but just to go back, ideas are cheap. They're bullshit honestly.

Dr. Valerie James: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

Marcus Neto: It's the execution that gets you to where you want to go.

Dr. Valerie James: Yes.

Marcus Neto: So don't get too tied up on what the idea is. Because by the time you get where you want to go, that idea will have morphed 15 million times.

Dr. Valerie James: Yes. Exactly.

Marcus Neto: So don't hide or shy away from sharing what your idea is. Really the secret sauce is the execution and how you got there.

Dr. Valerie James: Yes. And that's what I love. That execution part. yes. Absolutely.

Marcus Neto: Yeah. What's the most important thing that you've learned about running a business?

Dr. Valerie James: I think the most important thing is knowing what your business is about and how that relates to customer's needs and how you are going to be able to execute on that. Similar to what you were talking about.

Know your business inside out. Do the research. Know who your competition is. And also know what that looks like, like you said in the future. And don't pattern yourself after somebody else. Think about what the needs are of the people. That's the most important part.

The people. Your processes. And your performance is going to make you grand. Not somebody else.

Marcus Neto: Assuming the people are the clients, right?

Dr. Valerie James: Yes. Mm-hmm.

Marcus Neto: Yeah okay yeah. Because I mean they're the ones that are going to pay for the service. It's not your competitors. And your competitors may be running themselves into the ground.

Dr. Valerie James: Right.

Marcus Neto: Don't emulate that. Emulate what your clients are telling you that they need.

Dr. Valerie James: Right. And make sure you put the right people on the bus. Literally. I mean, taking Jim Collins's words. But that is so true because they are the brand of your business.

Marcus Neto: Yeah.

Dr. Valerie James: And you want to make sure that you're selecting right. So don't hire someone just to put a seat in the seat. But really think about where the skill gaps are in your organization and hire for skill and need. Not just to have somebody here to fill a space because you want to go on vacation or you need some extra help for that moment.

Marcus Neto: Right.

Dr. Valerie James: You want to make sure you're being really strategic about that.

Marcus Neto: Yeah it's amazing-

Dr. Valerie James: So whether you outsource, hire, or grow your own, whatever the case may be, make sure you're strategic about it.

Marcus Neto: It's amazing to me how, especially in smaller organizations, so say less than a hundred people, it's amazing how hiring individuals can change the dynamic of an organization.

And I'm not speaking from just experience with one person. I'm speaking with the experience of having hired dozens of people. It is an odd thing to see how somebody comes into an organization and changes the culture or changes-

Dr. Valerie James: Brings so much value.

Marcus Neto: Or can bring value or not.

Dr. Valerie James: Yes. Absolutely.

Marcus Neto: Or bring it down. And it's just kind of like, "Whoa what did I do here?". Like, "Okay you either need to address this quick or it becomes something that's much bigger.". And yeah. Those can be not fun situations. So.

Most difficult question. How do you like to unwind?

Dr. Valerie James: I love traveling. I love traveling to different countries, to different places. I like to connect with what the locals are doing. Eat what they eat.

Marcus Neto: Yeah.

Dr. Valerie James: Learn about different cities. I'm really big on diversity, equity, and inclusion. That's infused in everything that I do. So learning about different people, places, and things are really fun to me and I love the water. I love any place that has water.

Marcus Neto: Ocean or lake or what?

Dr. Valerie James: All of it. D. All of the above. I just love the water that relaxes me. And my husband and I travel quite a bit.

Marcus Neto: So I mean, what's your favorite place?

Dr. Valerie James: Honestly, believe it or not, I have been to Paris, London, Rome. I mean everywhere, but New Orleans is my all-time favorite place to be.

Marcus Neto: Favorite place.

Dr. Valerie James: Because they're happy people.

Marcus Neto: There's something about New Orleans.

Dr. Valerie James: I mean I think it's the people and the energy of the people. My husband was like, "No the place is not as clean. I'm surprised that you selected that place.". But it's a happy place.

Marcus Neto: It's a dirty, gritty city.

Dr. Valerie James: Yeah but it's happy people.

Marcus Neto: But there's a story there that you start to hear. There's a personality to New Orleans that just can't be described like any other.

Dr. Valerie James: Yes, yes, yes.

Marcus Neto: And you can't ... Sorry folks. I love Mobile. Mobile has phenomenal food. You cannot eat anywhere like you can eat in New Orleans.

Dr. Valerie James: I mean the food.

Marcus Neto: Magazine Street, Blue Giant, or Blue ... What is it? Blue Giant I think it is? Is-

Dr. Valerie James: Everywhere. And I love seafood. So I mean-

Marcus Neto: Yeah.

Dr. Valerie James: My husband takes me around so I don't even know what the street names are.

Marcus Neto: Probably Magazine. That's where a lot of the nicer-

Dr. Valerie James: But even before us, New Orleans has always been my favorite place. And it's the happy people I think. And I first experienced Mardi Gras there too, I have to admit. But coming here it's a different experience also. But just seeing happy people.

Marcus Neto: Yeah.

Dr. Valerie James: I'm big on energy. I'm an empath.

Marcus Neto: Yeah.

Dr. Valerie James: So energy is really, really big for me.

Marcus Neto: Yeah. For sure.

Dr. Valerie James: And New Orleans did it. They got me hooked for a minute.

Marcus Neto: They know what they're doing.

Dr. Valerie James: Yeah.

Marcus Neto: Yeah for sure. So well that's awesome. Well tell people where they can find out more about you and all the things that you have going on.

Dr. Valerie James: Sure. So VisionSpot Consulting, that's the name of the business. We are located in the Innovation Portal ... Well, actually two places. Our management consulting, our performance management arm is in the RSA Tower.

Marcus Neto: Okay.

Dr. Valerie James: And we also have our training for the SMB School of Leadership solutions, Maximizing Brilliance School of Leadership for CEOs. Our campus is in the Innovation Portal.

You can find us on our website www.vscleadership.com. The same Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram. So we're here I guess.

Marcus Neto: Very good.

Dr. Valerie James: Yes.

Marcus Neto: Yeah. Well I want to thank you for coming on the podcast. To wrap up, any final thoughts or comments you'd like to share?

Dr. Valerie James: Just excited to be here and have the conversation. I am excited about helping businesses grow, thrive, and like I said, create great places to work. So whether that's through training, process improvement, operational efficiency, or just having a crucial conversation about how to stress test your business to determine what the needs are ... I think that's critical to a business.

And I believe every mission is possible.

Marcus Neto: So I need to know for my own purposes, stress testing the business means going on vacation for like a month, right?

Dr. Valerie James: No. It's looking at your leadership, strategy-

Marcus Neto: No? Come on I don't want to look at any of that. That's work.

Dr. Valerie James: Structure. Talent. Yes. It is.

Marcus Neto: I'll tell you what-

Dr. Valerie James: So we can do it at a resort. How about that?

Marcus Neto: I'm going to go on vacation for a month and we'll just see what happens and we'll just fix the problems that arrive.

Dr. Valerie James: Yeah. I think you have some great people. I think you have some great people here.

Marcus Neto: Yeah. I do.

Dr. Valerie James: And when I walked in I just felt the energy. I told you I'm big on energy. So yeah.

Marcus Neto: No, we do. We try to keep it ... I mean we work on various serious things and they make a huge difference to the people that we're doing them for. But we try to have fun while we're doing it.

And I mean life is ... Of course we have to work. We have to provide some sort of service in exchange for money so that we can pay our bills and stuff. But it doesn't mean that we can't have fun and enjoy ourselves while we do it.

Dr. Valerie James: Right.

Marcus Neto: So.

Dr. Valerie James: Right. That's true.

Marcus Neto: You know one of the reasons why I started Blue Fish is because I wanted for my boys to ... We're talking about exit strategies. Not exit, what's the-

Dr. Valerie James: Succession planning.

Marcus Neto: Succession plans. We're talking about succession plans. And I started the business so that my boys would have some place to come and work if they so chose. I don't know that any of them are. And Miles is at Alabama studying Advertising. But I don't know that he even wants to come back.

And that's fine. There's no pressure. Preston's moving to Birmingham and is going to have some fun things going on there. And Ethan's too young to really kind of know yet at 13, 14 years old. Actually 14. I'm sorry. He's not going to listen to this but-

Dr. Valerie James: Wow.

Marcus Neto: 14 years old. I made that mistake the other day and I apologized to him for it. But I don't know. There is something very fun about working with people on hard problems that need a creative solution.

Dr. Valerie James: Yes.

Marcus Neto: But not having to do it in such a ... I started a business so I didn't have to wear a jacket every day. How about that? And as a matter of fact, I love it because ... I'll tell this story and then we'll wrap up. I apologize.

But I went to a Chamber function and I think it was like a meet the ... What's the event that we do where it's like meet all the new CEOs or all the higher ups?

Dr. Valerie James: Yeah reception. Like a reception or something. Mm-hmm.

Marcus Neto: It's like a reception that we do for some of the higher ups that have moved to the area or that are brought in by Airbus or [inaudible 00:43:33]. All this stuff.

And so they typically have these at the Chamber. They're catered. They'll have a networking time where you're getting to meet the people and stuff like that. I think I showed up in shorts and a t-shirt one time and I still do this. And I talked to Bill Sisson and I was like, "Man I feel really under-dressed right now.". And he's like, "Nope.". He's like, "Keep coming. Just as you are.".

Dr. Valerie James: That's your style. I think I remember you had jeans and a jacket and I was like, "That is the coolest style to me. I love a blazer.". I think you did have on a jacket. You had on a jacket and some jeans.

Marcus Neto: Yeah.

Dr. Valerie James: And some really cool shoes. I think you appreciate the whole jacket thing. So every time I would go out of time, I will buy a new suit. I felt like I had to wear a new suit.

And one day I said, "I can't keep buying a new suit.". Because business started booming and every time I had to get a new suit. And I said, "I'm just going to create a uniform.".

Marcus Neto: Yeah.

Dr. Valerie James: And I did that. That was the best marketing thing that I could have ever done for my business in the infancy stages. Because I would work through a room or network in a room and I wouldn't make it around to meet everybody but when I went somewhere else, people remembered me because of my jacket.

Marcus Neto: From the blazer, yeah.

Dr. Valerie James: They were, "I know you! I know you from somewhere.". And that helped create the branding as well.

Marcus Neto: So it's your personal brand.

Dr. Valerie James: Yeah!

Marcus Neto: Yeah.

Dr. Valerie James: Yeah so it was awesome because people knew me that I didn't even know because they remembered the uniform. And I have, when I say a gazillion jackets.

Marcus Neto: So you worked it that way.

Dr. Valerie James: Yes.

Marcus Neto: I worked it the other way into shirts and t-shirts and Adidas and Air Jordans and baseball caps. And that kind of thing. Because I did. I spent a decade or more having to wear a suit and tie to work every day and absolutely hated it.

So anyway all that to say is ... Well Valerie, I appreciate your willingness to sit with me and share your journey as a business owner and entrepreneur. It's been great talking with you.

Dr. Valerie James: You as well. Thank you so much!

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