Monica Coburn on Identifying Your Circle of Influence
CEO & Founder
Coffee Lunch Coffee
CEO and Managing Director
Nevada Business Advisors
Monica Coburn, founder and CEO of Nevada Business Advisors, joins host Alana Muller to share the value of her existing network and how those connections impacted her career. “Start with your circle and who is in your circle of influence or center of influence. I think people many times undervalue who they already are connected with.”
Alana Muller: Welcome to Enterprise.ing, a podcast from Enterprise Bank & Trust, that's empowering business leaders one conversation at a time. We'll hear from different business leaders about how they've found success in cultivating their professional networks and keeping them healthy and strong. I'm your host, Alana Muller, an entrepreneurial executive leader whose primary focus is to connect, inspire, and empower community. We at Enterprise Bank & Trust, thank you for tuning into another episode.
Hello listeners. Welcome to another episode of Enterprise.ing Podcast. Join me today in welcoming to our podcast, Monica Coburn. Monica is the founder and CEO of Nevada Business Advisors, a Las Vegas based business advisory firm. Prior to starting Nevada Business Advisors, Monica spent most of her career in the banking and finance industry, and has worked for some of the largest financial institutions holding positions in branch management, business banking, private banking and SBA lending. Monica Coburn, and welcome to Enterprise.ing.
Monica Coburn: Thank you so much, Alana. It's so great to be here with you today.
Alana Muller: It's great to have you. I want you to start by sharing an overview of Nevada Business Advisors with our listeners.
Monica Coburn: Thank you for that. So, as you mentioned, we're a Las Vegas based business advisory firm. I like to say that we are business starters, business helpers, business expanders, and we do a lot of different things. Our core clients are primarily small to mid-size businesses, and we provide services such as helping a business if they're needing financing, we actually help source financing for them. We can help them create their business plan. We also help to be really business advisors in their business. So if they are struggling with something or they need help with processes or even team meetings, we can help with that too.
One of the core services that we also offer, which has really picked up traction, I would say definitely since COVID is helping companies who are interested in becoming certified. So there are different types of certifications. So whether you are a woman owned firm, minority owned firm, disadvantaged, business enterprise, veteran owned, there's a number of certifications that businesses can pursue that can actually help them grow their business and really diversify who they're doing business with. So that's just a little bit about us, although we are Las Vegas based and most of our clients are based in Nevada, we also have clients that are out of state.
Alana Muller: Well, I love that. And I want to go back, your certification commentary. My company, Coffee Lunch Coffee is a certified women owned business through WeBank. And I remember feeling that that was such a daunting process when I was first getting started. And to hear that you're offering advisory services to help women, and minorities, and veterans, and others to get their certifications, I think is super helpful and there's such a market for that. Talk a little bit more about that. How do you engage with the business? Do you help them to complete the application and all the documentation, and interviews and all of that? Talk a little bit more about that.
Monica Coburn: Thank you. It's a daunting process. My words that I use when I'm working with a client or business is I tell them up front, it's overwhelming, it's cumbersome, you probably need a bottle of the aspirin at least when you're going through. It's a lot of documentation. So it's very similar to if they were applying for a business loan, and a lot of businesses start the process and they start it on their own, and then they really just give up because it just becomes too much. It's time intensive.
And so we offer it as a service because we know the process, we hand hold them through them, we set the expectations up front because it can take some time from start to finish, before they actually find out if they become certified. And not all businesses are eligible. So we have a process that we go through and we ask some questions to really determine why are they looking to get certified? Who are they looking to do business with? Because it doesn't make sense for every business, but for many businesses that we work with, especially if you're in construction or IT, or you're in the food and beverage, it would make sense. And those are the types of conversations that we have.
Alana Muller: So smart. And what I remember about getting my certification for the first time, and I don't even remember how many years I've been certified as a WBE. But thinking back on it, I will say that once in the process, people sort of came to my rescue. They did sort of shepherd me through, but boy, it would've been so wonderful to have somebody like you, who I could've brought in to be my partner in the process, kind of a Sherpa, if you will. So I just love that you're doing that. Thank you for helping businesses to get that. Because I can honestly say, I think I've won business because I had that certification, whether it was a government organization or not. So I really appreciate the work that you're doing.
With that in mind, talk a little bit about how you actively manage your network. I suspect that in all of the work that you're doing, that having active relationships, connecting with people throughout Las Vegas and really Nevada at large, and even across the country has been important for you. Tell us a little bit more about how you've managed that process.
Monica Coburn: Yeah, a great question. So prior to what you shared, prior to Nevada Business Advisors, I spent over 20 years in commercial banking and finance. And as a banker, was just always active in the business community. So whether it was attending events or having opportunities to speak on panels, that is something that just has naturally transitioned over to my company. And I continue to do that today. It's really been an important piece of the business model and it's something that has run through my veins, so to speak. I think it's really important to stay connected and when COVID happened and things were shut down, we never stopped. We couldn't meet in person, but what we started to do was conduct business webinars and we were doing that pretty consistently since April of 2020. And so that's another way, although it's not face to face that we've really continued to be engaged with our business community.
And then I'm on LinkedIn quite a bit. So I stay active using that social media platform. So whether it's posting, or sharing articles, or really giving some commentary on what's happening in our business environment, because we know a lot is changing but those are some ways. And then people are getting back to in person which is exciting. So yeah, those are just some of the ways that I leverage the network and I just keep active in it.
Alana Muller: The fact that you talked about not just sort of being engaged in the one-on-one conversation, but when you participate on panels, or you are involved in other kinds of discussions, that's networking too, that's relationship building too, because you're building your own brand and conveying what's important to you. And I think that that is kind of a natural way to connect with others who are interested in what you're doing. So I just love that you're doing that.
Separately from that, I understand that you are the very deserving recipient of the Presidential Award for Volunteerism from President Barack Obama. Tell us about your volunteer activities and why they're so important to you, and how you've engaged your network to help support those efforts.
Monica Coburn: I'm going to give the credit to my grandmother. I've always had this giving back when you can. And it's not that I was raised with a silver spoon. I came from very humble beginnings, but I've always been raised that way. And so as I grew as an adult and into my professional career, I always made an effort that if I had an extra hour, or if I had clothing that I wasn't using, it didn't matter what it was, that I spent the time in really giving back to the community. When I was in banking, they were very pro-volunteerism with employees. And so I had the opportunity to sign up for projects and volunteer at different organizations. And I was fortunate to be recognized by former employers, but I continue that even with Nevada Business Advisors today.
So I look at missions that really speak to me. And so I look to support organizations that either give back to women, or at risk youth, or homeless teens. I mean, those are things that really speak to me, and I really commit the time, and really calendar it to give time when I'm able to. And like I said, even if it's not time, I'm saying, okay, can we do a donation drive? And I am also part of a women's group. So a couple of times a year, we do volunteer and we pick a couple of organizations that we volunteer with. A lot of people need help, especially now. So it's just something that I've naturally continued to do, but I've always done for a long period of time.
Alana Muller: Well, how nice that you're able to bring together those personal interests with your professional interests, and really making it count. I always believe that we shouldn't be so discreet about this is our home life, this is our work life, this is our community life without bringing them together. And you've clearly done a really beautiful job of kind of forging those alliances so that it crosses home, work and community in a way that just makes sense. So thank you for the work you're doing for our community. Talk to us about how do you make connections mutually beneficial? So you've talked about your volunteerism. What are some ways that from a networking perspective, from a relationship building perspective, what do you recommend in terms of showing mutual appreciation so that all parties in a relationship feel like they're valued and are giving value?
Monica Coburn: I feel like this has evolved for me probably over the last, I'm going to say over the last five years. So when I was still in corporate and then making a transition to entrepreneurship. I feel I'm intentional when I'm networking and I'm doing it on purpose. But I always like to recognize when people are referring business to me, whether it's me personally, or whether it's Nevada Business Advisors as a company. And so I'm always looking and have the mantra, if I can't help a client or if we can't help a client, then I'm going to find someone that I can refer them to. And it has to be someone that I know, that I trust, that I'm comfortable referring a client to. And it really is a two way street.
There was a point in my career where I thought I was giving a lot of referrals and really not getting much back in return. And it wasn't that's the reason I was doing it, but it really opened my eyes to, is this a business relationship that's a one way or a two way street? And so that's what I mean by it's really evolved and just making sure that I'm acknowledging those business relationships. If they're referring business, it could be as simple as a thank you. It could be as simple as let's go grab coffee, let's catch up. And, again, just really building those relationships. I will say for our business, our relationship, our model has been primarily driven off of referrals. And so that's really, really important to me and I really take it seriously because it's just so important.
Alana Muller: I agree with you. And I like what you're saying about kind of that follow up and follow through. That, okay, so you get the referral or you make the referral, isn't it nice to have that and coming all the way back around and saying thank you for the referral. "I met with that person. Here's what happened." And really closing the loop because I think that it's a virtuous cycle and it comes back to us in very positive ways. So I commend you for that. What a great example of, I think a best practice, if you will, in terms of that getting and giving referrals.
Monica Coburn: You said something that triggered something: is that when you give that referral, you want to know well for me anyway, I want to know, "Hey, did you contact them? How did it go?" I had to do that actually just this morning with someone. But, you just want to make sure that client is being taken care of. So even if it's the connection and you've at least emailed them or call them, that's really important to me. Because the follow up and follow through, I think a lot of business owners or individuals in general, they don't take that extra step. And I think that's really, really important. I feel like it's a lost art.
Alana Muller: I agree. I mean we get busy. We get busy and we forget, but I think it's gratifying when somebody comes back around and says, "Here's what happened. Yes, that was the right connection. Yes, this is a meaningful interaction." As the referrer, you want to get it right, and you want to make sure that value's being created for both parties. So, great example. How about this? When you're coaching others, when you're talking to somebody who wants to grow or cultivate their own professional network, what advice do you give them?
Monica Coburn: I say, start with your circle and who is in your circle of influence or center of influence. I think people many times undervalue who they already are connected with. So I say start there because it takes time, it takes time and your time is valuable. Think about potential events or meetings that you're going to be attending. What is the purpose? What is the intention? I think it's really important to set that upfront. Look at who you are looking to connect with. Is it a potential client? Is it a potential referral source that can refer you business? I think there are also going to be moments where things just happen naturally. I know it's happened to me where I've met someone and it's like, I feel like I've known you my entire life, and things just organically grow from that. So I think especially in this environment, people miss that personal interaction. And so again, it just goes back to what is your purpose? What is your intention? And once you make that connection, now what's the next step?
Alana Muller: Right. Totally agree. Totally agree. Well, you talked about a circle of influence or center of influence. For you, who's somebody in your life that's been meaningful in terms of helping you to make a breakthrough either personally or professionally?
Monica Coburn: So, quick story, and I'll make it really brief. About seven years ago, I met with a woman and she was in a leadership position for a large utility company. I had met her at a business event and we connected after the fact and she was one of those people that I was immediately drawn to. And I said, I would love to collaborate and do something with you. Keep in mind, I'm working for a bank. So it's not like Monica had a checkbook to do anything. But the conversation that we started. Fast forward, we ended up doing a business event together. And at that business event, I met the keynote speaker who was in a senior leadership role with a large hospitality company. They're a big global gaming company actually. And after that event, she connected the both of us through a lunch meeting. So it was the three of us.
And I had always known that I wanted to start my own business. I was at the point in my career where I felt like I wanted something more and I wanted to do something more. And he asked me a very powerful question. He's like, "What's holding you back?" And I'm getting chills as I'm saying this story. I left that lunch meeting basically saying, Monica, if you're going to do something, he's just challenged you. So what are you going to do about it? And true story. I started just penciling what my business model would look like. So fast forward from that lunch, I ended up starting Nevada Business Advisors and he was really instrumental in really planting the seed. But it was the woman that I connected with, actually had it not been for her and our follow up, who knows what would've happened. So that was really a pivotal point for me because I felt he asked me this very simple question, but I had to really take a step back and go, what is holding me back? I knew exactly what it was. And then I just went from there.
Alana Muller: Amazing. I mean, obviously a switch was flipped in that moment. I like your reaction, it was kind of like “game on.” I mean, he's challenged you, it's time to get busy. And I mean, it sounds like you had in mind at least generally, maybe, maybe not, completely fleshed out. But you had it in mind generally what it would be that you would create. And so you went about the business of creating it.
Monica Coburn: I look back at my experience as a banker and just really forming the business model around that, what were the needs of the clients that as a banker, I couldn't cross that line between banker and advisor. I really had to stay in the box. So creating it, it meant long days because I was still working my full time job, but it was exciting because I was able to really formulate and put my vision that was in my head on paper and really have it come to fruition. So there was a lot of fear. There was a lot, of I'm going to be living without a paycheck. What am I going to do? I just went back to believing in myself and believing there was a need for the services that we offered.
And I remember the day that I went and basically gave my two weeks notice at my ... It was a senior leadership position that I was in. And one of my first calls was a former bank client. And I said, "Just want to let you know, I resigned from my position." And his next comment to me was, "Well, when can we meet? I've been waiting for you to do this." It was really game on, as you said, like this is really happening and I'm really going to do this. But there was a lot of planning and organizing that had to take place prior.
Alana Muller: Well, and in some ways you were kind of the mouse in your own maze, you were doing to yourself, what you now help clients with. It was almost like you were your own test case. So that's just the coolest where you could put yourself through the same kind of machinations, you would be putting your clients through to see how it would work and where you needed the assistance, and you did it and you created a business out of this. So cool. And I love it that a client was essentially waiting for you to do this. So I hope they became a long term client and used your services early. That's so cool. Well, I always like to ask a couple of fun questions as we start to wrap up. Tell me what's currently on your nightstand.
Monica Coburn: As of last night, I have a candle and my notebook and pen, because I'm famous for getting up in the middle of the night and jotting down ideas. So that's what's on my nightstand right now.
Alana Muller: Cool. Good idea. Because whoever says I know I'll remember. I know I'll remember. They never remember. So good on you for doing that. If you could meet with one person and I don't care if they're living, not living, fictional, non-fictional who would it be and why? One cup of coffee. Who's that going to be?
Monica Coburn: So many people. I wish there was more than one, but if I had to pick one, I would say Oprah. I think just her story of resilient of resilience, everything that she went through, she could have gone down a different path. She just overcame so many obstacles to really build her empire. And for me, that's really fascinating. So that's a tough one, but I would say Oprah.
Alana Muller: That's a good answer. I love that one. I love that one. Well, Monica Coburn, I have loved our conversation. Thank you for joining us on Enterprise.ing Podcast. If our listeners want to learn more about you and about Nevada Business Advisors, where should they go?
Monica Coburn: Yes, our website is nevadabusinessadvisors.com. Feel free to connect with me or follow our page on LinkedIn, or you can email us, [email protected] Thank you so much for having me.
Alana Muller: Thank you. Great conversation.
Monica Coburn: Thank you.
Alana Muller: Thanks for joining us this week on Enterprise.ing. Be sure to visit our website, enterprisebank.com/podcast to subscribe so you'll never miss an episode. If you found value in today's program, please consider leaving a review on Apple Podcasts, or telling a friend about us. Enterprise.ing, powering business leaders one conversation at a time.
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