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MMS Education, a women-owned business: Q&A with the CEO

In business for more than four decades, MMS Education was recently certified as a Women-Owned Business by the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC), the nation’s largest third-party certifier of businesses owned and operated by women. CEO Susan Meell talks about what this new certification means to the company after all these years.

Why did MMS decide to get certified as a Women’s Business Enterprise (WBE, or Women-Owned Business)?
Ultimately, it was several of our clients who motivated us to go through the certification process. They had often asked if we were certified because their organizations were dedicated to diversity and wanted to expand their partnerships with small businesses owned by women, minorities, or veterans. MMS Education has been a woman-owned business since 2011, and we had always believed it would be a valuable certification to receive but knew it would take a fair amount of time to complete the certification process. At the beginning of 2019, we decided to make WBENC certification a goal for the year, and so we committed the resources and time needed for the process. It takes about nine months, and while it isn’t difficult, it does take quite a bit of senior-management time to complete all the paperwork and provide the documents required. We were delighted when the certification process was completed and we were approved!

How do you hope being a WBENC-certified WBE will help MMS?
For a niche service company likes MMS Education, our success is all about people and information, expanding our knowledge base and our network.  WBENC provides an opportunity to develop new relationships outside of our regular sphere of contacts and to continually expand our business knowledge.  Through the WBENC network and its national and regional meetings, we anticipate broadening the circle of people we know — which can benefit by identifying new business opportunities or meeting new people and contacts who could become terrific employees, independent contractors, or other service providers.

What challenges have you faced as a female business owner and how did you overcome them?
Personally, I have faced many challenges as a business owner but never felt these challenges were unique or different because I was female. We are also blessed in that we work in an industry (education) and environment where women have always been very prominent and in leadership roles. Almost all our clients have women at the highest levels and therefore many of our clients are women.

What’s the hardest part about being a business owner?
Probably the most difficult thing is anticipating and planning for the future — trying to determine where the business needs to be in one, two, or three years. Years ago, we prepared five-year plans, but with the rapid pace at which the world changes, I think it is very difficult to plan beyond three years. After that, the biggest challenge has always been finding the best talent and making sure each person is given opportunities for growth that align with their best skills. Finally, as a small business, keeping up with government rules, regulations, and changes is an ever-increasing challenge.

What do you love about being a business owner?
Seeing employees develop and grow, do great work, and provide terrific service to our clients. There isn’t a better feeling than when a client says, “Great job, we couldn’t have done it without you.” For us, solving problems and helping clients make a positive impact in schools and communities is extremely rewarding.

What’s the best piece of career advice you’ve ever received?
Years ago, my first boss told me to make the position what I wanted it to be, not to let a job description limit what I could do. He told me to always look for opportunities within an organization and then volunteer to fill the gap, find a way to contribute, and expand the responsibilities of your position. My very first job after college was an administrative position in a publishing company. Then I moved into the advertising department. One day I went to my boss and told him I wanted to do a direct mail campaign to generate new business for advertising sales. He looked at me and said, “Do you know how to do that?” I responded, “Of course” (I had never done a direct mail campaign before). He said bring me your ideas on Monday. I spent the weekend in the library (that was before the Internet and Google searches) studying every book on direct marketing and direct mail campaigns I could find. Monday morning, I brought him the first draft of a direct mail package consisting of a letter, an envelope, and a response card. He loved it, and so we rolled it out and it was a big success.  That was when I learned to look for opportunities and go after them, don’t wait for them to come find you!

What’s your favorite career moment at MMS?
The day I was hired!

What advice would you give to other women entrepreneurs?
Know your strengths and weaknesses and build your team accordingly — hire those who are good at the things you’re not and let them soar.

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