By Mark Madrid
Published on February 13, 2023
Being persistent, even in the face of adversity, led CEO Stephanie Johnson to achieve her dream of being a successful small business owner. She made the effort to connect with other small business owners to form a community together and establish the right support network.
Throughout her journey, Stephanie didn’t let setbacks cause her to doubt her ability to succeed. Countless lessons were learned in the last year of economic challenge, but one rings the loudest: “If you’re a small business owner, you have to know how to pivot.
This community hero refocused her energy, drew from her existing expertise and resources becoming a successful 8(a) contractor transforming her business,” according to Stephanie.
After 30 years working in corporate America as a Certified Public Accountant, CEO Stephanie Johnson of Simmons-Johnson Consulting, LLC did just that. She always knew she wanted to be an entrepreneur, so in 2014 this problem solver devised a carefully laid out two-year business plan before officially retiring in 2016. Stephanie knew starting her own business could be risky, but forging her own path and helping others along the way was worth turning the page in this next chapter of her life.
In 2017, Stephanie launched her solo enterprise, bringing her CPA license, IT knowledge from prior experiences, and her impressive resume with experience in accounting, contract administration, operational audits, and quality process improvement. She went full steam ahead with no time to waste and started attending Houston’s local networking events like NASA’s Johnson Space Center Industry Day 2017. But as soon as she could get started, disaster struck. Hurricane Harvey hit Houston in 2017 and everything stopped – but she didn’t let that deter her. She picked back up in 2018 driving two hours from her home to Beaumont, Texas to attend a small business networking event. This led her to land her first corporate contract assisting the state of Texas in distributing over $350 million in FEMA disaster recovery to impacted communities.
By 2019, things were moving along for Stephanie. She was in full swing working on her second contract in St. Croix providing financial management system consulting services. Then, boom! The second disaster hit, the global COVID-19 pandemic. Within two years of starting her business, Stephanie had gone through two major disasters. It wasn’t clear how the COVID-19 pandemic would change the small business landscape short-term, let alone long-term. Furthermore, she received news that her contract was terminated due to the pandemic.
Fast forward to 2020, Stephanie focused on not letting the unprecedented events of the past year defeat her. Working as a subcontractor motivated her to expand her business ideas. She decided to step into the federal government contracting arena. “You don’t have to start off being a prime contractor, start off being a subcontractor. It still reflects past performances for your business,” said Stephanie. With determination, she took the opportunity to pivot by taking a deep dive into learning everything about how to apply and obtain her Small Business Administration (SBA) 8(a) Business Development program certification in federal government contracting. She knew she had what it takes to become 8(a) certified. Flying solo, she participated in the 2020 National 8(a) Small Business Conference, a non-profit assistance program sponsored by the SBA. The program was created to help small and disadvantaged businesses gain equal access to economic growth opportunities. Shortly thereafter she submitted her 8(a) paperwork on her own. By the end of 2020, Stephanie received her official 8(a) certification confirmation from the SBA.
As she looks back on her journey, “I am truly living the American Dream and can’t believe so much has happened in five years: taking a risk on an idea, working hard, and creating something from the ground up. Don’t get me wrong. There were many challenges, but I stayed the course,” said Stephanie. She adds, “Aspiring and current entrepreneurs should take advantage of all the valuable services and resources SBA has to offer and not try taking this journey alone. If there’s a company desiring 8(a) certification and they’re trying to do it themselves, it can be frustrating and overwhelming.” She thinks her background of being an auditor and dealing with documentation really helped her to tackle the process alone. It came second nature for her. She said she can easily see how small businesses could be intimated with the process.
Stephanie hopes that, “as more people learn about the SBA, they’ll have the confidence, skills and resources they need to succeed as small business owners, as we can continue to revitalize a spirit of entrepreneurship across this great country.” To grow your business and take it to the next level, she encourages fellow entrepreneurs to take advantage of the government market and register with their local Procurement Technical Assistance Centers (PTAC) and Small Business Development Center (SBDC).
To further grow her business and build networks with other small business owners, Stephanie registered for the SBA’s executive-level training series, T.H.R.I.V.E. Emerging Leaders Reimagined, a hybrid, six-month course aiming to help small businesses develop and execute strategic growth plans. After successfully graduating from the program in December 2022, she offered high praise for the effects the program has had on her firm. “The Emerging Leaders Reimagined Program training was phenomenal and touched every aspect of small business,” said Stephanie. She’s already implementing what she’s learned from the training. The partnerships established with other small business owners and gaining new perspectives were priceless, she adds.
This small business community hero makes it a priority to give back. Stephanie’s a champion for small business owners and is an active member of the National Society of Black Certified Public Accountants and is committed to changing the national landscape to help increase the number of certified African American public accountants across the nation. She’s also aligned herself with other small business owners to provide her expertise in walking alongside them to provide help in the 8(a) certification process. Stephanie added, “She’s proud to have attended Southern University and A&M College System in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.” The Southern University and A&M College System is the only historically black university system in America.”
In reflecting on her company’s success, she said, “Two major disasters that negatively impacted my company, have actually become the specialty for the company.” She is beyond thankful for the partnerships she’s developed and her dynamic team of experts that have locked arm and arm with her to strategically position themselves to deliver exceptional service to our customers.
About Simmons-Johnson Consulting, LLC
Simmons-Johnson Consulting (SJC), LLC is on a mission to “exceed our government and corporate customer’s expectations while maintaining a level of service that is unparalleled in our professional services industry.”
A Woman-Owned Small Business (WOSB) and Economically Disadvantaged Woman-Owned Small Business (EDWOSB) and SBA 8(a) certified management consulting firm in Richmond, Texas, a suburb of Houston, Texas. With 30+ years of auditing, accounting, and advisory experience committed to providing services in financial management, contracts Management, project management, cybersecurity, and disaster recovery compliance.
Since starting SJC in 2017, she’s no longer flying solo but has added additional employees to her team. She said her team is unique because she was intentional when hiring her diverse staff. It was important that her company epitomizes diversity, equity, and inclusion. “We’ve got the best professionals who have the expertise in the task that’s assigned to discover unique solutions and make effective business decisions,” she said.
Meeting the customer where they are to ensure they are successful is SJC’s goal. “I’m not so focused on me being successful, but it’s important for my team and me to integrate the team’s goals. When we focus on the client’s needs and goals, SJC is automatically successful because we’ve put the client first,” says Stephanie.
SJC credits her company’s success to fostering our core values: integrity, honesty, giving back to the community, and most importantly being agile. Being in the federal arena, “We have to be nimble enough to go with the client, not so rigid that we can’t pivot. SJC knows how to pivot because they’ve done so successfully for five years. At the heart of knowing how to pivot your business is listening to your customers,” she said.
In just five years, Stephanie has grown SJC from one employee to successfully managed teams of auditors and accountants performing compliance reviews for funds disbursed by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES) and American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. SJC has even taught auditing classes in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
Her advice for fellow business owners is “Don’t be afraid to pivot, don’t be afraid to change up what you thought you were going to do.” Additionally, she said, “Use the resources of the SBA both from the informational standpoint from learning how to run a business, but also, financial standpoint. For example, I’ve been able to use SBA’s financial resources like the 7(a) loan to make my business solid. I’m able to focus on growing my business.”
Thanks to the hard work and dedication of Stephanie and her team, they’ve won their first 8(a) prime contract with the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Stephanie’s also been nominated for the 2023 National Small Business Week Award for Small Business Person of the Year. The SBA‘s National Small Business Week Award honors individuals and businesses that reflect our nation’s rich diversity. Winners will be announced in May 2023. And beginning January 2023, Stephanie will serve a two-year term on the NASA Johnson Space Center Small Business Council Board of Directors.
T.H.R.I.V.E. Emerging Leaders Reimagined
The U.S. Small Business Administration’s T.H.R.I.V.E. Emerging Leaders Reimagined is a six-month intensive training program that helps CEOs and Executives get unstuck and take their businesses to the next level.
Accelerate your leadership skills, learn an MBA-level curriculum, receive tailored business coaching, and build relationships with a community of business owners, advisors, and experts. Apply today to become a 2022 T.H.R.I.V.E. participant!