What inspired you to start your business? For Ellen Rozelle Turner, it was her illustrious 15-year career in the public and private sectors and hands-on experiences with her grandfather. She’s now the leader of The William Everett Group, a fast-growing, Chicago-based management and information technology firm named for her influential grandfather. By drawing on her experiences and family values, Ellen has grown her business to 100 consultants and 10 times the size in 5 years.
“If you want to do something, do something. It doesn’t matter if you’re a girl or a boy” – Ellen Rozelle Turner
Learning the ropes from an early age
Ellen credits her successful career to her upbringing. Her parents instilled the habit of hard work from an early age, dragging her and her siblings out of bed at 8 AM on Saturdays to do chores around the house.
As a teenager, she helped her grandfather run his shoe store. Ellen picked out new women’s shoes to sell and sometimes worked in the store itself. Helping with certain tasks even as a young girl bolstered her self-confidence. As she says, “it gave me confidence that, if you want to do something, do something. It doesn’t matter if you’re a girl or a boy.”
His legacy is what kept her going during the early, lean years of starting her business. “He inspired me especially early on when we were struggling. I think because his name was on my business, I knew I had to figure it out, I had to make this work. That’s what kept me going on the bad days – my grandfather would be so disappointed in me if I didn’t try.”
Using her previous career to jump start her business
In addition to her grandfather’s legacy, Ellen also leveraged her previous career experience and her network to build a pipeline of business when she started her own company. Ellen started her career working for Mayor Daley of Chicago and then the Technology Department for the City of Chicago. Because of her experience working in government, many of William Everett Group’s first clients were from the public sector. But working with and selling to public sector clients has its challenges; as Ellen says, “some of the procurements can take six months to a year.”
With such a long sales cycle, she had to carefully manage her business’ cash flow and found that turning to external financing helped carry them through.
Managing the William Everett Group’s uneven sales cycles
Like many other small business owners, Ellen found that she was unable to get funding through a traditional bank. Instead, she turned to OnDeck for business financing to meet ongoing business needs. This included managing cash flow, as well as funding major expansions like a new corporate headquarters and a second location in St. Louis, MO.
When the William Everett Group unexpectedly won a $2 million a year project, they relied upon fast financing to tackle the project immediately, as it required them to hire and begin paying 40 employees in a week. Without easy access to business financing, Ellen would not have been able to take on a major project that put her firm on the map.
Building your support network as a business owner
Building a successful business requires more than just financing. It’s important to have a built-in support system to help pick up the slack at home when pulling long hours at the office. For Ellen, her husband and children were invaluable in building the William Everett Group. During the early years, her husband’s paycheck allowed her to take the leap into small business ownership, while also taking care of their family.
Like many other business owners, Ellen also tapped her family members to help out with the day-to-day work of the business. At first, Ellen brought her children into the business because she couldn’t afford to bring on more full-time hires. While she made it clear that they were free to leave if they ever got tired of working in the family business, both of her kids have stayed on to help build the business and continue the family legacy.