Collette Portis is a business coach, author, and CEO of the Red Development Group. She also works as a speaker and strategist, and she has used her skills to help business owners “increase their passion, profits and productivity for more than 20 years.” Throughout those years, she has worked with thousands of clients, crafted hundreds of business plans that turned into successful ventures, and generated millions of dollars for her clients.
As an entrepreneur, Collette Portis comes from a long line of business owners. Her grandparents and her parents have all started businesses, and she has also built her first business when she was 14 years old. Entrepreneurship is in her blood, and she has understood “how to predict problems and how to identify untapped opportunities for as long as [I] can remember.”
If you’re an entrepreneur struggling to get your business off the ground, you can consult with Collette Portis to help solve your problems. She can help you “identify key areas and high value tasks that take your business to the next level;” “overcome revenue restrictions, unravel mindset limitations and set realistic time requirements;” “understand your true value, effectively tell your story in an authentic way and determine your target market and the best way to reach them.”
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Jerome Knyszewski: Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
Collette Portis: I am Collette Portis, M.Ed. and I’m the CEO and Master Business Coach at RED Development Group, Inc. I come from a family of entrepreneurs. Both sets of grandparents, my mother and father, and aunts and uncles were all entrepreneurs. I didn’t know that a time clock existed until I was traumatized by it at the age of 27. I started my first business at the age of 14 and was successful at sustaining it from middle school through college and after becoming the mom of the most amazing son ever made. Then I began to focus solely on what my parents told me was the road to success and wealth, I worked and earned 6 degrees including a Masters and Doctorate degree. Then, after looking for work for a full year, earning my 5th degree, racking up $185,000 in student loan debt, and being told that I was “overqualified,” I realized that my only option was to start the graphic design and branding firm that I knew I was supposed to start 15 years prior to that day. So that’s exactly what I did. Now nearly 7 years later that one business has turned into 3 businesses. Destined Designs is a branding firm specializing in helping small businesses show up like big business. Collette Portis & Co. is a publishing company where we publish personal stories and technical books based on a person’s expertise teaching authors how to leverage their intellectual property, maintain 100% control of it, and maximize their profits. Then there’s RED Development Group, Inc. which is where I spend most of my time. While my family members were entrepreneurs, they never learned how to move from the worker bee seat to the CEO seat. So, regardless of the success they achieved financially, they never built the business and systems that were necessary to help their businesses live beyond them. Because of that there was nothing to pass on. My drive as a Master Business Coach is to ensure that my clients never have that same story.
Jerome Knyszewski: Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
Collette Portis: April 1st, the day I finally submitted to what I knew was my path, I spent the day building my website, designing business cards, and everything else I could think of. While working, I received emails, text messages and phone calls asking me to design for them. At this point I hadn’t shared with anyone what I was doing, but somehow, I managed to get 7 clients that day. I was on high and feeling like this would be easy. Well little did I know that my car would get totaled 4 months later and then I would be homeless 9 months after starting the business. Being homeless forced me into a new city that I was unfamiliar with without a car. There were so many points at which I attempted to give up. I looked for work for 3 years after starting and nothing. Finally, I knew that entrepreneurship was the only way. At that moment I knew that I had no choice but to make it work because it was my only option. I had to meet the obstacles, ups and downs head on knowing that I would achieve what I set out to accomplish.
Jerome Knyszewski: Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?
Collette Portis: One of my funniest business mistakes happened when I was 16 years old. My first business was being the go-to hairdresser in my community. I had no formal training, but I grew up helping out in the salons that my aunts owned. So, my skills were very advanced. However, a friend asked me to cut her hair like that of a well-known celebrity. I was hesitant because what she wanted, I hadn’t done in the past. Well she wanted to go through with it and so we did. By the time I was done, let’s just say I did what she asked me to do, I just cut it about an inch and a half more than necessary. I finished the style and turned her around to face the mirror and she was startled. She was furious. The good news is we were and still are great friends so we laugh about it today. I learned in that moment to stay in my lane and do those things that I was great or good at. I learned that it’s ok not to know everything, but it’s a requirement to know all that I can about what I know well. I carry this philosophy with me to this day.
Jerome Knyszewski: Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to lead a company from Good to Great? Please share a story or an example for each.
Collette Portis: On my radio show, REAL-Eyez Destiny, I had the opportunity to interview one of the greatest CEOs I’ve ever met, Mr. Alan O’neil. He talked about one of his employees conducting an interview and asking him to drop in to say hello to the candidate because they were having a hard time getting him to join their team. When he entered the room and introduced himself as the founder and CEO the candidate introduced himself and then asked, “Why should I work for your company?” Mr. O’neil was stunned and didn’t know how to answer. So, he did his best and left the room. When he returned to his office he couldn’t stop thinking about the question and had to answer it. As a result, he came up with what is now their company promise,
- To help their employees make more money by the time they leave then they ever did before working for his company, and
- They will have more education when they leave than they did before working for the company.
Alan’s dedication to his employees is amazing. He certainly understands that his dream would not exist without them.
Jerome Knyszewski: Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. Can you help articulate for our readers a few reasons why a business should consider becoming a purpose driven business, or consider having a social impact angle?
Collette Portis: There is a concept called ubuntu which means “I am, because you are.” It is impossible for me to be great without others. Companies who understand this begin to see the value in all who are around them. Their ability to identify, champion, and support a cause that impacts the people they depend on simply shouldn’t be a question. It should simply be normal practice. When we champion others they champion us. It’s the law of reciprocity. Being on purpose about how we interact and support our world will result in the same or better, good or bad, being extended to us. Great businesses understand that we are mere servants. Additionally, if a company can get others to rally around them and the cause they begin to create a community and its the community that can push businesses through their challenging times. We buy Tom’s because they donate shoes to those who don’t have them. We eat Chick-Fil-A because of their moral fortitude. We shop on Amazon using Amazon Smiles because we can make a difference in our communities and support the causes that we want to impact. Theodore Roosevelt said, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”
Jerome Knyszewski: As you know, “conversion” means to convert a visit into a sale. In your experience what are the best strategies a business should use to increase conversion rates?
Collette Portis: The masters of conversion are car dealerships, cell phone companies and the Asian inspired restaurants in mall food courts. The one thing they all have in common is the “try it before you buy it” offer. How many times have you been walking through the food court not thinking about food, but was offered a piece of Teriyaki Chicken that caused you to buy? How many times have you gone to the car dealership to find the car you want only to purchase the more upgraded model? How many times did you get the extra line because it wouldn’t cost you more than $9.99 a month? These are all try it before you buy it offers. It allows clients to build a relationship with you without obligation, but it offers you the opportunity to show them the best of who you are. All of these customers understand that they will have to pay to continue to have access to the product or service, but that’s not what we’re thinking about when we’re racing down the street in that new 2021 Mustang. We’re listening to the engine, feeling the seats, enjoying how the car handles the road. We are building the trust customers need to feel safe to buy. These customers typically convert themselves. Now, let’s be clear, this is not an “I’m going to have the lowest price” model. This is a low cost to try model. You MUST make your potential customer aware of the cost of acquiring the product or service so they understand its value.
Jerome Knyszewski: Of course, the main way to increase conversion rates is to create a trusted and beloved brand. Can you share a few ways that a business can earn a reputation as a trusted and beloved brand?
Collette Portis: Branding is important, but more often than not it’s misunderstood. Branding is the building of a company’s reputation based on the information that is presented to the marketplace. Here are a couple of the ways that RED Development Group works to build our brand,
- Collaborative partnerships — we partner with companies and organizations that serve our client base. We become a complement to the products and services they offer. However, our collaborative partners must meet certain standards and align with our core values. A certain percentage of them just have well established brands themselves, but we leave room for brands who are working to build their brand to come alongside us so we can help them.
- Community Service — RED is big on community service. It is a requirement for us as well as our clients to be an active and impactful part of their community. We donate our time, our money, and fundraise for them as well.
- Events — Events are a great way to build your brand reputation. We participate in Global Entrepreneurship Week annually. We host events and sponsor other events during that week. We are on purpose about where we show up at. We’re always asking how our participation in an event will create a win win win situation. That means a win for the event, a win for us, and a win for our collective client base. If it’s not a 3-way win, we decline the opportunity.
- Influence — Many underestimate the power of influence. We assume because we don’t have 1 million followers on Instagram, we have no influence. That’s simply not true. We teach our clients that you have the ability to influence any captive audience. Whether it be on social media, print media, digital media, etc. I write for an amazing magazine, I have a radio show, I have a weekly Facebook live show, I’m on multiple social media platforms, I’m an author, and speaker. I have many opportunities to influence an audience. But to be effective decide what you want them to know that you’re an expert in. What do you want to teach them? What should they know before becoming your client? You must first determine how you want to influence them.
Jerome Knyszewski: This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!