Phyllis Williams-Strawder, aka The Ghetto Country Brandmother®, is a Rebel Brand Strategist with 4 Business Coaching certifications and 2 Life Coaching certifications with a degree in business. She is a former bbq restaurant owner & certified bbq judge. She built her former business into a multi-million dollar brand before she knew anything about branding.
Phyllis has appeared on the Food Network, the Cooking Channel, and Good Day LA. Phyllis uses her workshops, masterclasses, and boot camps to turn rebel entrepreneurs into Brand Leaders who prioritize people while remaining profitable.
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Table of Contents
Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
Phyllis Williams-Strawder: My husband is my driving force in all of what I do in my business. Mostly because he wants to become a trophy husband. When he’s not pushing his trophy husband agenda, he’s making me espresso at 6 AM then returning to bed. He keeps a supply of king-size Fast Break’s in the fridge and he supports me unconditionally and it’s been like that since day one for both of us.
Cooking for a living seemed like a great idea once upon a time. With my husband being the family cook and food being his love language I walked right into his dream of opening a bbq place. Since I was the business and he was the bbq, I took to the streets to get my face and his name in front of folx. I joined the Long Beach Chamber of Commerce. I went to conferences. I even learned to read contracts. I did it all while working a full-time job.
It was his dream that made me quit my job. Actually, it was a bad performance review. They did not like the fact that I was invoicing and whatnot on company time. My boss and I were on good terms so she thought it was okay to tell me I should quit. My response was not conducive to constructive dialogue. When I got home and told Bigmista about it his only response was, “Then quit.” I thought he had been sniffing the smoke too long. We had a mortgage and a 2-year old. I was the steady paycheck and benefits of the family. Yet and still I warmed to the idea but I was scared. A few days later I gave my 2-week notice and joined my husband full-time in our business.
As our business grew my love of it diminished. I don’t cook on purpose and I have the husband to prove it. Owning a restaurant constantly tested the on-purpose part of me. I was also being drawn away by desire to coach kids into entrepreneurship. I quit and fired myself on numerous occasions. I stayed because my husband needed me. It was the blurred line between marriage partners and business partners that finally kicked me into gear. I went to myself and told him I had enough. I shared that I wanted to be his wife and only his wife moving forward. I don’t know what type of response I expected but what I got was, “Okay baby. I got this.”
Later I told my husband I wanted to travel and speak. Since I had no following outside of Bigmista’s I knew I would have to use household finances to market myself and pay for traveling. I also know when you mention travel to my husband he has mentally packed, booked a flight, and booked a hotel. So when I asked what was he going to do while I traveled he said, “I’m going with you.” We talked about what to do with the restaurant and he said shut it down. “You followed my dream for the last 10 years now let’s follow yours.” We had that conversation in June of 2018. Our last day at the restaurant was July 3, 2018. On August 1 we moved to Oregon.
He’s been a trophy husband since day one and I guess I don’t tell him that often enough.
Often leaders are asked to share the best advice they received. But let’s reverse the question. What’s the worst advice you received?
Phyllis Williams-Strawder: The worst advice I ever received was being told I am my brand. Oh, the weight of that statement still haunts me. Entrepreneurs who believe they are their brand don’t realize that is equivalent to saying, I’m always for sell. It means you can infringe on my personal time. It means you expect to know me on a personal level. That is not required for us to do business.
A brand is an asset that can be bought and sold. Attaching yourself to that speaks volumes to how you do business. I know some people say it’s not the literal until they’re out having dinner with family and someone approaches this to ask a business question or get advice. If you stop enjoying family to engage in a business conversation, you are setting precedents that business comes first and there is no off switch.
Being your brand also hinders to limits your growth. When you hire, partner, or collaborate as your brand, the replication gets distorted because they can’t be you. They can’t provide what you provide.
I learned this lesson during man restaurant days. When we decided to open a second location, my husband and I were hard-pressed because so much of who were were was baked into our brand that people expected to see us whenever the doors opened. They expected us to show up for every catering gig. I started charging more for my husband to be at events. That’s right, I pimped my husband. Being your brand can take over your personal life. A healthier stance is to be The Brand Leader of your business.
Resilience is critical in critical times like the ones we are going through now. How would you define resilience?
Phyllis Williams-Strawder: Resilience as an entrepreneur is in the planning. If you don’t plan for the what-ifs you’re done before you start. The latest Pez dispenser wisdom is to fail fast and fail often. First off, I don’t buy that BS. Secondly, it’s only a failure if you don’t learn your lesson. Nevertheless, planning for the what-ifs of entrepreneurship help you recover faster. It puts you in a proactive space instead of a reactive one.
No one expected the business devastation of the pandemic, so I can’t see anyone really being prepared for what is still happening. However, resilient entrepreneurs who are thriving probably have a plan to move forward.
In your opinion, what makes your company stand out from the competition?
Phyllis Williams-Strawder: Being the Ghetto Country Brandmother® helps me stand out from the competition. My business is helping entrepreneurs develop authentic brand strategies based on where they want to rebel. I then turn that rebellion into a brand. Doing this at the entrepreneur level is branding from the inside out. It is the foundation of the company culture. How I do what I do flies in the face of traditional branding. For most entrepreneurs, it’s about increasing sales and chasing money. I focus on creating brand leaders who learn how to make money chase them. I also believe you can prioritize people without sacrificing profits.
My framework is a small group dynamic instead of a one-to-one business model. My clients go through a process that allows them to fully embrace and begin to live the brand based on the strategy we develop. Other brand strategists will digest everything a client gives them then turn around give something back for them to take action. The client will then try to market the brand or hire a marketing firm.
This model focuses only on the client’s customers without considering the company culture. No resonance within the culture stops the brand from amplifying exponentially.
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success?
Phyllis Williams-Strawder: Being empathetic allows me to be a better brand strategist. Before I fully understood the meaning of empathy, I thought I was soft (a punk) and that people would take advantage of that. I know better now. I know my empathetic skills allow me to connect with clients for a better experience. Other entrepreneurs will use an empathy map to try and understand a client. I just feel it.
Another character trait that serves me well is candor. My two-word brand of empathic bitch lends itself to this character trait. Giving the hard truth while being empathetic kinda softens the blow. To be a stand-out rebel brand you have to prepare yourself for the hate. While I don’t bring hate to my clients, I won’t tiptoe around the truth of what their brand is lacking. That comes with the price of working with me. This candor also allows me to work with people who aren’t easily offended. If they are, they know to stay away. I’ve been told that I will alienate people by being this way. As a brand value, that’s the point.
The final character trait I rely on a lot is authenticity. For most folx it’s a buzzword for me it’s a way of life. Authenticity requires vulnerability and there’s power in that. Using bitch as part of my two-word brand takes the power away from those who would use it to insult me. It is a word that was associated with me when I started college. Back then, people that I was stuck up and stand-offish. The truth was me being socially awkward. Later, men called me a bitch because I said no to their advances. The truth was I didn’t think I was deserving of their attention and was socially awkward. In business, I’m a bitch because I have boundaries. I assert myself. The truth is they’re angry because I won’t give in to their demands.
Being an authentically candid empath allows me to consistently show up and show out for my clients. Coming any other way means they aren’t getting what they paid for.
What have you learned about personal branding that you wish you had known earlier in your career?
Phyllis Williams-Strawder: There are so many things I wish I had known about personal branding before becoming a brand strategist. The first would be you are not your brand. The second would be to incorporate personal branding into the brand architecture.
A personal brand should allow you to separate your personal and professional that being your brand does not. It’s the reason I use Ghetto Country Brandmother® for personal branding and not my name. It allows me to set a different set of professional boundaries. If someone approaches me as a brandmother, I engage professionally if I’m in a business setting. If I’m approached in a personal setting as brandmother I reset the level of engagement. I introduce myself by my name. I then let them know I’m not working at the moment and direct them to schedule an appointment. That’s a bitch move.
And using personal branding as part of brand architecture makes you a brand leader, not a brand. In the role of brand leader, you lead the ATM (available target market) to the business products and offers. Your personal brand is essentially the endorser brand for everything that comes after. Once the business brand can stand on its own, you become an entrepreneur who has made a name for themself. You may forever be attached to your personal brand moniker but that’s what makes you memorable.
What’s your favorite leadership style and why?
Phyllis Williams-Strawder: My leadership style is coaching. It’s how I pull the greatness out of people. I don’t want to give answers. I want my clients to discover their own. It doesn’t matter if I agree with their answers or not. It matters that they do.
Professional coaching is all about asking questions not considered. And I’m the queen of question. When you get to the bottom of all you’re left with is the bare truth. I can be relentless in the pursuit of getting someone to their truth in branding. The common answer for why to start a business is money. But if you follow the money, you will find the hurt, the pain, the frustration that led to money being the answer.
In my line of work, there are a lot of questions. I often say to my clients, “There’s levels to this shit,” when I talk about branding. Coaching clients through the levels requires me to be tenacious is my questioning. Allowing my clients to settle at a superficial level produces a facade brand with no foundation. To bring out the Brand Leader I have to show them the potential of a brand leader.
To coach, I focus on what my client, Ebony L. Green, calls a Unique, Rare Solution™️. Time and again, I see entrepreneurs strike out on their own only to fall back on basic business BS they were trying to get away from. That’s because it’s safe, familiar, and socially acceptable. Coaching allows me to open the door of a Brand Leader, but it’s up to them to put in the work to make it happen.
What’s your favorite “life lesson” quote and how has it affected your life?
Phyllis Williams-Strawder: My favorite life lesson quote comes from a poem my dad you to recite to me. The last stanza of the poem, Thinking, by Walter D. Wintle.
Life’s battles don’t always go
To the stronger or faster man;
But soon or late the person who wins
Is the one who thinks he can!
This ties in with the saying, whether you think you can or can’t, you’re right. I live my life out of a can. It took peeling away the weight of what others thought of me to get me to this place. I’ve learned I can disagree without being disagreeable. I’ve learned I can embrace without being engulfed. I’ve learned I can do many things. I don’t have to do everything.
Jed Morley, VIP Contributor to ValiantCEO and the host of this interview would like to thank Phyllis Williams-Strawder for taking the time to do this interview and share her knowledge and experience with our readers.
If you would like to get in touch with Phyllis Williams-Strawder or her company, you can do it through her – Linkedin Page
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