Do you consider yourself resilient? And what does that even mean to you? In this podcast Resilient Entrepreneurs with Two Four One, we chat with business owners about what resilience means to them and we go deep.
What we've learned running our own business, is you're never alone even when it feels like it. So tune in anytime to this podcast. We're always here for you celebrating resilient entrepreneurs just like you. We're Laura and Vicki from Two Four One - a marketing company for early stage business owners who want to launch, grow and be resilient.
Today, we are excited to welcome Michelle White, who is the principal director and owner of one of Bermuda's longest well established temp agencies - Executemps. However, this is a position she's only just acquired when she bought the business in February of 2020, literally weeks before COVID shut the whole world down. Since leaving her management position at Bermuda immigration to take on this new entrepreneurial role, Michelle has been growing and scaling the business at a rather impressive rate. We can't wait to talk to you about what you've got going on. It's amazing. What I think is really amazing about your story, Michelle, is that you actually started with this company 35 years ago, when you were in college, sorry to age you a little bit there. But you temp’ed for them while you were in college, and now you own the company. That's a pretty cool story.
Yes, that is my story. Carol Carvalho, who ran the agency from I think it was 1982 was when she first started and she kept pressing me, kept pressing, you know, do you want to buy my company? Do you want to buy my company? I'm like, How I can't afford to buy a company. And she asked one last time at the right day, at the right time and the right moment of my mentality at that moment and I said, let's have a chat. And luckily we've known each other for that long and we worked out an arrangement, so made it possible for me.
It sounds so serendipitous, but I think serendipity has followed you through most of your career and business life has it not?
Yes, yes, absolutely. You have to just pick up all the little skills that you've learned along the way. I have another opportunity that I've known this agent at least 20 years, and now she wants to retire and hand over her clients. You can't make this type of story up but you know, it's all about good relationships, it's about being your true self at the end of the day with people and they value who you are, what you bring to the table. And as a matter of fact we were just messaging just a short while ago, and it was like, if we knew then what we do now about our relationship, we would have made a dynamic duo. And you can’t turn the clocks back, but to just kind of personalize that a little bit, it's precious, it is precious because it says throughout all these years, she values how I work and the fact that I will treat her clients as good or better than she.
Michelle I can't imagine as an entrepreneur, how it would feel like all the Christmases had come at once if someone comes to you and says would you mind taking my clients I'm leaving the business! I mean even if there's a financial transaction behind it still that's an incredible way to get 100 plus leads thank you very much!
Absolutely and yes, it does feel like Christmas, but at the same time it is scary to have to, you’re scaling suddenly, it's almost like jumping off a cliff backwards, you're jumping up and you know, do I have everything in place? Can my financials manage it? My current bread and butter is processing work permits and nobody likes doing work permits. In fact you say immigration and nobody likes immigration either. But you know, it is my bread and butter. I've been doing it for I would say at least 20 years of a variety of positions and certainly 12 and a 1/2 at immigration directly, so I do have the inside mechanisms that helps me to make sure that I do that.
What is it about immigration? I mean there must be a passion there for you to have been doing it for 20 plus years, it's more than bread and butter.
Someone said to me that one thing they liked most about our interaction was when I said that I consider the role of immigration, the work permit process serious enough because you're dealing with people's lives. And that's no different than helping a Bermudian find work. It's the other way around, these individuals, these guest workers, they come to Bermuda, they've given up everything and it doesn't matter which level that they're at, whether they're blue collar, white collar, CEO, CFO, C-Suite, whatever the case might be. They're all leaving something to come to Bermuda to provide a service and we have to treat that process as seriously as we would a Bermudian, placing a Bermudian in a position.
And the person is human. Yeah, that's another human who's changing their life. And they have dreams and goals. And it seems like you just make that goal easier and help make their dreams come true.
Well, yes and it is a very arduous process, where some employees don't have the skillset, the knowledge, the desire, they need the person, but then they aren't able to wrap their head around doing the paperwork. And that's where I come in, I do the heavy lifting through Executemps, so that they don't have to and I do it as quickly and as professionally as I can.
And having seen your work over the time, I would say efficient as well, because you're a stickler for getting this done right the first time and if I've ever seen anyone more dedicated to getting it done right the first time and then also helping others to do it themselves and get it right the first time. You really pivoted at the pandemic shutdown, and you went all online, you've been producing training videos for employers, a whole course that you've produced in a very short time, what was the thinking behind all that? And why are you giving away your IP effectively? Or you sold it for a smaller fee.
Absolutely, you know, even just based on the fee itself, the work itself is worth more than the field charging for the course. When you experience the process, you will value the fee that I attached to it.
Talking through the philosophy of that pivot and why you would go online and why you'd give away your knowledge instead of trying to, you know, a lot of people would hold it close to them and say no, I'm gonna do it for you and charge you more.
Yeah, it's more important to me to know, or to share and educate employers, in terms of the process doing it right, doing it fairly and if they want me to still do it anyway, then okay. But if they want to do it on their own, then that's okay, too. You know, there's many steps in a process of actually engaging the work permit. I have some employers, they'll do the advertising, they'll do the screening of the applicants, they only want me to do the paperwork. That's okay. Some want me to do the advertisement and go through all that process for them, that's okay, too. Some just want me to follow up, they've done everything, they just want me to make the phone calls to immigration because they don't want to, that's okay. So I'm not giving away anything, I'm sharing information to the level that those particular employers wish to engage with. So I am flexible. And there's a lot of work out there. So what I don't get from you, I may get from someone else. And I'm also like you said, the video itself, the video is just that - it's slow, deliberately so that the person can actually take step by step, make their notes and go through the journey. And they may decide at the very end. Oh, heavens’ no!
Yeah, just call Michelle, we need her to do it for us because this is too much. Exactly. It's perfect. I love your mindset, it’s an abundance mindset that you have. You just said there's enough work out there, you're not concerned about losing work by giving away this course, which is exactly the right mindset to have. Another mindset we are interested in talking about sometimes, though, is also what's your failure mindset? How do you process failure? What does failure mean to you, and have you had any failures in this new journey so far?
I don't consider anything in this journey as a failure. A failure to me is simply giving up, you throw your hands up in the air and you walk away. And I have never, ever, ever done that for anything whatsoever. I may take it slowly, I may take it cautiously, I may take a different route, but I have never just thrown my hands up and said, forget about it. And that's important. Because if as long as you're making steps forward, you're making progress, you're heading to success. There's going to be a slip backwards and as you know, it's a roller coaster journey as an entrepreneur, you have your highs and you have your very lows. And at the end of the day, as long as it's taking you along the plane, all is good, it will work out in one way or the other. And so, you know, I just take one day, one work permit, one client at a time, not everyone who calls me, we have a conversation, we talk rates, they decide to do it themselves that's okay. Because at the end of the day I know that my rates are conservative compared to what I would charge if I charged by the hour. So you know it's all relative at the end of the day, so I don't fear my prices because at the end of the day, I am guaranteeing a good application that goes to immigration for consideration. And if immigration denies it, refuses it or requests additional information, then it's not because I didn't do what I had to do, it's because they have concerns on their side. I've appealed applications and some were accepted and some were refused. But again it's not because I didn't put everything into that package for my client, so that they can have a better opportunity for success. If I felt that it was going to get refused I tell the client, This I do not think is going to pass immigration’s critique and this is why, but if you wish to move forward I will do my best to put the information in the package and then let the chips fall as it may. But no client will ever tell you that I did not warn them ahead of time.
That's great. Yeah, it's being real and being honest with your clients and delivering all the value that you possibly can. It's really the key, right? It is as simple as that especially in a service based industry. So looking forward now, there's so much talk and we've talked about this before on the podcast, there's a recession looming, there's a global financial crisis, which they call it on Vicki's side of the world, there's a lot of talk about economy and contraction and all of that. And there's a lot of fear out there. Someone in the industry of hiring people, this must be something you're talking about a lot and thinking about a lot too. What are your thoughts on looking forward?
Let's take it back to the beginning. As you had already mentioned, February of 2020 is when I took over Executemps, we were already in a crisis situation. When I took over the company it didn't have that many work permit clients, it had one temp whose contract finished in that following October of 2020. And I didn't have any more work, I had to let her go. I was already at the starting point. So anyone who's already at the starting point, as far as I'm concerned, has no place to go but up in this current economy with potential layoffs or downsizing of services or whatever the case might be. Any entrepreneur that has started or has been engaged within this last, I will say two years, maybe three years, are still pretty much at the starting point of their careers. And so if anyone is going to have any flexibility it’s going to be a new entrepreneur because they, we would have an opportunity to actually adjust, pivot, change, modify, create new pillars, and I'm doing the same thing. Executemps is a temp agency, it's not a work permit agency. It's a temp agency, but I couldn't. Why? Because COVID kicked everybody out of their workplace and so there was no need for a temp and then with some businesses, they were downsizing during COVID. If they need someone part time, they go back to their previous staff who are waiting for jobs somewhere. And so I had to put that on the shelf and build the work permit side as pretty much my bread and butter. Do I love doing all this paperwork? Heck no! But at the end of the day, it's something that I'm good at and it's consistent. Phase Two of Executemps is to focus on the temp part of the business because I see that even though we have a recession coming, work still has to be done. And the tech world is going to look a lot different, the same as it has happened during COVID. What was everyone doing? Working virtually. What were they doing? Downscaling their offices. Wouldn't it be kind of cool if you are a brand new business and you're coming to Bermuda to start your business and you needed someone to help open up your office? How do you get your telephone lines in? Where do you go for your internet? And you came to Executemps because guess what, we've got a butt in the seat in an office with a part time person who says I don't have to work full time, I'm willing to work part time as a temp and I can help you with that. Now, wouldn't that be ideal in this decreasing type of economy? They don't have to have a full slate of full time staff.
You're so innovative and I love this about you Michelle, you're so innovative, you look for and at the opportunity. And if it's not right in front of you, you just keep looking and you dig a little deeper and there it is, there's opportunity all around us all the time, even as we're on the brink of a recession. And I just love that mindset that you're not going to let that get you down or get you gloom and doom because as you said, there's work still to be done. And if you can open up or take over a brand new business weeks before a pandemic shutdown, you can weather a recession. And I think we can all learn a lot from that mindset is to, you know, maybe turn the news off a little bit now and then right? I mean, it's important to know what's going on in the world but let's not get bogged down in that stuff. Let's just focus on what we know is possible, what we can do, and you're a genius at collaborations. I mean here you are, we're all talking about a recession and you're moving into a bigger space, go figure!
Yes, I've got an office full of boxes of files to go to a larger location and that location will be my work permit processing station, if you wish. It is a larger office, I was part of the BEDC Accelerator program and at the end of that program after I did my presentation, we had to compile a three year growth plan and I announced that in order to make this happen I needed more space because I was scaling up engaging at least 100 plus new work permits. So I need a new, larger place to work out of and someone stepped forward, they called me and they stepped forward and so I'll be moving to an office share, they’re already there.
You spoke up. I think that's what's key right there in what you're saying is that you spoke up and asked for something that you needed. Often as entrepreneurs we feel like we never want to ask anybody for anything, we just want to figure it all out ourselves.
No one's gonna give you anything by just you sitting in a corner, you have to ask, you have to speak up,and that's what all the engagement in social media and just kind of, you don't have to be an expert, blogger or anything, you just have to be present when it comes to some of these things and let yourself be seen, you know, I've been posting on LinkedIn, look where I'm working today and I'm out on the beach, or I'm working today I'm out in the park. It's just to show that I can relax and work at the same time and if anything, that's probably the best part of working for oneself, is that there are times when you can just take it outside of the four block walls, enjoy some sunshine, and be able to still do and be present for your clients.
Is that what you like best about being an entrepreneur, that flexibility?
I think it is, I mean a whole week will go by and I not see outside, but knowing that I have the opportunity to, I have the ability to, I don't have anyone breathing down my neck saying you have to be at your desk, from nine to five, six, or seven, Monday through Friday. So I can work wherever I want to work, I can be home, in my four walls, that's okay too, the flexibility mostly than anything else is what I love about being an entrepreneur, and just wish I would have done it sooner.
You say you wish you'd done it sooner. It's funny you can only look at your life story by connecting the dots backwards, but you can't go back and change the dots, right? You were telling us how if you've met somebody, the person that you've been working with all these years, if only you'd met them sooner, and to me that's a reminder that we need to be wide open to opportunity at any time, because we'll never know how long lasting that relationship is going to be, where it's going to take us, what value we can offer to somebody else through that relationship, what introductions and meetings we can make for others. You know, it's not all about take take take, I think the giver receives so much more and you're a perfect example of that too. What do you think Michelle would be your definition of resilience? To me you're a shining example of resilience but is that something you could put into words? Do you know what that means to you?
First of all, it just goes to show that brilliant minds think alike, because that was my word for the year, when you came up and said that your word for the year was resilience, so we're all on the same page. But for me it means stick-to-it-ness. Stick-to-it-ness. It just means that you go, you move forward, I won’t say stay on the path, you stay forward-focused, and recognise that the path may veer to the left, it may veer to the right, sometimes it's just safe to go straight forward. But as long as you stick to it and you move forward, then you're making progress. And each of those steps forward is your marker of success.
Because it doesn't feel like a pressure, it doesn't feel like you have to push through or drag yourself uphill, what you're saying there, it's not about just getting it done by hell or high water and burning out, it's none of that. It's just having that mindset to always put the next foot forward whatever you're doing, you can change your direction, but just keep doing something.
Yes, absolutely. Absolutely. And do what you do well, each step along the way. So the quality of a person's life is in proportion to their commitment to excellence, regardless of their chosen field of endeavor. And so excellence has been my mantra, is that the right word to use? So no matter what I do, I do it well, I do it to the best of my ability and certainly when we talk about resilience and moving forward, each of those steps along the way, it could be perfectionism, but we won't use that word,we won't use that word today will we? Having that sort of commitment. And I'll lead in to add to that is that you never know who's watching, you never know who's observing how you are interacting with clients with the general public, what you're saying on social media and by no means I'm not saying edit what you're saying in social media, but just to be aware that people are watching. And as a result of someone watching, I was nominated for the Central American Prestige Award, I don't know who these people are, I don't know who nominated me, when I received the letter to say that I was successful and that I had won my category of Temp Agency of 2022, it was because of excellence. They said, the judge praised the speed and efficiency that encapsulates every client's experience, that's what they said. So who, I have no idea but someone is watching, someone is watching. You just have to be prepared, you just have to stick to it, that's my main word, it's just stick to it.
Thank you Michelle. That is fantastic and congratulations for being an award winning entrepreneur. Very exciting! That was a little gem that you dropped in the end there that we didn't know about, and super exciting and I think that's just the one of many awards that are in your future if I'm looking into my crystal ball, there's absolutely every reason for that to be the case. And thank you for sharing all of your gems of wisdom and experience and mindset and sharing your heart with us today on the Resilient Entrepreneurs podcast. It's great to be able to talk to you and tap into some of that inspiration and experience, even though you're a young business, and the experience really shows through and we appreciate you being part of this journey with all of our listeners.
Thanks for listening to me.
Thanks for joining us on Resilient Entrepreneurs, we're Laura and Vicki from Two Four One. We love supporting entrepreneurs, especially with mindset, marketing and motivation which is why we’ve built an incredible community of business founders who meet weekly in the Level-Up League. If you'd like to know more about it, look us up at www.twofouronebranding.com