Small Biz

How an hour a week is launching four women to business success

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By BEQ Pride Staff

Dee C. Marshall, Crystal Y. Davis, Vernice “FlyGirl” Armour and Ebony Smith met at a conference in 2018, and immediately afterward they formed the Mastermind as a way to hold each other accountable for implementing what they learned. The quartet meets via video conference first thing every Monday morning. No matter where they are or what the day holds, they are committed to giving each other their full, undivided attention for an hour.

We sat down with these four women to find out why they make time for Mastermind. What we really wanted to understand is what is it about this type of dedication to professional, personal and business improvement, this uniting of minds and capabilities, that is so important to them as business owners and friends?

BEQ Pride: What are some of the benefits you receive from participating in the group?

Marshall: We share resources, insights, tools, books, vendors; we are each others’ sounding board; we cheer for each other. Last summer we took our first business trip together to the WBENC National Conference where we made introductions for each other, took photos and carried each other’s bags. That’s how we roll.

Davis: For me, the number one benefit is that this is a trusted circle. I can be very transparent about areas of business where I might need help or ideas and receive the tough love to move forward. Even when I want to have a pity party and make excuses, one or more of the group will reach out and keep it real.

Armour: The biggest benefit for me has been support, accountability and insight in areas that are not my expertise, all of which helps me take my business and life to the next level.

Smith: The Mastermind provides an opportunity for us to exchange ideas, resources and experiences which have been super helpful for my growth and development as a CEO and managing partner. It also serves as a support system and safe space to gain insight and overcome challenges I may face regarding mindset. More practically, the group led me to getting my WBENC, NMSDC and WOSB certifications. They also encouraged me to attend the WBENC National Conference in Detroit. Dee suggested that I volunteer so my first experience wouldn’t seem overwhelming. She was right. It’s those user experience tips that make the group so powerful.

Mastermind Group 2018

BEQ Pride: Has the group and/or its members had any wins that can be attributed to the process?

Marshall: This feature is a win for the group in terms of visibility! More personally, I’m certified in Kolbe A, however, I had a need for someone with a Leadership 360 certification and subcontracted Ebony because she is Leadership 360 certified. She helped me and I helped her and we all continue to explore possibilities like this to work together.

Davis: I would not have gone to WBENC National if it weren’t for Dee and Vee. And I’ve been certified for three years! They coached me through the benefits and made some strategic introductions that I’m certain will yield results.

Armour: In a single session, one of my Mastermind sisters walked me through a certification session that is making a huge impact on my business! For almost 12 years, my business has been mainly keynoting. Thanks to work done in large part with the Mastermind, I have now developed two additional lines of business for the company. The first is consulting within an organization, moving the needle in desired areas through building a culture of Gutsy Leadership. The second is delivering the concepts and principles beyond the keynote to every division and team in the fun and engaging FlyGirl style. We’re looking at a 400 percent increase in gross revenue as a result! We can’t afford not to make the time to support each other when we’re making gains like that.

Smith: One of the first times I vividly remember asking for information from the group chat was about keynoting and a speaker reel. Vee immediately said, let’s hop on Zoom tonight after I put my daughter to bed. She generously walked me through the shots the videographer needed to take and talked about the sound bites needed in a great keynote. The other ladies asked to join, too, so it was an empowering experience for the whole group.

BEQ Pride: Would you recommend other small business owners create a group?

Davis: Without question! The value of the participants and commitment to excellence is the key. I would suggest it for business owners first and foremost because at times you can feel like you’re in the grind alone. Having a trusted circle of business owners that are focused on collaborating so that everyone wins is invaluable in my opinion.

Armour: Looking strictly from a business lens, business owners have expertise in their area of greatness but not the other necessary functions. A well thought out Mastermind that brings a diversity of expertise to the group will pay dividends by exposing and filling gaps that otherwise could have gone unknown and been detrimental to the business, leaving it languishing in inertia versus being propelled forward. Coming from a law enforcement and military background, we did things as a team, a crew. This Mastermind is my new crew in business. Doing things alone is just a set up for unnecessary setbacks. Let your crew have your back.

Smith: I wholeheartedly think that other business owners should create and develop groups like our Mastermind. Often the journey of entrepreneurship can be challenging, especially if you are relying on your own knowledge to move ahead. I like to cite the old adage ‘teamwork makes the dream work’. By working in unison with others, your group can help make your dreams a reality if you’re looking to achieve optimal success. Plus, it’s cool to do life with others walking out their purpose.

Marshall: All small business owners should have a Mastermind, but there is a right way to do it. I’d be happy to assist and can be reached at or 973-755-6700 if you’d like to join.

Ebony Smith

Ebony Smith

Ebony Smith, “The Resilience Architect”, is CEO of Ebony Smith & Associates, Inc. After 13 years on the oil trading floor, Ebony brings a straightforward, no BS approach to leadership development. Ebony is direct without being abrasive. Ebony knows that left brain leaders need an equation to create a leadership style that uncovers and highlights their unique acumen. Leaders research ideas, thoughts, and processes to acquire knowledge on the topics, but rarely integrate the information. Ebony developed a proprietary YOUx model which combines a set of core principles, methods and tools to help her clients design better interactions with the people who matter most. Ebony’s goal is to get her clients over their people issues, so that they can focus on products, processes, and profits. She is WBENC and NMSDC certified.

Vernice "FlyGirl" Armour

Vernice “FlyGirl” Armour

Vernice “FlyGirl” Armour impacts organizations, individuals and entrepreneurs with an understanding of the passion and leadership required to excel. Transitioning from beat-cop to combat pilot in just three years, she became America’s first African-American female combat pilot. Upon completion of two tours in Iraq and leaving the military, Vernice launched VAI Consulting and Training, LLC. As a transitioning Vet and entrepreneur, Vernice broke 6-figures in the first 12 months of business and broke 7-figures in the first four years during the worst economic climate in recent history. She has earned her certification as a Certified Speaker Professional (less than 10% of professional speakers have earned this designation) and was recognized by as one of the top 100 Leadership Speakers in 2018. She is WBENC certified.

Dee C. Marshall

Dee C. Marshall

Dee C. Marshall is CEO at Diverse & Engaged, a WBENC and NMSDC certified company. She solves people problems by developing programs and initiatives to engage train or develop diverse populations. Her core competency is training however her Fortune 500 clients retain her when they experience challenges around talent. With over 20 years’ experience and a starter career training million dollar producers on Wall Street she is a well-known and respected industry leader. She is a United State of Women Nominated Changer Maker and in 2018 she was named top 25 Influential Black Women in Business and Top 25 Leading Women Entrepreneurs.

Crystal Y. Davis

Crystal Y. Davis

Crystal Y. Davis is CEO of The Lean Coach, Inc. Specializing in “The Toyota Way”, she helps leaders create a culture of problem solvers allowing them to focus and deploy strategically. She has more than 20 years of proven Lean experience in automotive, beverage and supply chain industries. Her client roster consists of Fortune 500/1000 Companies, many of whom she has led to award-winning results. She has been recognized for operational excellence at the “Lean Enterprise Institute Summit” and “Industry Week Best Plant”. She is WBENC certified.

Business Equality Pride (BEQPride) is the first publication from the BEQ family of national print and digital magazines exclusively addressing the needs of LGBTQ small-to-medium sized businesses, entrepreneurs and professionals.