Amelia, I'm so excited to have you be a part of woman air. We were part of the National Association of Professional Women, I was running the Chicago chapter. And Amelia came to an event at the tail end of her membership, and we just became good friends right away. We definitely connected even more when we started to realize that we were both late night people. Everybody else is asleep, and we're on the phone talking.
You worked in an industry for a company and at one point started to realize like you could do this on your own. Why should you be making money for somebody else? You moved to Chicago from Michigan, started your own business, not having a network down here. So you really grew the company from the ground up, tell us a little bit about that experience in exactly what your company is?
Well, I worked in the industry for 14 years with a company out of Michigan that does the same thing I do, the owners were still fairly young as Vice President and knew that there was really nowhere room to grow. So I just kept thinking to myself, you're doing it for them. So you could do it for yourself. So they were you know, excellent bosses like family, I have a great career with them, provide a great lifestyle. And you know, I had no complaints other than I didn't have any room to grow, I will have been coming to Chicago and my father is from Chicago, and I just had memories as a kid. And they started to start coming for the weekend with girlfriends and looking and I noticed that the city had changed. So around 2008, the economy went flat. All the friends that I had, were in the auto industry, and they were moving because the auto industry and the homes are going tankard. So I thought, you know what, I'm going to come to Chicago, I'm going to cash my profit share out, I'm going to cash my 401K out, I'm going to take out what I have in the bank. And I'm going to come here and I'm going to start my own agency and believe in myself. And so I did. And then several times, I was like should I've done that. But every time I thought I made a big mistake, I should probably go back and try to get my career back fair. Several would show me that it was time to to be here, you were very much connected way back then I just had a really good vibe from you. And I thought, you know what this is the person that I need to connect with. She knows the city, she knows the people that I need to connect with. And we talked we went out to eat, you spent a lot of time with me and just trying to find out about my company, what we did what I needed, actually, you were the first person to kind of connect me with a lot of different organizations. And at that time, you had so many networking events, I swear I think like every month, we were having some kind of event. So I was able to expand a network. And I realized, just like in Michigan, you have to step out and network in order to get connected in order to do anything here in Chicago, who you know, yeah, why the lesson? Oh, that was my first lesson that you taught me was that.
MEGAN WESSELS 3:08
That's the power of LinkedIn, it's such a great tool for connecting. And I love that you have just used it and max it out. But doing it doing it in a way that is so authentically you.
AMELIA FULGHAM 3:20
I'm not on any type of social media, I just didn't believe in it. But somehow you got me to come to a class that you had. And decided I'm going to get you on LinkedIn. And so you helped me set up my profile, you kind of talked me through and taught me the understanding of LinkedIn every evening, I would get home. And I would just start linking in to people in my industry. And then I got to a point where I called you and I remember saying, “Okay, once they connect back with me, Megan, what do I do? What do I say now? I just don't want to say, ‘Hey, I need to meet you.” So you came up with some clever ideas on what I needed to say to get that conversation. And we kind of created steps and processes on how to get that conversation going until you're able to meet with them. Yeah, so for a whole year, I did that. And then the following year, all those connections kicked in.
MEGAN WESSELS 4:13
I can't even think about how many times you've called me and you're like, I just had a meeting with this person. And I met him on LinkedIn!
So let's go back and talk more about your business. You came to Chicago, you started the company, and you started building a network. What was a next step, because I know you have a business partner. How did you go from solopreneur to business partner?
AMELIA FULGHAM 4:38
I have a skilled nursing agency. We provide in home rehabilitation for people that have left the hospital or broke a hip or need to be rehabbed at home. So my staff are RNs, social worker, Masters, social workers, occupational therapists, physical therapists and certified nurses and I haven't salted and we are going through the credit credentialing process. The state here, of course, everyone knows takes a little while. She told me a year, three years later, surveyor walked in. And it happened to be we passed and it was on my mother's birthday. And I cried so much. And I remember their consultants like, Where are you working. But I felt like it was like my mom saying, Well done, I realized that my background is in marketing, in business management, I needed to be out there in the industry out here in the streets out here connecting, I needed to either hire a full time director of nursing, or create a partnership with someone. So since I didn't know Illinois at all, I started asking some my nurses, if they knew a director of nursing, it was really good. And they introduced me to my partner today. And I thought, you can have 100%. But 100% doesn't mean anything. If you're not bringing in the revenue and making the things that you need to do in the business is not running efficiently. And I have a clinician, so I gave 30% of my business away for sweat equity. Now her partner, Wow, she's the RN. She's a nurse practitioner now. And that's how we created Physicians Preferred Home Care.
MEGAN WESSELS 6:17
Wow, that's powerful! Okay, so that three years that you were waiting for the green light, were you working with clients during that time?
AMELIA FULGHAM 6:27
In skilled nursing, you work with clients, but you can't bill, that's what the surveyor part comes in is to get so you can't bill. So you have to have a certain amount of money in the bank to run the business. It can't be alone or anything like that it has to be yours, they trace it with your social security number. And then you use that money. So you run the business and you have staff. So you run the business as if you're making money, but you're not, you're having to service patients so that they can see when they come in their survey, what and if you know what to do, and the documentation has to be according to the standard of the state, and your crediting body
MEGAN WESSELS 7:00
So in the first three years, you weren't making any revenue?
AMELIA FULGHAM 7:03
Not making any revenue at all. I did consulting, but I did it at a minimum wage, because I didn't want to mess up my unemployment. So my thoughts are with another homecare agency, and help create their marketing information and their package and train their marketing team. And I remember only getting paid $12 an hour. Wow, that but I can tell you that entrepreneur is really difficult. And I had to really make a decision, the purpose of why I came here. So I went from like being up here, having a really great career, credit score really good to being down here. And not and I remember the consultant said to me, you'll get it back your credit score, and everything like that will come back, just trust me in this industry. And it did.
MEGAN WESSELS 7:45
I love that you said that, because that's one of the things that I really focus on with the Powerful Partners Forum members… really tapping into why they're doing what they're doing. What is the purpose behind their work? It's a great product… it's a great service… you love working with your clients, but at the end of the day, there has to be something bigger to get you out of bed in the morning and make you want to go through all of these challenges of being an entrepreneur and keep going. So what was your “why”?
AMELIA FULGHAM 8:15
I knew as a young person, I've always been a leader, I knew what I did for my boss, I saw the results there for the 13 years that I work with them. So I knew that I could do it here. But what I didn't understand is when I came to Illinois, you definitely have to know people. Because doors just don't open up because you're knowledgeable. It takes a village. I was really passionate about it. And I believed in myself. And that's the main thing if you believe in yourself, and you really realize that you're passionate about it, it's not a job. It's something you love doing, you'll succeed.
MEGAN WESSELS 8:50
You have to have passion. If you want to be an entrepreneur can't get in it for the money. Nope, that's not gonna happen. Or the freedom! People think being an entrepreneur is great because I don't have a boss anymore. But there's, there's definitely a lot of freedom that you give up to be an entrepreneur. You do. It's so fulfilling at the same time. Because it's something that you built on your own.
AMELIA FULGHAM 9:18
When you don't have a passion and you do it for work. And the other purposes, that's when it becomes very difficult because the revenue doesn't always come in a year. You may not come in two or three years. It may not come into that fifth or sixth year.
MEGAN WESSELS 9:32
Yep! That's what I experienced! Everybody told me that in the beginning it would take 5 years and I was like, yeah, I'll do it in two years. Nope…
What are some of the significant actions or choices that really helped propel your business to that seven-figure mark?
AMEILA FULGHAM 9:48
One was creating a partner. I remember hearing Bob Johnson say one time you could have 100% of a business, but doesn't mean that it's going to be 100% successful. It's better to have 10% Have something successful that is bringing in revenue, then 100%, that doesn't bring in anything. And when you have a partner, someone that was engaged in and just as passionate about it, and that was going to somehow have some of the same work ethics that I do, then we realize, we came with different strengths and weaknesses, we both had the grit, that we can make the business grow and make that million dollars.
MEGAN WESSELS 10:22
What are some of the things that you did to ensure this was the right partner for you?
AMELIA FULGHAM 10:27
Well, nothing's really ever for sure, for sure in life. The first thing I went on is my gut feelings. When I met her, I really respected her and her husband and their relationship. They've been married for quite some time, which told me that she had the grit to go through and complete some things I really, really liked and bonded with her two kids. They were very respectful. They respected their parents there were younger, that showed me how they kind of run their household. And then the way they value their family and their relationship, which said to me that she probably would have that same toughness and grit with me too, and our business also. So she was a no player, you know, she was about her license. She worked hard for it, she came from nowhere and work to get it. And so she valued her license, because her license was the license that was on the board for the agency,
MEGAN WESSELS 11:16
You put a lot of trust into her. And not just in giving a percentage of your business away, but putting all that trust in her because that's what you have to have in order for the business to continue running.
AMELIA FULGHAM 11:29
At that point time. I said, You know what, I am a marketer. I'm the one that brings the business in, and I have to have a level of comfort. If I had someone that just worked for me, they might just want to get a check. And they could jeopardize me with my NPI. Remember, the attorneys, we talked long days and long nights. And we knew we were going to probably buttheads because it's just like any other relationship, you're gonna have differences, but it's how you get through the process.
MEGAN WESSELS 11:56
What's the biggest challenge you've had to overcome as a woman entrepreneur?
AMELIA FULGHAM 12:00
In Chicago, here, it's segregation. Trying to be in 100 places at one time, in order to generate the business and having a network of when you're new and you don't know anyone.
MEGAN WESSELS 12:11
What are some experiences you've had, as a black woman in the industry?
AMELIA FULGHAM 12:15
A lot of the bigger organizations say that they have a diversity department, but they really don't give you the opportunity to do business, I found that you had to be extra on top of your game, you had to know a whole lot more to be impressive, where someone else could just kind of come in and bring their portfolio, I had to bring the portfolio and then be able to explain all the different services and why our services could next together and why doing business with my business would be a benefit to their practice or to their patient.
MEGAN WESSELS 12:47
Wow, thank you for sharing that. Something I really look at closely now is their “diversity claim” on their website, but then I actually go and do the research and look at their executive team. And what is that level of diversity amongst their executives? Usually, there isn't much diversity there. Those are companies I don't do business with. They're just perpetuating the issues.
AMELIA FULGHAM 13:11
I had to learn how to speak up and demand a seat at the table as a minority and a female owned company. So now when I network or market, I'm like I'm minority, and we're female, and they go, Oh, then they want to respond and give an opportunity. And then with the years of being in business, 12 years that says something were sustainable. We're in the heart of the city for a reason we want to serve the underserved senior population. We want them to see people of color like us that are nurses, physical therapists, occupational therapists in their communities. I want to bring economic wealth in those communities, because my staff that lives in those communities will spend their money in those communities. So we really focus on hiring in those areas where they're not afraid to go to the patients because they were either raised or they have family in those communities. So they're comfortable with it.
I do speak about that when I'm talking to CEOs or people that are decision makers, and then they get it. We're making a difference. The people living in those communities… we're teaching them the right way to eat, teaching them if you if there are food deserts, how to pour off the processed syrup on the green beans, and how to add your Mrs Dash to it, and then still be able to eat healthy.
MEGAN WESSELS 14:30
Wow, I love that! One of the reasons I'm so passionate about helping women entrepreneurs scale their business and gain economic power… because women business owners care about how they're showing up in the community. The impact they're making. What their team members are experiencing being a part of that company. Not to say that men don't, but I know that with women, their level of care is a whole other level. It just makes me so happy to hear that that is a big part of your company as well.
AMELIA FULGHAM 15:01
You may not be able to do a whole lot, but you can do something, and something is better than nothing.
One of my vendors that runs several nursing homes said to me, “You know what I like about your agency? I You're a boutique style.” Every patient that comes to my agency, if it's with my vendor, they meet me first.
MEGAN WESSELS 15:21
That's a level of customer service that a lot of companies don't have.
AMELIA FULGHAM 15:26
And you know what I did? I focused on my top 20. Instead of being in 50 different places, I went to 20 different places. I wanted those decision makers to know me, and to know and understand how we work. I had my note on each vendor, like what was special about them what they needed, who was a key decision maker, what food they like for lunch, what they didn't want to eat, things like that, once I learn to understand my specific target market, I was able then to create that niche. Even if they were working with someone that was in my industry, I knew sooner or later, I would end up getting the business,
MEGAN WESSELS 16:03
Walk me through how you build that relationship. What are some of the things that you do in the very beginning to get your foot in the door, but also to learn those things about them? Like what they like for lunch… all these special, unique things that build the relationship valuable?
AMELIA FULGHAM 16:19
First of all, I either research or if someone has kind of given me a lead, I might go on to LinkedIn and look at them and and learn a little bit about them. Before I go in. If it's a connection with someone, I utilize their name to open the door and say I'd like to just get 10 minutes of your time to stop by bring some information, learn out, you know, learn about what's important to you when you're working with a homecare agency, and what do you like with the agency that you're working with? And what do you like least, so once I get that appointment to come in, and I might just bring something a little token to them, it's breast cancer month, I might bring something in pink, that kind of breaks down the barrier, I try to wear something that's conversation piece. So of course, you know, I love heels, I wear heels. So usually it's the heels, that kind of breaks down the barrier, I do walk in those heels or those heels are different, unique or something like that. Just miners, yeah, shooting that shooting the breeze. And then once we kind of have something uncommon, I'm able to then just kind of be myself and authentic with them. And now we're able to talk about their business, I listened to what their businesses, and then I listened to how I can help their business and make her job easier. And as I'm taking my notes, I'm thinking about how I can work as a partner into that, how I can kind of change the dynamics of what's negative with homecare. So once we kind of get that understanding, I'm like, listen with me, I don't want you sending out a fax machine affects me all this paper works in the patient's notes, all you need to do is call me with the patient's information, date of birth. And so I'll have my office, my intake coordinator, run it, make sure that the patient qualifies for services patient does, I'll call you back, the patient doesn't, I'll still call you back and let you know, then what day works for you. I'll come in, I'll get the paperwork, then I'll go see the patient. And when I go down to the patient room, I'm introducing myself in the company. Now I'm kind of there to answer questions that the patients may have. I want the patient to understand the process, what to expect when they're going to be in home care, because I want the patient to get the best results.
MEGAN WESSELS 18:19
It really is a boutique service! You talk to the decision maker and the actual client… that's incredible. And really build that relationship and make them feel comfortable and taken care of.
AMELIA FULGHAM 18:32
People purchase or do business with you first person. And then the service was in place by me being engaged through that process. If there's an error or mistake, or something happens, which it will because it's rich human lives, bring it to me, let me resolve it. Because I'm the person that you build a relationship with that you met. You don't really know my company, you don't know the nurses, you don't know anything. You know, me too, I want to be accountable. I don't want to just turn you over to the office. And then you get a call or you call with an issue and you're on hold, call me directly. Here's my cell phone number, and give me your cell phone number. And then I usually just tell them, if you have someone that you've been working with and nothing is broke. Just give us one patient, give us the worst patient that you may have, and see what happens.
MEGAN WESSELS 19:18
Wow! Great. I love that. So you asked for the business. That's a key part. Right?
AMELIA FULGHAM 19:22
Yeah. Even if it's just that one, because then you have to prove yourself. And so then once we get that one, I let my team know that's going to be we got this one chance to get it right. So make sure we do a great job like we always do. But make sure we stay engaged with the patient. And you're great word of mouth for you too. Yeah, I don't ever tell people I'm the owner. Because I'm you know, I do the marketing. Love that. Yeah, because it's not about you, it's about them. And once I was able to do that Megan, my partner was running the office and making sure the clinicians were doing what needs to be done and we're meeting the guidelines, I was able to really focus on those accounts. We were able to then scale to that million dollars. Because I created that niche, and I knew that with that niche, there was not an agency, I don't care if it was one of the bigger agencies, I don't care if they had the technology that we couldn't afford, because they were a big and they have a huge board. But they didn't have that bowtie style. And they didn't have that personal style, and they weren't taking care, and really making their stuff available more. That's the key thing. You have to engage yourself to know your business, know your competitors, even if you don't have the technology, the IT, there are there other ways that you could compete against them.
MEGAN WESSELS 20:31
Now that you've reached this level your business…seven figures and growing, because I know you started another business, too. I want you to talk a little bit about what is important to you.
AMELIA FULGHAM 20:39
To be sustainable with the changes. Insurance plans and healthcare has changed so much that you have to do a lot of work to even to be able to sustain and make revenue, you have to do even more than what we were doing before. And the reason for is because there's been so much fraud in the industry, that companies are doing things a shortcut way they're doing things the wrong way that companies are doing things the right way, get penalized. But now that I've reached that figure now, with the COVID, it's basically starting from ground all up again, I've had to revamp how I continue to reach out to my decision makers, because you're not able to go into the hospitals and see them. And you know what they say out of sight, out of mind, you now have to be a little bit more creative to stay present.
MEGAN WESSELS 21:25
What are some of those things that you've done to really stay significant, now that you can't go to see your customers in person?
AMELIA FULGHAM 21:34
I worked with a marketing design person and created like a flyer. I emailed that to them and I talked about, you know, we're available. Here's where staffing is at if you need staffing, here's our specialty that we do, you know, call me when they call whether it's an insurance plan that we're in the network or not. If we're not, I still reach out to that social worker, because that social worker may come across an insurance plan that we're involved in. So when I get something like we're not in, say, for example, Cigna right now, and though they'll send over on the software system and saying, Hey, we have a patient that's in Cigna, can you take? No, we're not in a network. But then I turn around and then call her back and say, Hi, it's Amelia, blah, blah, blah. However, these are the insurance plans that we are in network with. And they're like, oh, okay, so I'm able to take that turn around, make it positive. And that gave me a name, a phone number, an extension of a social worker that made our case made it makes decisions, to be able to present over the phone and talk about what plans we do have.
MEGAN WESSELS 22:37
That's great! Tell us a little bit more about the business that you just recently launched.
AMELIA FULGHAM 22:43
We started a transportation company. A non-emergency transportation company. I was realizing as I was talking to some of the other vendors that I do business with, I said to them, “Listen, one of the factors that's happening is people can't get to their doctor's offices. People don't have the money. The family, children at home, either don't have cars, transportation, what can we do to be able to make sure these patients get to their doctor, so they stay healthier? Or get their COVID shot or get the food that they need?” I went to three other guys and I said, “Hey, I'm thinking about doing this transportation company, where you guys come on board with me?” And they were like, “Absolutely, let's do it!” So when the COVID shut down, we were still grinding it and coming up with the business plan. Creating a filing the business paperwork, six months would be the end of this month and we've been really, really good.
I get the contracts and one of my biggest contracts I got on LinkedIn. I saw the lady on LinkedIn and I researched her company. And I said, “Megan's gonna be proud of me.”
I talked about her executive team. There are like about 15 women and I was so impressed when I saw that with everything that's going on diversity and inclusion. I said, “I am just impressed that your executive board are women.” I'm like, “Go go go!” And I said “I would love the opportunity to speak with someone in credentialing. I would love to have my transportation work with your company, it'd be an honor.” And then the next day I was riding down the street and I got a call. And she said, “You must have spoke to our CEO and someone else because they were like, ‘Call this woman!” She was like, “They were so impressed with your LinkedIn message.” And she goes, “On top of that you call one of the executives and left a voicemail message. ” And I said, “I did.” So that's when I went through a whole panel that worked for the company. And there was one African American woman. I saw her name and I called her. You know how they put your the numbers of the last name. I left her voicemail message and it was, Etta. I'll never forget that. So she also called HR to insist this lady see me.
MEGAN WESSELS 24:54
Amelia! Literally doing the research and finding the CEO. Not just reaching out to the CEO directly, but sending a personalized message that really meant something to her. You took the time to look at her executive board and really spoke to that.
AMELIA FULGHAM 25:09
I laughed. I said, “Megan is going to crack up laughing when she realizes what she's taught me. I'm like a beast at this now!” I call my partner's like, “You guys will not believe this.” I'm like, “They called me back!” They go, “What did you do?” As I explained it to them they're like, “No, you didn't?” I said, “Yes, I did. I went on LinkedIn!” That stuff works! You just got to have the right stuff. And what you say.
You're the owner of two businesses now, and in both businesses you have partners. What are some of the things that you've learned about being in partnership, and owning a business with other people?
AMELIA FULGHAM 25:48
It's about the business at the end of the day. And at the end of day, really you become family. So we know our roles, but we are able to fill in when the other one needs help benefit of partnership is that you can do more with more minds, you may see something some one way, the partner may come and see something another way that you didn't even think about.
I enjoy having the partners because you have someone that understands, because normally if you're married and relationship, they don't really understand your business or they don't really want to always be engaged. The family doesn't want always hear about it, but you need someone or a support group or another entrepreneur to discuss it with. A lot of times when you're entrepreneur they're like, “Why do you do this when you can get a job and get a check every two weeks? I don't understand why your credit is going down to zero when you can work for someone? And you've a degree!” So when you have that partnership, someone that's on that same playing ground, it's like a breath of fresh air.
MEGAN WESSELS 26:48
That's what my Powerful Partners Forum members say every time I ask them, “What do you love most about the Forum?” And they say the exact same thing… “Having a group of people who get it.” People who understand what you're going through so that you can talk to them about the challenges you're having in your business. They actually want to help you get through those challenges and provide you feedback and support in any way that they can!
There's so many entrepreneurs out there, you see them on social media or in their newsletter, and it's the highlight reel. It's all the stuff that's working really, really well. And what that does for other entrepreneurs who are struggling is like, “Oh my god, am I the only one that is struggling here?Everybody else is doing so well!” When you can be vulnerable and be authentic, and really talk about some of these challenges you're having, that's when the support starts showing up. The right people start showing up in your life. And your clients really want to see you succeed! They want to be a part of your success, because they know that this is something that you're building.
That's one thing that's beautiful about your company is that you have to have that support group. You can cry, because they get!
MEGAN WESSELS 27:57
For minority business owners, it's really difficult for you to get a loan. You're building these businesses by literally taking your retirement money or your savings and investing that in the business to make it grow. The amount of work and sweat equity that you've put into this business, the risks that you have taken are incredible. It's a whole other level of challenges that you've had to face, and I just really want to commend you for that. You have built a beautiful business that really impacts your community. That takes care of your clients on a whole other level service where your customers and your clients feel like they're taken care of.
AMELIA FULGHAM 28:37
We have now seven vehicles now. We started with what I call the “church van”. In the transportation business, we were not able to get any of the loans that were out there, because we hadn't been around long enough. And so that was disappointing.
I wanted a transportation company to let people see that African Americans can do this. We can have beautiful, clean vans. Our staff are uniformed. They have name badges. We want our employees to feel like they're a part of a family. Our goal is to eventually be able to do business with some of the bigger hospitals and things like that, but yet, have a brand, have a reputation and be proud of what we started and what we're doing to and build a legacy with it.
MEGAN WESSELS 30:29
I really do want to acknowledge you for the difference that you're making in your community and the companies that you're building. The leadership that other women like you can look up to and say, “Wow, she did it. I can do it too!”
That's one of the reasons I'm doing these WOMXNAIRE interviews. I want other women to see that it's possible to build a seven-figure business. That it's possible to achieve your dreams and create a legacy and make a difference in your community at the same time.
AMELIA FULGHAM 30:57
You were working for your dad and you kept saying, “I'm going to step out. I'm going to start working for them and I'm going to start focusing on myself and on my business and what I'm passionate about.” I want people to know that you're not just talking talk, you've been in that too. And you've seen that what you do has helped. And I'm living proof of that, because I remember being at that round table when you were branding it, and you were just seeing if it would work you had, like so many women, and we were sitting in your house, at the kitchen there with food, and really going through the process.
But to see the outcome of what you do. How it's helped. I tell people, if it wasn't for my friend, I would have not been able to grow my business in another way of marketing and be sustainable for the last 12 years. In June it will be 13 years that I'm super, super proud it. And I can tell people, you can make the money you can do it as a woman. It is a lot work, but we have it in us. We do it every day with our family, our kids, our husband, you can do it. If you are brave enough to step out to be an entrepreneur, create that business license, you're brave enough to go to the end.
MEGAN WESSELS 30:58
Your biggest piece of advice for women entrepreneurs who want to scale to seven-figures?
AMELIA FULGHAM 31:03
You have to be able to make decisions. That's really important.
Being eager, you have to be eager. If you're passionate but you're being kind of laid back waiting for it to happen, it won't happen.
You have to get out and network in some type of form or fashion you have to connect. And you'd be surprised like in your phone, if you reached out to just people that you know they might know someone that can connect and open the door.
Create that team around you whether it's partnering up so that you can stay sustainable and be successful or getting the support group that you need.
And every time you hit the wall, come back with something a little different.