Audio, Journalism

Chicago entrepreneur grows HR business through networking

Donna Marbury/ MEDILL Melonie Boone, owner of Boone Management Group, says even though she has clients across the country, "there's no place like Chicago. This is home for me."
Donna Marbury/ MEDILL Melonie Boone, owner of Boone Management Group, says even though she has clients across the country, “there’s no place like Chicago. This is home for me.”

Nov 15, 2012

When Melonie Boone was laid off from her human resources job after a lucrative 12-year career, her entrepreneurial instincts kicked in. Instead of refreshing her resume and looking for a new position, she decided to start her own HR consulting firm in 2010.
“When I got laid off I started thinking about all the accomplishments I made for the small businesses I worked with and how wonderful it would be to offer my services to those small- or medium-sized businesses that canʼt typically afford a full time HR solution,” said Boone, who started Complete Concepts Consulting Inc. But when her business partner departed earlier this year, Boone found herself at yet another crossroads.
“When my business partner walked away, I kind of shut down the business and thought, ʻWow, itʼs just me? Do I want to continue this?ʼ After a few days of going back and forth I said, ʻAbsolutely but it will be a long hard road.ʼ”
Boone was reluctant to name her new company after herself, but after getting counsel from supporters, she relaunched the company as Boone Management Group Inc. Even though entrepreneurship has been tumultuous, she says she wouldnʼt give up her new life to rejoin corporate America.
“In my corporate career everyone was scrambling to get a seat at the table. I had a seat at the table but I still didnʼt like it so I made my own table,” Boone said. “I surround myself with high achievers who strive to be great at what they do instead of waiting for someone to give me something.”

Booneʼs company serves as an on-call HR department for small businesses trying to comply with often complicated regulations related to employees. It also offers payroll and benefit management services as well as consulting on hiring, training and safety programs. The company also measures business growth and development and creates strategic planning for clients.
Boone says the company is close to reaching her monthly goal of $10,000 in revenue and she plans to double that in the first quarter of 2013.
“A big part of the idea is helping companies stay compliant with the law. Most small businesses are not compliant not because they donʼt want to be, but because they donʼt know. That is how the business blossomed,” she said.
Bridgette Outten, owner of Write Vision Group Inc. was referred to Boone a year ago and has been a client of hers for almost two months. Outten said that her admiration of Booneʼs work ethic was part of the reason she hired her.
“The first word I think about when it comes to Melonie is strategic. If you have a goal, Melonie has a plan for steps one, two and three,” said Outten, whose company provides media relations consulting. “[Melonie] has been where I am, and she knows I want to do more with bigger and better businesses. I am a lot clearer about my plan to grow and my foundation has gotten stronger.”
After restructuring over the summer, Boone Management now has 10 clients across the country and the globe. “We have made leaps and bounds in a short period of time because we were able to connect with an audience,” said Boone. A client in California recently referred her to projects in Brazil and Mexico. She also has regular clients in Florida, Georgia and Arizona, and is courting new business in Canada. Boone hired a former intern who speaks fluent Spanish to handle her new international clients: “We went from local to global in a few weeks.”
Networking has played a big part in Booneʼs expansion. She meets clients and colleagues locally and also when attending industry conferences. In October, Boone spoke at the Discover A New You conference in Kissimmee, Fla., and in turn picked up new clients. “We have made leaps and bounds in a short period of time because we were able to connect with an audience,” she said.
Diane Tarshis, principal of Chicago-based Startup Distillery LLC, met Boone at a business luncheon in September and hired her to develop new business strategies for her company a week later. “I consider myself a tough sell. I have very high expectations of myself as well as others. But Melonie impressed me immediately,” said Tarshis, who founded started her startup advisory firm almost 13 years ago.
“Even though I spend my professional life advising businesses, I soon realized that doing it for myself is a whole different story. It was really hard to see the forest through the trees, so to speak. But once I met Melonie, I knew she was the one. She was the strategic advisor for me,” Tarshis said.
With a staff of three, Boone gets the biggest bang for her marketing buck using social media to brand herself and her company as HR experts. She uses staples such as Facebook and Twitter so followers can track her work and advice. Boone also logs on to newer sites such as StumbleUpon to distribute her articles and blog posts. She uses LinkedIn to find employees, mentors and executive board members. Her social networking savvy also resulted in Boone hosting an Internet radio show that she is planning to expand.
“Having a great social media strategy is important because you are sharing content that is relevant in the business world,” Boone said. “I look at social media as a free advertising tool. If you use it the right way and really position yourself, you will see things come to you.”
Boone says entrepreneurship is a family trait. Her mother, a single parent who had no more than a sixth-grade education, owned a construction and a janitorial business. Boone, the youngest of three daughters, often spent time cleaning buildings with her mother and learned the importance of sweat equity.
“My mother did an exceptional job with us,” said Boone, who grew up in the Hyde Park neighborhood of Chicago and south suburban University Park. “There were times where I felt like I was stuck. But my mom told us college was a requirement, not an option. She would tell us if she had to clean seven days a week, she was going to make sure all three of us went to college.”
Boone went on to attend Loyola University Chicago, earning a bachelorʼs degree in human resource management. Next, she earned a Master of Business Administration degree from Florida Metropolitan University. She returned to Loyola, earning a Master of Jurisprudence in business law and corporate governance in 2010.
“I knew I never wanted to litigate, but it gave me a deeper understanding of how the laws are created,” said Boone. She plans to pursue a doctorate degree in the next five years and eventually aspires to become a college professor.
Booneʼs other full-time job is her family. She has been married for 12 years, and has two children; a son, 10, and a daughter, 4. “I actually find more time for family now that I can dictate my own schedule than I did in the corporate world. Thereʼs always mommy time,” she said.
Boone says that no matter how busy her day is, 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. is family time, and ʻSunday Fun Daysʼ include visits to museums, parks and made-from-scratch pancakes and waffles.
“I have had some 2 or 3 a.m mornings when I am trying to get work done and I donʼt have enough time during my day,” said Boone, who now lives in Roscoe Village. “You canʼt let what you do take you so far away, especially when you have young children.”
Working from home helps Boone juggle her family and business responsibilities, though she spends the majority of her daytime meeting with clients, networking and building her business. She uses Skype to meet with clients across different time zones and tries to keep travel to a minimum. “Skype is always an option to create that personal relationship,” she said. “I spent a lot of my corporate career traveling, sort of a necessary evil of a corporate HR. I know I stop for my mommy time, but it truly is 24/7 to make this business a success.”
She says her family inspires her to stay motivated. Her husband, a Navy veteran, plans to open a cigar shop in the future. She says even her 10-year-old son says he wants to own a plumbing business. “I see Boone Management Group as the catalyst for family wealth. I want to create a future for my kids and their kids,” Boone said.
Boone has a five-year plan to grow Boone Management so that she can hire a sales team, more HR consultants and eventually another top executive. Her next business idea: a salon and day spa for women of color.
In spite of a year of highs and lows, Boone says that optimism matters a lot in business success.
“I walked away from a very lucrative career, and people would tell me, ʻWhat are you thinking? Just get another job.ʼ Even when I had no clients, I would tell people I have a job,” Boone said. “I would tell any small business owner to look long term. Short term can sometimes be so painful.”

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