Work and Money
Putting People First: Fighting to Keep Employees Safe
As president of HR for a large organization, Poindexter was expected to be in the office all day, five days a week. But as she found herself often needing ICU or hospital care for her son, she sought a better solution. “I have a son with a compromised immune system,” she tells CircleAround. “[He] wasn’t expected to live to be 10. That’s how I started my business — I started my business out of necessity.”
At that time, Poindexter was also caring for her 9-year-old-daughter. Navigating the challenges that she faced almost two decades ago prepared her for the kinds of pivoting that could arise at any time, such as those so many of us are facing during the pandemic. She reflects that taking a leap of faith to become a “solopreneur” and the boss of her own enterprise was the best move for making sure that her family was taken care of.
She says that, initially, her decision to integrate her parenting responsibilities and business persona was not widely accepted because corporate life and family life were traditionally expected to be kept separate. “When you’re first starting out in business, you want to get as many clients as you can because you need that financial income and I, along with everybody else, did the same thing,” she says. “There were times when I was dealing with clients and it was just a horrible relationship because I still had the mentality that they’re my boss and I’m the employee.”
Poindexter says, however, that once she shifted her approach, her business began to thrive — and so did she. After all, her motivation for starting her own business was having the freedom to set her own hours and schedule. “I am the CEO,” she says. “And once I changed my mindset to ‘Nobody’s going to tell me how to run my business; I’m going to do it the best way I know how,’ I was able to make that shift completely.”
Over the years, Poindexter, who graduated magna cum laude with a bachelor's degree in Business Administration from Mount Saint Mary’s College in Los Angeles, increased her service offering for clients. Each time she identified a gap in the market, she simply upskilled or hired experts, ensuring that her business stayed nimble and relevant. “I knew human resources,” she notes, “and when you talk about my field there are various components of HR. There’s workers’ comp, benefits, policy pieces, recruiting — the field itself is very broad and very wide and I didn’t want to narrow myself down.”
On one occasion, Poindexter was having trouble finding a benefits broker that offered the level of customer service she was committed to providing for her clients. Instead of being held back, she opted to fill the gap herself by getting her insurance license. On another occasion, she realized that an increasing demand for multilingual services meant it no longer made sense to outsource that work. Instead, she decided to create an in-house unit and hired people who could offer that value-added service to her clients.
Poindexter says that the success and growth of her business are direct results of her previous experience when she’d started out: making big decisions centered around life and death. She says navigating through the pandemic is no different. “It’s so funny to me when I hear about people talking about homeschooling and how difficult it is,” she says. “I crack up laughing because I homeschooled both of my kids and ran a business, and I was a single parent. It’s not that complicated. It’s not complicated at all.”
Variety Is a Key to Success
Poindexter notes that small business owners should be intentional about providing a varied suite of services so that, during unexpected economic contraction, switching gears is swift and the chances of keeping the business afloat are greatly improved. “My advice to business owners I mentor is to ask, ‘In the event that an emergency happens, whether it’s personal or business, how are you going to stay in business?’ ”
What the pandemic has impacted, however, is the nature of work. Poindexter says that the squeeze on jobs right now means that the recruitment and hiring side of her business has been destabilized. She says that she’s experienced a number of instances when a candidate makes it through the final stages to onboarding and changes their mind at the last minute. Poindexter puts it down to a fear of contracting coronavirus in the workplace. “It’s just fear of the unknown; people are very concerned about contracting the virus and they get cold feet,” she says. “People are not comfortable. You know, what happens if there’s a second wave?”
In meeting the pandemic moment, though, another side of Poindexter’s business is thriving. Given that workplace safety is such a hot-button topic, she says that there has been an uptick in client requests for policy procedures and protocols. Companies need to be in compliance with not only OSHA, as well as Cal/OSHA in California, but also the WARN Act and the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. These legal requirements touch on a number of adjustments organizations need to make, including ensuring the availability of PPE, as well as formulating sick-time policies and procedures. “I call myself the dedicated COVID officer in really trying to make sure that employers and places of business are safe,” says Poindexter.
She says she’s also involved in implementing safety protocols, including temperature checks and on-site COVID testing. “That’s been added to our suite of services so we can say, ‘Yes, we can provide your business with on-site coronavirus testing and you can get the results in 15 minutes.’ This is huge.”
Many of Poindexter’s clients require her high-touch approach, as her firm is their on-site HR department. That’s why she operates an on-call system that is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, which is especially important during the pandemic. “We don’t close, ever,” says Poindexter. “We’re able to talk to employers and help them navigate through a workers’ comp issue, or if someone’s calling in sick.”
Poindexter credits a number of personal attributes, as well as strategic thinking, for the success of her business. “I’m a fighter by nature,” she says “I fight for my clients. I fight for my family. When we hear the word ‘fighter’ coming from a woman, we hear it with a negative connotation, but it’s really not.”
This fighter says that her resilience and hardworking spirit carry her through many difficult moments. And so does having a positive mental attitude. “If you’re viewing things from a negative perspective, that’s all that it’s going to be,” she says. “I choose to find the blessings in every challenging situation.”
The most enduring and powerful attribute, points out Poindexter — who has an associate's degree in Biblical Studies — is her religious faith. “I live my life by faith, and that’s crucially important to me. That’s where I maintain my sanity.”
Note: Vikita Poindexter is a member of the nonprofit National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO), which is a partner of CircleAround and Verizon. Founded in 1975, NAWBO is the unified voice of over 10 million women-owned businesses and female entrepreneurs in the United States.