In Conversation with Dozie Oheri of Choose to DO, Inc.®
Describe your business in a few words?
Choose to DO, Inc. is a nonprofit that mentors underprivileged youth.
What made you take the leap to start your own business?
I had issues with my self- esteem when I was young. I come from an immigrant family of four boys and one girl and guess who’s the only girl? Growing up, I felt alone, unloved, controlled and unsure about myself. I had an overall lack of self-esteem, which resulted in me feeling emotionally neglected as a kid. As I grew, my need for love and attention grew and I searched for it in the wrong places.
I hit a breaking point in college, where I went through depression for many years. I decided to see a therapist which over the years, gave me the tools to work through my childhood traumas. Majority of my career has been working with children in various jobs as a nanny, as a Sunday school teacher and as a teachers assistant etc. I kept seeing the same patterns in children, in addition to noticing the lack of support that they were receiving from their communities. I decided to stop working for someone else and started my nonprofit. I knew I could teach children how to love themselves and they in turn could teach others how to love them.
What was your background prior to starting your own business?
I started my entrepreneurship journey when I was about fifteen years old. My mother owned a beauty supply store with a hair salon in the back. She “told me” lol that I needed to learn how to braid hair. Of course I didn’t want to, but eventually I learned how and stuck with it until I graduated college. It ended up teaching me the business management skills that I use today. Along the way, I created other businesses but braiding hair was where entrepreneurship began for me. Majority of my professional career has been spent on working with children from newborn to high school age. I’ve been able to merge together my passion for business and my love for children, which I now use to build Choose to DO, Inc.
Did you always know you wanted to be an entrepreneur?
I didn’t always know that I wanted to be an entrepreneur, even though entrepreneurship runs in my family. I come from a long line of business owners. I believe you either have the passion for it or you don’t. I think being an entrepreneur is teachable but not worth it if you don’t have the drive to get up every day to work on your business. Essentially, my mom forced me in this direction but today I wouldn’t be here if she hadn’t.
Take us back to when you first launched your business, what was your marketing strategy to get the word out and did it go as planned?
When Choose to DO, Inc. was just an idea, I knew that at some point I was going to have to market my business. One day, I was stopped by a local news channel at a gas station. They were doing a news segment on should the elderly have the ability to drive? As I walked passed the news anchor and camera man, I had an internal conversation. “Should I stop to answer their questions? What if I look stupid on camera?” I told myself that this opportunity would be practice for how Choose to DO, Inc. will be marketed in the future, so I might as well get used to it.
My marketing strategy in the beginning was just to introduce as many people to my idea as possible. I spread the word, had meetings with potential supporters etc. The main way I marketed the business was through word of mouth. I wasn’t afraid to talk to anyone about Choose to DO, Inc. which helped us build a base that is connected to who we are.
We always learn the most from our mistakes, share a time with us that you made a mistake or had a challenging time in business and what you learned from it?
One of the most challenging things for me as a leader is wanting to please everyone. In the beginning, I had a hard time with telling people no and letting individuals go that were no longer serving their purpose. Over time, I’ve added people on my team that believe in the vision for Choose to DO, Inc., and hold me accountable and vice versa. This has strengthened me as a leader, they look for my guidance and expect that I will meet organizational goals. Now, my motto is, “I would rather be respected than be liked.”
What is the accomplishment you are the most proud of to date?
I am most proud of the professional and personal growth I’ve made. I am not the same person today that I was four years ago. I am pleased with what being the Founder/CEO of Choose to DO, Inc. is doing for me. I am excited to see the heights it takes me to.
When hiring for your team, what is your go-to interview question? Please share any hiring tips you can share from your experience?
My favorite question is, Tell me about yourself? Interviewees either shy away from the question or give more information about themselves. I like the question because it gives me insight into who I am interviewing, outside of the professional questions that pertain to their position. It is important to have people on your team that communicate, are committed and willing to learn.
How has your business or industry been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic?
Choose to DO, Inc. had two programs before covid, one of them being an in person program. After covid hit, we added a third program to accommodate the new changes. Now, we service our youth in person and online. We also are now reaching a broader audience, which was always in the plans, but covid has forced us to move in that direction sooner.
What’s next for your business? What can we expect to see over the next few years?
In the near future, we’re looking to take on additional staff, and move into our first office space. Over the next few years, we want to grow our impact. Our goal is to double the number of youth served every year. Now that we are serving adults, our goal is to create programs that support them as well.
What is the biggest lesson you have learned in 2020?
The biggest lesson I’ve learned in 2020 is to work smarter not harder. That means taking more time for myself. I am a single woman, with no kids. I want to make it a habit to separate my work life from my personal life. My workday starts from the time I wake up to the time I go to bed. Going forward, I will make self-care a priority.
What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were first starting your business?
What I wish I knew about starting a nonprofit when I first started my business is, everything on how to start and sustain a nonprofit.
Do you believe in work/life balance? What are some of your best tips?
I didn’t always believe in a work life balance, because I saw how hard my parents worked to take care of us. Now, I institute self care days, where I shut off work. I limit my work time, and schedule dates with myself every now and then. I love going to places by myself, bars, movies, events, traveling etc. but now not as often because of covid. Any time spent alone, enjoying something that you like is helpful.
What’s something our audience would be surprised to learn about you?
That I am super goofy, I love playing music and dancing around my apartment and I miss Saturday morning cartoons from when I was growing up.
What are your top 3 tips to stay productive each day?
I put everything on my calendar. If I don’t, nothing will get done. I delegate tasks to move production along. Educate yourself on things that can help you and your business grow.
What does being an Entreprenista mean to you?
Being an Entreprenista to me means that I support other women in business, in particular women of color.