Over the Christmas holidays when Nselaa Ward was only 11 years old, her mother was shot in a crack/cocaine deal that went bad. Nselaa was at home with her 2 younger brothers waiting for their mother to come home, her brothers were only age four and an infant at that time. She remembers telling her grandparents that her mother had not come home for several days. Her grandparents came to find out that their mother had been in the hospital and was very lucky to have survived. Nselaa then was raised by her grandparents for the rest of her youth. Her life was uprooted, but she was still surrounded by drug dealers and crack houses regularly. Her perspective on life was different from other people because of these experiences.
When Nselaa was 15 she was able to attend the North Carolina School of Science and Math which was a residential school for the top 2% of students in the state, providing them with college-level courses really early and designed to encourage and inspire talented students. She attended North Carolina Central University, studying criminal justice, and then went on to the University of Denver Sturm College of Law for her juris doctor.
Nselaa is currently based in Atlanta, Georgia and is CEO of the business architecture firm, Ni’ Nava & Associates. Her firm provides the systems, resources, and team support necessary to help small businesses to properly scale and develop to the next level.
Tell us a little about your industry and why you chose to become a business architect?
I started out as a business and bankruptcy attorney. While I was a practicing attorney, I did a case study to determine the correlating factors between when clients started their businesses and when they ended up filing for bankruptcy. I wanted to evaluate the trends that made some businesses successful and others failures. Initially I wanted to develop my legal practice to be able to help in those situations, but the legal profession is a reactive type of industry. It is not proactive. Attorneys step in when a problem has already started.
I wanted to be able to help business owners before they actually started having problems, to save their businesses and help them to scale, but I could not do that within the realm of the legal profession. I studied business architecture and my passion became helping companies to perform before they started to go into that downward trend. This is where I found my joy and my happy place.
What surprised you the most when you started your career, what lessons did you learn?
I was surprised at how many business owners were just out there just trying to wing it. They can end up trying to handle too many tasks they are not suited for, feeling overwhelmed, and really unsure about the next steps because they are not experts in business.
When entrepreneurs wear too many hats, they are pulled too thin and they end up becoming mediocre in everything, instead of amazing at the one thing that they specialize in. Our firm can step in and build the operating infrastructure for them so the entrepreneur no longer has to be an expert at everything.
How would your colleagues describe you?
My colleagues would say I am always making a joke, even if it is only funny to me. They would say I like to serve people. Serving people is my happy place.
How do you maintain a solid work life balance?
For a time, my life was so hectic while I was pursuing my dreams, but I realized that some of that stress came from not knowing how to systemize my work. I was my first client. Once I learned how to create operational systems, this was the differentiating factor to creating a successful enterprise. Now I have a better work/life balance, and I enjoy the process of working in my business and having adequate time with my family.
What is one piece of technology that helps you the most in your daily routine?
My phone helps me to connect with the team and my clients but using the Zoom video conference software has also been huge in these past few months. Video helps to create an even deeper connection than the phone.
What has been the hardest obstacle you’ve overcome?
Initially, I could not physically see the corner office from the corner block in the neighborhood where I grew up, but I was able to change my mindset and believe that it was possible for me. It was a journey, but I had to change my mindset to open up possibilities in my life.
Later on, working with positive people also helped me to see that my past was not the only thing that defined me. The past did not define who I was or what I was capable of doing. Seeing powerful people around me that accepted me gave me the resilience to really move past my life circumstances and become the version of myself I am today.
What is one piece of advice that you have never forgotten?
I grew up in a community where there were a lot of people surviving crack cocaine addiction. Many were my own family members. We affectionately called them rock stars to celebrate their survival. We all saw rejection frequently. Those rock stars helped me to understand the power of not being afraid of rejection or the word “no.” If somebody tells you no, it really just means they don’t understand what you’re offering. Go harder! Help them to understand the value of your offer. Don’t give up because somebody said “no” one time. My Rock Star helped to develop my first layer of resilience.
What does success look like to you?
I try to make a personal connection with every one of my clients. To be successful, I want to really know who our clients are so that I can serve them. I try to touch every client that I have.
What is one piece of advice you would like to leave our readers with?
Starting a business can be scary and lonely when you are doing it alone, but it does not have to be that way. Our firm can provide a support system and a team that’s ready to help you to turn your hustle into an enterprise.