In this series, we connect with a diverse group of small business owners across the country to hear their stories – from overcoming hardship to the achievements that have allowed them to grow. There is no doubt that this past year has been a challenging time for the industry, and through elevating their voices we aim to provide advice, support and inspiration for small businesses everywhere. More resources like our Community Business Directory can be found here.
This, month, we are highlighting black business owners, an underrepresented population. Today we are speaking with Tonya Hicks- founder of Power Solutions. Founded in 2000, Power Solutions, Inc. is a specialty contracting company that provides electrical, mechanical, and low voltage services. They have a specialized focus in sustainability, renewable energy, and smart city technology solutions. Their mission is to provide the highest quality of service for customers and create an inclusive diverse culture for employees; while becoming a leading installer of the most innovative technologies in the world.
There aren’t many women in construction -- tell us what brought you here.
I was a Mathematics major in college and the career options for women in this industry were almost nonexistent. My professor told me the only career path available to me was teaching. I didn’t want to be a teacher. I worked on a construction project after my sophomore year in college and discovered that industrial electricians use mathematics everyday to do their jobs. I decided then and there that’s the career for me! I joined a 5 year apprenticeship program in the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and became the first woman journeyman electrician in Local 917.
What challenges did you face in starting your business--how did you overcome them?
I faced discrimination because I was black, a woman and because I was so young. I started my business at 28 years old. Very quickly after I started the business I was competing against men that were twice my age. Most of the people I worked with and for had never seen a woman electrician; let alone a woman electrical contractor. I had to work very hard to be taken seriously! I had to prove myself every single day. I worked hard to build my network and past performance. People buy from people they trust and like. Quality, consistency, and integrity helped me to overcome those challenges.
What inspires your work and sets you apart from others in your industry?
I am inspired by the future of energy, environmental sustainability, and AI. I’m in the best industry to capitalize on the future! What sets me apart from others is my ability to plan a project based on the needs and desires of every stakeholder; taking in account future needs and accessibility to new technologies.
Tell us about a success you celebrated recently?
December 5th, 2020 I celebrated 20 years in business for Power Solutions! That was pretty big for me! I was accepted into the 2022 Class of Leadership Atlanta. I was recently chosen to participate in the inaugural cohort Mayor’s Office of International Affairs Women Export University sponsored by the City of Atlanta and UPS.
If you could go back in time, knowing what you know now, what would you do differently?
I wouldn’t be so hard on myself. During the Recession of 2008 I didn’t realize it was hard for everyone in business; regardless the size or age of the business! I wanted to recover quicker than I did and I felt it was my fault as the leader that we didn’t come out sooner. I didn’t understand what a recession meant for business and nobody had it “figured out”. I knew what I know now, I would be kinder and more patient with myself as well as others on my team.
What one piece of advice would you give to someone who wants to start their own business?
Invest in yourself professionally. Take an EQ test. Know as much about yourself as possible. Knowing who you are will help you in your business strategy and daily decision making. I would also suggest you build your network; you’re only going to get as far as your network.
How do you think we can inspire more women to go into non-traditional occupations?
The key is exposure. You don’t know what you can be until you see it. Young people need to know, on an intimate level, who people are in their community and how they came to do what they do. When people can relate to your story they can apply it to their own life; it will inspire them to see themselves doing something bigger.
Any recommended resources for others considering this path?
National Association of Women in Construction, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, National Association of Women Business Owners, WiseHer, and any industry specific organizations in your field.
Anything else you’d like to share?
It’s never too late to do something different. Don’t sell yourself short. Believe in yourself! Build a circle of people that believe in you and support your dreams/aspirations. Get up and show up every day expecting great things to happen!
This article was written in partnership with wiseHer - a technology platform that provides on-demand expert advice for small businesses and women to accelerate their business or career.
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