How financing helped a new business and non-profit touch 1.5 million lives For many small business owners, their core mission derives from a personal value or lived experience: a childhood spent on a bike could lead to opening your own cycling shop, or a beloved family memory could become the next beloved nationwide signature cake. For Sherry James, that mission—also drawn from personal experience—is nothing short of saving lives. Sherry is a keynote speaker, author, and mentor—lost both of her parents to suicide. As an only child, James notes that these losses “caused me to learn how to survive very quickly on my own…I was very blessed growing up, though, because I became a member of so many people's families.” https://youtu.be/JHnV4qlCmsM We sat down with Sherry to learn more about how her connections to loss and family led her to found Phoenix Speaks, a consulting agency whose mission is “to save lives and careers by facilitating conversations about mental health and suicide prevention” in workplaces, and its corresponding nonprofit 2020 Lives Changed, that provides those same services to organizations in need. (Interview has been edited for brevity.) What led you to found Phoenix Speaks? As a child, I was “adopted” by so many families. I've probably got a thousand brothers and sisters. I learned a lot about who I am at my heart, and that a servant leader—a person who is a servant at heart—wants to teach others and help them be better. In 2019, as a servant leader, I decided to start Phoenix Speaks, so that I could help people have conversations specifically around mental health, mental illness, and suicide prevention. We have two “sides” of our business. Phoenix Speaks ensures that companies have the tools needed for tough conversations around mental health in the workplace, including suicide prevention, through keynotes, courses, or workshops. And how does that connect to 2020 Lives Changed? Where does the name come from? 2020 Lives Changed is the other “side” of Phoenix Speaks. It provides the same services as Phoenix Speaks to groups like women's shelters, homeless shelters, children's homes, universities and colleges, and other organizations. Many of these people can't pay for us to come in and do a keynote, but they also need help with managing mental health. So we do similar work for paying clients as for the organizations that cannot pay for our services. When I founded Phoenix Speaks, I had made the decision that I was going to try to touch 2,020 lives in the year 2020. And I thought, if I can just touch 2,020 lives—with social media, especially, we should be able to nail that. How did you grow a business and a non-profit during a pandemic? Well, we didn't expect that all lives would change in 2020, but as it turned out, they did. Who knew that the pandemic would happen? Phoenix Speaks’ business plan was contingent on us having paying gigs at conferences in 2020, which did not happen (laughs). Lendio connected us with a PPP loan, which helped us to explore new platforms for our work in light of the pandemic. First, we set up our website, making sure it was viable and available to receive e-commerce. We also did a lot of marketing, and developed and shared a lot of free content throughout 2020. We had four different TV shows that we did on Instagram, and we also were able to film an episode of a show on Amazon Prime called Speak Up. We also worked on offering mental health and mental wellness to companies as part of their Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion programs. Our PPP funding kept us afloat throughout 2020—and even in the absence of paying clients, we were still able to touch 1.5 million lives, thanks to the power of social media and the help from Lendio. It was a tough year, but I'm not giving up. We've made it through so many difficulties, and if we have new ones coming, we'll be ready to face those as they show up. Learn more at www.2020LivesChanged.Org. Disclaimer: The information provided in this post does not, and is not intended to, constitute business, legal, tax, or accounting advice and is provided for general informational purposes only. Readers should contact their attorney, business advisor, or tax advisor to obtain advice on any particular matter.