Mutual respect but separate responsibilities.
Those are the bedrocks upon which the husband and wife team of John and Erika Nelson have built their company.
“We’re not communicating 10 hours a day at work and then going home and communicating. We have separate jobs and responsibilities going towards the same goals.”
Though they are a team, they work best when they build upon their respective strengths in running Nelson & Company, a Jacksonville-based manufacturers’ representative for heating and air conditioning systems.
He is the visionary and sales leader. She sees to the details and manages the business.
She also holds the mechanical contractor’s license for the company. They each have their own teams among the company’s 11 employees.
They also separate their personal lives from their work when at the office. “It’s very important that the fact we’re married never has any negative influence on our workplace,” Erika Nelson said.
Similarly, they keep business out of their home. “Sometimes if I bring up a topic at home he’ll say, ‘We can deal with that tomorrow. I’m done with work for the day,’” she said.
Somewhat ironically, the couple started the business from a playroom in their home almost nine years ago. They had graduated from the University of Florida together and had married within a couple of years, but though they were both mechanical engineers they had pursued separate careers.
John had focused on technical sales of A/C systems while Erika had done mechanical engineering. He wanted to run his own business though, and they eventually decided to start one together.
”You don’t start a company with your wife to be together. It has to be bigger and deeper than that,” John Nelson said. “You need to want to accomplish something.”
The company urges its employees to strive to be the best so that they can help their clients. The Nelsons want to do the same for their employees.
“We have the privilege, or ability, to affect peoples’ lives. We want to handle that responsibility well.”
Parents of three daughters, two of whom are in high school and one of whom is in college, the Nelsons also hope to have shown their children the importance of hard work and family.
The couple has always made time for the girls and for each other. “We try to listen to each other and compensate,” Erika Nelson said.
If one couldn’t get a daughter from swim practice or attend a volleyball game, for example, then the other would, even if they had to work to 2 a.m. to make up the time. “When you own your own company it gives you flexibility to work all day and night,” John Nelson said.
They also support each other’s hobbies. He will go shopping with her and she has gone hunting with him, for example.
“We at least respect each other’s passions in life and participate,” John Nelson said.
Erika Nelson said, “Respect is extremely huge. There’s a strong friendship.
“It’s not just a marriage and kids. We really enjoy our time together.”
Neither could run the business by themselves, John Nelson said. “Having a small business teaches you about perspective.
“It draws you in , it overwhelms you but if you stick with it you’ll overcome it. To be able to go through that as a partnership, as a family, would be easier to do than to do it alone.”
Ten Years of Support
The Jacksonville Women’s Business Center has been advancing the success of women entrepreneurs at every stage of business development for 10 years. In 2014, the U.S. Small Business Administration chose it as the 2014 Women’s Business Center Excellence Award winner for North Florida and the State of Florida.
The following statistics reflect its 10-year impact, measuring from Sept. 2004 to Sept. 2014.
Distinct Individual Clients: 8,205
Program Participants: 383
Board and Task Force Members (distinct): 92
Businesses Started: 113
Jobs Created: 1,243
Jobs Retained: 2,254
Source: Jacksonville Women’s Business Center (http://www.jaxwbc.com/)
Jacksonville Women’s Business Center Educating and Inspiring
Erika Nelson had been running her business with her husband for four years when another business woman owner suggested that she get involved with peer groups as a means to learn and grow.
Unlike Nelson, who had helped start Nelson & Company, a Jacksonville-based manufacturers’ representative for heating and air conditioning systems, the other woman had not been involved in her husband’s manufacturing company when he died unexpectedly.
Rather than surrendering as a victim and selling the business or letting it fold, the woman learned as much as she could. By the time Nelson sat with her during dinner on a business trip four or five years ago, she was running the company.
Her biggest recommendation to Nelson was to plug into groups of other women business owners. “It struck me when she said there are all different kinds of businesses out there but at the end of the day we do a lot of the same roles to be successful,” Nelson said.
Shortly thereafter, Nelson attended a Women Business Owners of North Florida meeting in Jacksonville. She happened to sit with Pat Blanchard, director of the Jacksonville Women’s Business Center, a program of the Jacksonville Chamber Foundation, Inc. a 501(c)(3) organization, that is partially funded through a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Small Business Administration.
“I couldn’t have been more thankful,” Nelson said. “She became an immediate speed-dial person on my phone.”
Blanchard shared her knowledge and resources with Nelson, and got her involved with JWBC programs. “This was exactly what I was looking for. It was awesome,” Nelson said.
Nelson first participated in the the JWBC’s Financial Matters program, which links a woman business owner with an accountant and a financial expert for six months to improve management and business decisions. The program includes workshops and one-to-one-mentoring with the accountant and financial expert.
“It was a good eye opener,” Nelson said. “Sometimes you don’t know what you don’t even know.”
One of her mentors, a QuickBooks expert, helped Nelson to view her business differently and taught her how to work more efficiently.
“Women are supporting each other and are in the trenches and are understanding what it is to be a woman business owner,” Blanchard said. “There’s a greater sense of camaraderie and not a competition factor.”
JWBC’s entrepreneurial education, mentoring, counseling and networking programs and services are open to businesses that are least 50 percent women-owned. “The nature of women is supportive so programs are to be supportive as well as provide the information or training need to run the small business,” Blanchard said.
The ultimate goal is to advance the success of women entrepreneurs at every stage of business development. “We serve the fastest growing segment of entrepreneurs,” Blanchard said.
The JWBC is one of only three women business centers in the state though, and among only 100 or so in the country. “The need is there,” Blanchard said.
Locally, the JWBC is the only resource partner for small businesses that provides direct peer-to-peer mentoring for women. Collectively, women entrepreneurs are creating jobs, growing businesses and powering the economy, Blanchard said.
Lessons that Nelson learned in the JWBC’s Advanced Financial Matters program were helpful when her company was shopping for a commercial real estate loan to buy a building. With help from her mentors, she understood how lenders viewed her company’s financial reports. “We make sure we’re doing everything we need to keep up so that the report reflects the true strength of our company,” she said.
She also learned to delegate tasks so that she can better use her time. A mentor even helped her hire an assistant.
“That was a big step,” Nelson said. “That was a good success.”
Nelson is thankful for all of the help that she has received through the JWBC, including the relationships she has formed with mentors, Blanchard and peers.
“You feel like you’re not alone. You’re not the only one losing your mind,” Nelson said.
She encourages other women business owners to get involved.
“I can’t say enough about the women’s business center. I went so long not realizing it was out there that I try to tell other people I know about the great resources.”