Deonna Barnett is the founder, CEO and managing consultant of Aventi Enterprises LLC, which offers consulting, coaching and training for emerging CEOs and leaders of nonprofits. Aventi specializes in supporting women- and minority-owned businesses with business strategy and planning, financing and certifications. Barnett recently spoke with Columbus CEO about her mission.
CEO: How did you come to found Aventi Enterprises?
Barnett: I was at a nonprofit organization (Increase Community Development Corp.) for 10 years. The last four of those years, I served as the executive director. That nonprofit was solely focused on small business development. Most of the clients there were minorities, and I really enjoyed what I was doing. It was great to see people flourish and see the changes that were happening within our area and community as a result of these businesses being formed.
The board of directors for that organization decided to close its doors, and I just felt like my work wasn’t done yet. So I launched my own consulting firm, and I built some training programs online.
It was a smoother transition because it wasn’t anything different than what I was doing — it was still small business assistance. I was kind of directed into starting this business just based on people asking me to help them.
CEO: What has growth looked like for your business since it began in early 2019?
Barnett: It was just me for 2019, and in 2020 I brought on three employees and a consultant.
COVID-19 actually catapulted my business because there were so many small businesses in need of support and help. We started helping small businesses access federal funding and understand that process.
We also helped with the Columbus and Franklin County business funding over the summer, helping small businesses with their applications and positioning them to get some funding to support them during this time. After that, we worked with the Columbus Urban League and the Franklin County Community Equity Fund, connecting grants to minority-owned businesses.
COVD-19 really boosted our presence in the small business community. We helped them access funding, and then they learned more about what we do, which then led us to providing business strategy and planning and things like that.
At the end of last year, I also acquired another consulting firm. That’s where government contracting came into play — helping with certifications. We serve Main Street and middle-market businesses.
We served over 200 businessowners in 2020. In 2019, it was close to 100.
CEO: Why did you choose to pursue the mission to help women and minority businessowners?
Barnett: They are the most disadvantaged small businessowner.
I would say women with children are my sweet spot, because I am a woman with children. I know what it feels like to go to work every day and make the same amount of money with no flexibility. There are a lot of restrictions to being a woman and a mother, and entrepreneurship lets you set your business up to work for you, versus you working for your business.
Minority businessowners have different challenges than nonminorities. What I have seen over the last 12 years is a lack of education in the business space. And the education that was available was subpar. Just because there are people in a community who may not have gotten a college or master’s degree, they still deserve the level of education needed to successfully run a business. I don’t water down my training. I felt that was important with the minority community not having access to this level of training at the community level.
CEO: What are the top three things small businesses can do to increase sales?
Barnett: Be comfortable making the shift and understanding your customers’ needs. What is it that your customer needs, and how can you shift to fulfill those needs?
The second is to know your numbers. You can’t make any strategic decisions without knowing what is required of your business financially. That’s regarding pricing, sales goals, how much you pay employees.
The third would be: Don’t do things alone. Build a team, and then if there’s something you don’t know, ask somebody. Somebody out there knows the answer to your question about business. There are so many free resources here in Columbus. Utilize those resources to the best of your ability, and if they can no longer provide the answers to your questions, you might have to pay, but it will be worth it in the end. Don’t try and do everything yourself. You’ll go insane.
Mary Sterenberg is a freelance writer.
Occupation: Aventi Enterprises LLC founder, CEO and managing consultant
Employees: Three full-time, one part-time
Revenue: Would not disclose