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Meet Shenae Johnson-Allen of The Allen Project in Southeast Los Angeles County

Today we’d like to introduce you to Shenae Johnson-Allen.

Shenae, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
Growing up in Compton, California I was surrounded by entrepreneurs, self-starters, sole proprietors, etc. Although many of them had day jobs to support their families, what I valued most was the hard work they put in after hours, late night and weekends towards their own enterprise. It inspired me to know there were possibilities beyond the routine 9 to 5 if I was willing to make the sacrifices to be successful.

Early in my teens it became my focus somehow, someway to have my own business. Although I didn’t have formalized training, I learned a great deal from my paternal grandmother who owned a neighborhood corner store, two of my uncles who both owned Collision & Auto Repair shops, and my dad was an accountant by day and an Independent Tax Preparer by night. From each of them, I learned about customer service, showing up even if everyone else took the day off and how your small beginnings could really develop into something much larger.

My first official business venture was called The Decorating Express. I would do balloons, decor, party set-up, gift baskets, and more! I was 19 and excited to have my own business. Full-time I worked as a Customer Service Rep, but every evening and all weekend I worked on my business. I had a team, a growing clientele, and I just knew this was going to be my “big money maker”. I remember sometimes only getting a few hours of sleep before work the next day, but it didn’t matter because every sacrifice would be worth it.

During that time, I went through multiple health challenges. Trying to deal with the diagnosis of Cervical Cancer, I thought my team was strong enough to handle the business in my absence. Unfortunately, that was not the case. After several missed events, late deliveries, etc. I had no choice but to close. I was extremely disappointed, felt like I had failed, but realized my focus needed to be on my health.

During that time, my family experienced several losses including my older sister. I needed to reset emotionally and financially. My mom who was an Educator/Administrator with LA Unified School District for over 25 years suggested I put my education and career training to better use and pursue teaching. Which I did for over 12 years, but my desire to be independently self-sufficient never went away. I just could not see myself working 30 or so years giving all my ideas, abilities and innovative thoughts to someone else’s business. Why not my own?

In 2009, there were severe budget cuts within the School District and I found myself on the receiving end of a pink notice. That was followed by another health crisis, being diagnosed with Lupus. In short, it’s a chronic autoimmune disease in which the body’s immune system becomes hyperactive and attacks normal, healthy tissue. As a result of this disease attacking my body, I was unable to work, on heavy medicinal regimen, unable to even function in my “normal” day-to-day, constantly back and forth to the ER with upper respiratory complications, extreme inflammation, compromised vision, lack of mobility… I WAS JUST A MESS!

My income was lost, I wasn’t gainfully employable at the time, found myself down to less than 1/3 of my usual monetary resources, receiving government assistance and severely depressed. After multiple doctors, specialists, pain management clinics, herbal therapies, etc. it was still almost a year before I learned how to adjust to this “new normal” and care for myself through more homeopathic options. This was a tremendously difficult time for me. In order to just survive month to month I depleted my personal savings, 401(k), Teacher retirement, sold my vehicle, lost my dream home and filed bankruptcy.

There were days when I didn’t know how I would come back from this devastation. What encouraged me the most was looking at my daughters and knowing that I had to make a better way for them. One afternoon in 2010, I responded to a social media message of a past acquaintance looking to fill an immediate opening for Administrative Support. Since I had previous experience and taught Office Occupations and Computer Applications, I knew I was more than qualified. Upon being interviewed the CEO asked what could I promise to deliver that none of the other applicants could. My response was “to double his annual business revenue”, which we did consecutively for over three years. During this time, I knew in my heart having my own business was still the long-game plan. I just didn’t know the specifics yet.

Amazingly, what began as an Administrative Support job launched me into having my own successful minority, woman-owned enterprise. I took my knowledge of business operations, grant writing coupled with all the new things I learned about Government Contracting and Procurement and when the time was right, The Allen Project was official!

We started with one client and within 12 months, we have supported over 50 small businesses and non-profit organizations to increase their financial sustainability through government contracting opportunities. We have presented at multiple business events and recently expanded our time in response to the growth and continued demand to tap into the procurement arena.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
Definitely not a smooth road. But all the while definitely worth every pothole, detour, and under construction sign we encountered. Some of the struggles were lack of access to information. We have the internet now, so between Google and YouTube a new entrepreneur can access a plethora of tutorials and information on business start-ups, operations, funding and more. However, for me it was library reading and trial and error. Which is how all my mentors learned their individual business industries. But how much further could they have gotten with more knowledge and less pitfalls.

All that considered, the major struggle for me along the way was repeated health challenges. Sometimes when I reflect, it’s astonishing just how many times I had to start, stop and start again. Owning your own business is definitely not for the faint at heart. You have to be tenacious, dedicated, and even in days where you’re not motivated you’ve got to be disciplined.

The Allen Project – what should we know? What do you do best? What sets you apart from the competition?
Our business The Allen Project specializes in educating minority, women-owned enterprises towards securing procurement opportunities. Simply, procurement is the method/vehicle by which Government Agencies secure products, goods and services. Everything from consultants, decorating, printing, art displays, equipment and more You name it and there is a government agency in need of it at some point or another.

We are known for “Getting it Done”, that’s our motto! As a small business owner, I understand how crucial every dollar spent is to the bottom line. So, I make it my business to educate, inform, support, and pay forward every opportunity possible.

As a company, I am most proud that we help other minority-owned entrepreneurs achieve their goals. We are a partner in their success, which in turn keeps us successful.

Differentiators between us and other competitors is our heart for those we serve. We provide free webinars, free consultations, and even for our paid clients our service pricing is set to help and not hinder.

What moment in your career do you look back most fondly on?
Our proudest moment was writing a high-profile government contract for $1.5 million dollars. That was definitely a winning moment.

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