We’re excited to introduce you to the always interesting and insightful Jamal Harbison. We hope you’ll enjoy our conversation with Jamal below.
Hi Jamal, thanks for joining us today. Can you talk to us about a risk you’ve taken – walk us through the story?
One of the biggest risks I’ve ever taken was in the early stages of my business. It was one of the first couple years, so I did not have a lot of resources. My dream was fueled by faith and self-determination only. At the time I was still working part time at a restaurant as a traditional server and to be honest I wasn’t very good. I worked almost solely off of tips and tips were not good simply because I did not have the skills to earn them. The last amount of significant money that I had was recently spent on finishing bartending school. I had no transportation, but I’d made up my mind to provide mobile bartending services. It was just me back then, not the team of 80 contractors that are on our team today. There was no Uber, only really sketchy cash rides and favors from friends. I was under 25 so I couldn’t rent from most car rental places. There was no Cashapp, Venmo, etc. so most of the time I didn’t take deposits when booking events. Usually, events were booked based solely on promises from complete strangers who were my potential new clients. So needless to say, every business move was a risk at that time in my career. However, this particular story highlights a new level of risk that I’ve had yet to experience. Actually, I’m quite sure most people have not taken this type of risk. Before expanding to recruiting other event staff, the decision was made for my business to expand logistically. The internet is a powerful tool that I used to promote my services out of state. The city of Charlotte was my pick as I had an acquaintance that just moved there from Atlanta (4 hours away) that said that I could crash at his place if I ever got some work out there. Also, it was relatively close to Atlanta where I live. My rates were very economical as I was just starting out. I just wanted to get my name out there. One day I got an inquiry to book a bartending gig in Charlotte. Remember, my transportation was limited to say the least. Despite that, I decided not to let a tiny thing called logic get in the way of my self-employed dreams. So I took the gig. But how would I get out there? I was no stranger to the bus system as I went out of town using Greyhound to see my family in Raleigh, NC and used Marta to get around town in Atlanta. If you’ve never experienced it, just know it takes a certain kind of fortitude to deal with any bus system on a regular basis, but I made it work. This time I decided to use a new affordable bus service called Megabus to take the trip to my event from Atlanta to Charlotte (roughly 6 hours on the bus) for my client’s wedding reception. The one-way trip must’ve been no more than $50 which is all I had at the time. So with no deposit, I emptied my account by paying for the trip online and packed my duffle bag full of bartender supplies. I was on my way to my first out of town event by bus. Even though I should have been full of worry, I was excited to embark on a new adventure for the sake of believing in myself! The bus successfully got me to Charlotte. However, there were a few challenges. The arrival to Charlotte was planned for several hours prior to the event as to cushion the margin of error. The bus arrived on time, so I had lots of time to spare. Around 6 hours. I tried to get in touch with the aforementioned acquaintance when I arrived but to no avail. Now I was in a new city by myself and with no money. I had 3 dollars left in my wallet to buy a burger and fries from Burger King. I was now completely wiped out. My wallet was useless due to being empty. Despite that, my heart was full of hope and faith. At the bus depot, I looked up the address to the event. It was roughly 3 miles away. At that point I would’ve walked any distance. Thinking back, it was a blessing that it wasn’t on the other side of Charlotte. Next, with no money for further transportation, I took the trek to the event venue, 15-20 lb duffle bag in hand. Pure dedication would carry me. I made it to the event venue 3 hours before the start of my shift. The bench at a grocery store nearby was my waiting area until my moment of truth. I used the bathroom there to freshen up. The event got started and I rocked it! Slanging drinks left and right for a packed house. As I was bartending, the client and guests started to learn that I didn’t even live in Charlotte. That’s when tips got crazy! By the end of the event my tips were so plentiful that I couldn’t fit them in my previously useless wallet. Now useless in a good way! I was paid in full in cash and caught a cab back to the bus depot where I had planned to purchase my return trip home to Atlanta. However, my challenges were not over. It was now late evening and my attempt to purchase the next bus trip home was unsuccessful. Megabus didn’t accept cash! The next bus which was leaving in a few hours I had to miss. My acquaintance who said I could crash never did pick up their phone. The next step to get home was that I had to go to a retail store that opened in the morning, purchase and load a prepaid debit card that I would have to use in order to buy the bus ticket online. I had made a lot of money to me at the time, but I looked up last minute hotel and motel rooms they were just way too expensive for me. This newly earned event money was all I had. The decision was made to sleep at the bus depot outside until that morning. It was a pretty rough area as a lot of panhandlers and other late-night characters frequented the area. I’ve made sacrifices before for my future, so this was another firm decision I knew I could handle. I laid on the bench, smiling. Then, it starts to rain. I smiled harder! Up to that point, I had just accomplished the biggest milestone in my self-employed journey. The rain would come down that night, but nothing could bring down my joy. The next day I walked about a mile to the retail store, loaded my prepaid debit card, bought my bus ticket online, got back to the bus depot, and caught my bus back to Atlanta. The risk was all worth it. In retrospect, I didn’t make a life changing amount of money, but I did gain a life changing amount of motivation. Hopefully, even more valuable, it’s a story that will inspire young up and comers who sometimes have obstacles that may seem impossible to overcome.
Jamal, love having you share your insights with us. Before we ask you more questions, maybe you can take a moment to introduce yourself to our readers who might have missed our earlier conversations?
My name is Jamal Harbison. I own a hospitality-based staffing company, which specializes in events. We staff services such as bartenders, servers, etc. Before I knew what it was, hospitality was in my character as long as I can remember. Jobs that involved assisting as well as working with people were always the ones that I gravitated towards. However, I ended up going to art school, majoring in Filmmaking. After a short while in my studies, I realized that filmmaking wasn’t the absolute path for me. To this day, the deep appreciation for all arts resides in me with a passion, but now only as a spectator. When college was no longer part of my journey, my path actually wasn’t clear for an uncomfortably long time. One day, an ad for bartending school caught my attention. This bartending school provided services similar to what my team provides now. After one event with them, I decided to branch out on my own. Over the years, my team has built a reputation for being the people you call when a lot is on the line. In the big picture, we fill in the blanks. Sometimes, we’re the frame. When a client is upset that their previous vendor had to back out last minute, we’re there. When a client has to change their wedding or other special event to a different location last minute, we’re there. To a different day, we’re there. We’re in the trenches the day of with the event planner, the chef, the decorator, the bride, the DJ, because their event or client’s event is just as important to us as it is to them. Despite the challenges and unforeseen obstacles that have certainly come our way I am mostly proud of the longevity that we have maintained. This year, 2022 marks our 10th year anniversary since our very first event staffed. That is an accomplishment that I hold near and dear to my heart. Though I must say, it has been a humbling experience. I couldn’t have done it without the blood, sweat, and tears of my team throughout the years. In addition, we survived due to the loyalty and trust of my clients. I want my clients and teammates, past and present, to know that I appreciate them. Every single one of them. This brand Signature Selection does not exist, nor does it continue to exist, without being the representation of the collective.
Any advice for managing a team?
My approach to managing my team fosters from being treated unfairly in the past. Throughout my life, more than not, the job environments that I worked in were very demoralizing due to poor leadership. I was used to being overworked, underpaid, just underappreciated in general. As a result, I didn’t perform in my utmost potential in these situations. Naturally, from experience, I realized that if I were to run a business, I would treat my team in the fashion that would influence them to perform to their utmost potential. A business owner looking to become more successful should know the key to operating at your business’ best potential is to keep your team in high morale. Listen, when they have an issue or need to vent. Teach, when they make a mistake or to prevent a mistake instead of being condescending. Lead gracefully, when they need direction. Follow humbly in a situation where they can take charge. Use discretion, when handling a delicate situation. Noone likes to be embarrassed. Acknowledge, when they excel. Encourage, when they need an extra push. Use empathy. I promise, if you treat each individual in your team with respect you will find yourself in situations where your team is compelled to do the right thing. Even if you’re not there. We sell smiles and authentic ones are more valuable. Keep a happy team without selling yourself short of course.
We’d love to hear the story of how you turned a side-hustle into a something much bigger.
In my generation it is common for an individual to have or seek to have multiple streams of income. The spirit that it takes to maintain these streams is called hustle. Hustle was instilled in me at an early age. Watching my grandparents, parents, and other family utilize their hustle to make ends meet was an inspiration that I didn’t know I needed until it came a time to implement it. At one time I had 4 jobs, 3 of which were on the same street. One of those jobs was an early phase of my company, Signature Selection. Signature Selection was started out of a necessity to be my own boss. There was no automatic jump start into doing it full time since it wasn’t close to being able to pay the bills in the early stages. Since my first event, it was realized that this was something that I wanted to do full time. Getting my first taste, the fulfillment of being self-employed was unmatched. However, in order to make ends meet, for years I had to juggle perpetuating a dream to a reality with actual reality. Of course, my first event was a key milestone. Next was becoming an Uber driver. Before that, for 4 years I did not have a vehicle. Thanks to Uber, I was now mobile. That’s an important attribute for a mobile bartender to have. After 4 years of Uber, Lyft, and a rigorous courier job, I was able to pursue my dream full time. The next milestone was being able to run Signature Selection while putting the other hustles on the backburner. Finally, the juggling act was now in the favor of being my own boss. My latest milestone in turning my side hustle to a full-time business was stepping down as lead bartender. In order to correctly run a growing business, I needed to take on the admin role full time.
- Website: http://www.signatureselectionllc.com/
- Instagram: www.instagram.com/sigbooking
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Sigselection
- Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jamal-harbison-88608b38
- Twitter: www.twitter.com/SigSelectionLLC
- Other: Google Business: https://g.co/kgs/xQqjkq
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