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AfroPreneurs: Marketing/IT Consulting

In this AfroPreneurs profile, BlackSpeaks.com decided to feature Brian K. Hill, founding president of Brian’s Online Success Services, LLC, SMASH Solutions, Black Men Speak, Black Man Speaks, Black Leads and Speak Our Minds — a network of online businesses offering marketing and information technology consulting, motivational speaking, business and nonprofit development counseling, researching and training services.

Hill started Brian’s Online Success Services, LLC, also known as BOSS, in 2006 in San Leandro, Calif.; SMASH Solutions in 2012; Black Men Speak in 2013; Black Man Speaks, Black Leads and Speak Our Minds in 2014.

With BOSS, he helps companies cultivate marketing, advertising and communications strategies and solutions to promote their products, services, missions or goals.

In advising businesses, Hill and his clients use all their company resources to build and increase visibility of their brands and networks using SMASH Solutions, an Internet marketing firm with a formidable suite of software.

As a partner with SMASH Solutions, Hill provides his customers the following software and web-based service features: “smart” Contact Manager; integrated calendar; social media hub; videoconferencing and video e-mail; campaign manager; personal virtual assistant; SMASH clicking, cash and toolbar; automated contact notes; media room and specials posting.

Born and raised in the inner city West and South sides of Chicago, Hill graduated from Dunbar Vocational High School in 1976, got married in May 1977 and joined the U.S. Army in that same month and year. In March 1979, he moved his family to Berkeley, Calif. and lived in the East Bay region.

With a bachelor’s degree in recreation administration in 1985 from California State University and a master’s degree in educational psychology in 2000 from Peralta Community College District, both in East Bay, Hill spent his career serving colleges, nonprofits, businesses and other organizations as professor, lecturer, IT/marketing expert, counselor, consultant, planner, researcher and volunteer and board member of various organizations.

Prior to starting his own businesses, Hill served more than five years as director of Barclay Mapworks, Inc., a California-based cartography firm, in March 2000. He successfully maintained accounts and increased sales, meeting and marketing with customers and contractors; managed support staff for the distribution department, and; oversaw shipping.

In October 2005, he served for nearly a year as EOPS counselor at Laney College (also referred to as Extended Opportunity Programs and Services). Hill took part in planning, implementing and evaluating student educational programs. He also helped students plan their studies and provided both individual and small group counseling to minority and disadvantaged men and women aged 18 to 35.

In that same time until December 2009 when he was laid off, Hill served in a similar capacity as adjunct professor and general counselor in Merritt College in the Peralta Community College District.

For three years, starting in March 2006, he was a full-time lecturer in recreation, adventure recreation, hospitality, recreation therapy and community services at his alma mater, California State University in East Bay. Hill was charged with helping the university’s Department of Leadership in Hospitality & Leisure Services prepare racially diverse and disadvantaged students to become managers in the tourism and leisure industry.

In January 2011, he became executive director and board treasurer of social media communications for Black Men Speak, Inc., a California speakers bureau aimed at teaching the mental health community and the public about how to approach issues facing African-American men with mental health and substance abuse problems. Hill himself suffers from bipolar depression.

Still serving the mental health community, in August 2011, Hill became a member of the African-American empowerment committee of the Pool of Consumer Champions for patients in Alameda County.
The following month that year until July 2013, he became consumer research assistant performing annual survey interviews, focus groups and community events for the CHOICE Quality Improvement Committee for mental health research and services.

Hill also served as consultant to the Health Human Resource Center in California in December 2011 to teach the public about mental health problems that lead to patients dying 25 years earlier than patients of such physical illnesses as diabetes, cardiovascular or respiratory diseases or HIV-AIDS.

In January 2012 to the present, Hill is a stakeholder group member of the Alameda County Behavioral Health Care Services and worked as planning team facilitator from November 2012 to March 2013 to serve the needs of African American mental health patients through the African American Leadership Institute.

The following is a Jan. 16, 2015 phone interview between BlackSpeak.com and Hill, who is in California:

Brian K. Hill I had the chance to view your websites, BlackMenSpeak, Brian’s Online Success Services, meetwithbrianhill.net, Black Leads, Secure Server.net, SMASH Solutions, Speak Our Minds and Linkedln profile and vocal performing audio files, including the ones on Facebook and your blog, and glean some insights into your company.

We have four basic products and services. The first are motivational speaking, teaching and training. That’s one service. The second one is singing. I’ve been doing that all my life — at weddings, funerals and other events.

The third, technology service, is a little more expanded because the people who are in business have a wider need. Some of them need websites. Some of them need social media. Some of them need leads. Some of them need hosting. It depends on what they need. I try to point them in the right direction.

In the fourth and last service, I create the prospecting, rolling conversations and meeting with people, naturally and organically all day long. And that’s driving with Sidecar, Uber and Lift.

From a business point of view, this is my meeting people face to face without selling anything. I am picking them up and dropping them off to work and where they need to go. And then they’re gone. No money exchanged. Just a conversation.

1) What is the size of your business and your profit margin yearly or the value of your stock shares? Are you, in fact, publicly traded? How many employees work for your company?

I am one person strong. I have made a profit.

I think I can say, “No [I do not plan to expand and hire more employees].” There is another level of learning that goes along with hiring employees, paying taxes, and employment and unemployment insurance. There are some things you have to pay for in taking care of people that is in addition to the cost of running a business.

And I realize that’s why businesses don’t hire employees. By and large, they have them become independent contractors. They cut that cost. They don’t have to pay that, which allows them to take that money that they would normally pay and use it in that business or for another firm. That’s what I learned being in business.

That’s why I don’t want employees. I’ve got to pay them and take care of them — hundreds of thousands of dollars. I can’t do that. That’s what I am doing. You need it but you set it aside for employees. I can’t see that yet.

2) Based on your Linkedln profile, you have served as professor, counselor, consultant, planner, researcher, volunteer for some board members, lecturer, professor and IT/marketing expert. What made you decide to go into business for yourself? When did you make that decision and under what circumstances? With your education and psychology background, what made you consider online marketing/advertising, motivational speaking, singing, blogging and chatroom? What was the state of business with BlackManSpeaks, Brian’s Online Success Services, Black Leads, Smash Solutions and Speak Our Minds when you started out and what has it progressed to today?

I was laid off in Sept. 10, 2009 and I was teaching online recreation hospitality and tourism as an adjunct faculty professor.

I have been facilitating, preaching, counseling, speaking, blogging in journals daily and singing all of my life. The transition was natural to the online world of chat rooms,  forums and blogging.

The state of each company developed as the needs of the people I was trying to serve evolved.

My degree is in educational psychology and a master’s degree from Cal State University in East Bay. I was not a psychologist but, in the universities that I taught at, psychology was required as part of my background before I could teach. Whatever your degree is what you are called — your background.

The counseling [aspect of my business] was that I was a community college counselor, simultaneously, as I was teaching. The consulting [aspect] was helping businesses with their technology needs or company needs. All of this are the different events that you had to be a part of.

The research [aspect] was that I am a part of a research, in the last few years, that is being done in Alameda county for people who are trying to get help or helping homeless persons when they come into the program.

I was paid to ask all these new cohorts — three different cohorts. I was being paid to help out with that aspect of the research. Then there is the volunteering for boards. I was on a number of boards. The IT is what I do to help certain businesses in their IT department whatever they need help with.

When I got laid off, that was the business decision. I am not going to allow myself to be paid by someone else if I am going to do all of the work — no more selling for other people.

Every individual can be the employer. You do not have to work for somebody. We all decide what role we want to be in life. And we are influenced by everything around us to either fit into that role and mold or break that role and mold.

I broke the mold when I decided to be married, to be different, fulfilled, complete.

I left Chicago and never went back. I went to college with two things in my mind: I got to be a minister and I had to get my education. That’s what was influencing me.

3) Have you joined any business organizations and other groups? If so, which ones?

I [have joined or am affiliated with] the following groups:

Black Men Speak, an African American Male Speakers Bureau in Oakland, Calif. (http://blackmenspeak.net);

California Mental Health (Volunteer) Committees;

Mental Health Oversight Accountability Commission (FInancial Committee) (http://www.mhsoac.ca.gov/Committees/Committees.aspx);

Pool of Consumer Champions – Alameda County Behavioral Health Care Services;

Alameda County Behavior Health Care Services Stakeholders Group (http://www.acprop63.org/stakeholders/hill.htm);

California Institute for Behavioral Health Solutions (CIBHS);
Health Equity Leadership Institute (information broker/stakeholder);

Office of Health Equity in Sacramento, Calif. (information broker/stakeholder), and;

Health Human Service Resource Center in Oakland, Calif.

This is a list of the business organizations that I joined.

They were talking every other Tuesday. In the mental health community, African-American men don’t feel empowered, by and large. And they don’t feel empowered because the clinicians and social workers are people who have power, money, education or know-how. These people tell them, “Here’s what you need.” But the overriding theme is, “Why don’t they ask us what we need?”

African-American males don’t like to go to psychiatrists and psychologists to get help with all the issues of discrimination, stigma and other issues that they go through so they go to the church.

The church is not trained in mental health so now they go to get their needs met twice. They don’t go to the therapist so they go to the spiritual leader but spirituality is not what they need.

So BlackMenSpeak came out of a group of men coming together and saying, “Let’s speak for ourselves. This is what we need. Let’s tell the community. Here’s what an African-American male needs who struggles with substance abuse issues or mental health issues. To reduce our income stigma, this is what we say and do. To reduce other stigmas, this is what we say and do.”

For this group, when I heard them, I said, “This is a business. They don’t even know it. This is a meeting. It’s not a support group. This is not a church. It’s not a football team. It’s not a choir. This is not normal. Black men don’t get together and talk. We don’t talk.”

But if we did and we were getting paid to tell our story, it would draw a lot of other black men to learn how to talk about what they think, feel and see and, so I convinced the men, “This is a nonprofit company. Why don’t we just get the paperwork, get the nonprofit status and raise money. Keep doing what you’re doing. But this is not a product. This is a company, not grown men talking about how they feel.”

They say, “Okay.” They did the paperwork. They became a nonprofit company in 2013. Now, they’re getting paid more and traveling more. I branded it, created it and did all the technical stuff. And now it’s a business. It’s a company.

Whoever would allow us to go and speak, that’s where we would go and speak. Basically, we were telling our life stories. Every individual has a different focal point. One person is a veteran. Some people are in construction work. Some people are community advocates. I am a businessman. My story is different from the rest of the men. You pick your story and you sell it.

I do that voluntarily because that’s my commitment to the black community. After a while, when I saw that I was doing the work, getting all the deals, working all of this out and not getting paid, I realized, “Hold on. I can’t keep doing this for free.”

I started a company called BlackManSpeaks, LLC. The nonprofit is already started. It’s a company. It’s got its product. It’s growing. I don’t need to do anything anymore to manage that. The men keep doing it.

Now I need to formulate my company. My company has four services, which we are going through — motivational speaking, singing, technology services and driving. I had to separate Man from Men.

The Health Equity Leadership Institute is the group that’s managing the $6 million that’s ready to be handed out in RFPs in 30 days. They are going to fund 35 pilot programs in California.

Whoever creates them or fills these forms out — the [government] will give them $2,000 over four years to either build their pilot program or it’s going to go to capacity programs that are in existence because they need money to keep growing.

BlackMenSpeak is an example of a pilot program. When I heard about this — and this had been going on for years — I engrossed myself in, “Where is the money? Who’s managing it? How much is left? Who’s handing out the money? And when is it going to handed out?”

4) Who, thus far, has taken advantage of your services — namely, what types of entrepreneurs or clients? What are their demographics?

My clients or affiliates include the following:

Health Human Service Resource Center (HHSRC) in Oakland, Calif.;

Black Men Speak, Inc. (serving African American male mental health patients, aged 45-65);

P. E. E. R. Enrichment Center in Columbus, Ohio;

Black Mens Health in Castro Valley,  Calif. (SMASH Services technology);

Pool of Consumer Champions (spokesman for mental health consumer);

SMASH Solutions,  LLC (business solution software);

Professional Net (blogging/website writing);

Bay Area Christian Church (singing on different occasions since 1984), and;

Alameda County Behavioral Health Care Services (stakeholder).

When I was laid off, I was trying to hussle and find business. I was at a summer conference where the Pool of Summer Champions had an event. A woman comes up to me and says, “You know technology pretty well. I have been watching you for a couple of years. Can you come and help us with our website?”

I went to see what she wanted. Then she asked me, “How much do you charge?” I said, “$1,000 a month.” I just threw it out there. She said, “That sounds good. I think that is workable.”
I said, “Stop thinking low. Start high. You can always come down. Start high.” That’s what I learned from that one conversation.

I kept a website for a year. I changed it. I updated it. I learned a lot. She basically utilized my services. She was first. This gave me my biggest booster that I could do it on a county level — on a business level and not just for a friend.

As for BlackMenSpeak, I built the website, did all the content and all of it is mine on that website — content, video. They used my services.

As for P. E. E. R. Enrichment Center, they were my first customer when I built the LLC. In August, I was in Ohio, applying my first customer.

Black Men’s Health and other customers [use SMASH Solutions, LLC]. They use my technology services because they want me to do things for their website.

This was a masseuse who is out of Castro Valley and focuses on men’s health. But there is a lot of stuff she does not know about technology that I know so she asked me to do that for her. I said, “Sure.”

As for Pool of Consumer Champions, “lived experience” is what LE stands for. If you are a mental health client, you have schizophrenia or another form of mental illness and you have an issue, then you can talk from lived experience.

I have bipolar disorder. That’s why I can do so many things at once. What you may see as 10 things, I may see as one thing. There is 800 different people with mental health issues on different levels that make up this one gigantic group.

It’s a pretty big group and all of them are broken down into 12 or 13 different committees — Asian, Latino and African-American. Each person speaks from their point of view out of that group.

We would travel. We went to Florida, for instance, four to five months ago. Eight people were chosen out of that group of 100 to go and speak on behalf of the Pool of Consumer Champions. So I was chosen as one of those eight.

As for SMASH Solutions, LLC, that is not mine. That is what I use. A friend of mine in Utah built that software. I use SMASH Solutions because it is a software platform that I think that black people should use easily.

So instead of overwhelming people with all of the technology that I know, I just picked one platform that everybody used in business and they need to know at least one that can manage all of their business. That is why I created the one strategic plan of action for the black community.

My plan is to help black business owners use SMASH to increase their business and get into the technology game. Everything you see is from SMASH Solution — everything I do. SMASH Solution is the platform — website, hosting, content and design.

As for Professional Net, I was writing for them last year and I won a contest for my writing. That was the platform that the writing is in.

As for Alameda County Behavioral Health Care Services, I was nominated to this committee because they are the service that managed the money for Alameda County in the mental health community.

The decisions I make helps this group in prevention and early education. There are five categories in the state’s Mental Health Services Act. The county receives funds from the state. The stakeholders are between the staff of the mental health community and health care.

The group says, “Here is what the community is thinking.” You had to be nominated to be in that group and be on that board. It is almost the same as with the state financial committee. This is beyond the county level.

5) Walk me through a day of work for you as owner of your online businesses. What do you first and what do you last? What would you call a good business day? What would you call a bad business day? Please be specific.

Every day, from 6 a.m. to 8 a.m., I check my e-mails on campaign referrals worth $500 each. I respond to leads, update my sales letters and continue to prospect for more clients. From 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., when [this work] is completed, I start the next batch of 990 e-mails to send out.

From 4 p.m. to 8 p.m., I market the BOSS and go out into the field to add value to the lives [of my clients]. I drive for ride-sharing companies Uber, Lyft and Sidecar. The social media software connects the driver with the person searching for a ride.

A good business day [means that I] earned a minimum of $100, a middle of $150 and a maximum of $200-plus. A bad business day [is one in which I] did not prospect directly by email,  texting or telephone; add value to the lives of customers or clients, or; have face-to-face contact, conversation, engagement or connection with people.

6) Are any of your family members or friends supporting your business? Any siblings or children? I know you have three grown children. What about the spouse? If so, whom? In what capacity do they serve your online businesses and for how long?

My wife writes, edits and provides referrals and professional contacts. My family and friends [support me] in acknowledgement that my business exists and send me referrals. The family uses my driving services when they are going on dates.

7) Do African Americans and other racial minorities support your company? If so, how? Exactly what type of minority businesses have supported you? Have you reached out to them or have they approached you? If so, how? Do African Americans support other African-American businessmen and women, sufficiently in your view? What would you like to see?

[African Americans] use one or all of my four services. We reach out to one another.

Some came to me. I came to some of them.

Let’s pick out the ones that came to me — just for clarity:

Health Human Service Resource Center (HHRSC) came to me.

I created and built the Black Men Speak website but [the group] came to me and I created what they needed.

A conference was in Ohio and they called me and asked me to come to Ohio. That was for motivational speaking and singing.

Then there was Black Men’s Health in Castro Valley. They asked me for technology services because, as a business owner, she did not know how to do that so I do that for her. She is a massage therapist focused on Black Men’s Health.

As for Pool of Consumer Champions, that’s the group I go out and speak for. When they go out and speak, they call me for whatever they need.

As for SMASH Solutions, I went to them and created an African-American presence for that company. They did not hire them. They did not recruit them. For my company, I introduced myself to them. Now they are using me in their business.

You can use five or six sources or one source for everything you have. Most people have four, five or six sources — Microsoft Word, e-mail, Facebook. But I just have one to manage it all. I have Facebook for people and all the others to manage it all.

As for Professional.net, they actually came to me and I joined the group myself. I was blogging and they came and approached me and asked, “Hey, can you enter this contest? We want to see who blogs the most, the best, etc.” I won that contest that year.

As for Bay Area Christian Church, I do weddings and funerals. They say, “Let Brian Hill do it.” That’s where we do marriage counseling for married people. This is where my wife and I have responsibilities over the years in helping other married couples and helping singles get married.

As for Alameda County Behavioral Health Services, that’s where we nominated the group to be a part of the mental health community and address what they are doing with the money in the county. I do that on a county level and I do that on a state level where I am learning where the money is, where is it going, who is spending it, what agencies have it and are they using it appropriately.

8) Do you see enough African Americans and other racial minorities as successful as you are in businesses similar to yours? If so, who? Do you feel that you can help young African Americans who may have some difficulty breaking into business management and leadership? Do you see enough young blacks and minorities serving in leadership and management roles such as yourself as an owner of a business? If so, why or why not?

No, I do not see enough African Americans in my business because I have met few African Americans in the online marketing technology space.  Most African American male business owners I know network independently and it is in a collaborative space.

Yes, I can help those who are interested with this type of work.

Yes, I see them in leadership and management.

[Examples include]:

Kalima Priforce, the regional leader of Yes We Code;
Van Jones, national leader and spokesman for Yes We Code, and;
Shaun Tai, leader of Oakland Digital Learning Arts Center (ODALC).

Do you remember the initiative signed on June 13 by President Obama about a young black initiative? This was something in relation to helping younger men reach out to communities. There was a spokesperson by the name of Van Jones, a CNN correspondent. He was very well known in the black community.

He is trying to push on a national level [the initiative] “Yes We Code.” It’s growing like crazy, especially to young black children and men and women of color, and teaching them, “Yes, you can write code. And you start early.” Now there is courage, growth and direction so I am going to go to that group here in California and say, “I want somebody to build this out.”

Shaun Tai is Asian but he is helping the black community in large numbers — African Americans and people of color who want to be in business. If I did not know what I know, he would show me.

We want the exact same thing and he is five years ahead of me. He has MC Hammer on his board. MC Hammer has invested lots of money into this person. MC Hammer is a part of the board of ODALC — Oakland Digital Learning Arts Center (ODALC).

That’s why he is in the black community because that is who wants these services. I went in there one day. They were talking about Twitter and, if I did not know anything, I would have walked out of there learning something. I told him, “I don’t know what I have to do to help you out but I will help you out.”

He’s just amazing and inspiring. He is in music, films and social media. He’s everywhere! I am talking about fast and furious involvement. He did a video or digital presentation. I just couldn’t believe it. He knows everybody. He is 25 or 28 years old.

Just Google him. He is in music and videos. He is in hip hop. A Chinese guy! An Asian guy! I told him, “Shaun, I am almost embarrassed to tell you what I do. I am only thinking about doing what you’re doing. You are doing it.”

He was five years doing this. I said, “How did I miss you?! Let me just come and sit at your feet. I have nothing to say. I’ll shut my mouth. What can you show me? How do I do what you are doing? I am by myself and you have all this staff running around. And MC Hammer is on your board? He’s famous. He gave you money. He is bringing his collateral. You know him personally.”

I don’t know MC Hammer! Shaun is doing what I am thinking about. He has been doing it for five years. I have an idea about where I want to go. I have to get on the board to know these famous persons. How in the world am I going to convince people to do what I do? I am by myself.

9) What advice would you give young businessmen and women in business in terms of management and leadership and advancing their careers?

Start fulfilling your dreams by developing your relationship with God and then focus on who you are and decide you can be paid for who you have become. I tell my children. I tell my wife.

I tell myself, “What am I doing? Why am I in business? Why do I think I am? How much money is in the air? I can ask anyone I want.” I tell myself, “Yes, you can but you have to work your butt off. Stop changing all the things you know how to do. Do what you’ve been taught. Read. Speak. Write. Drive. That’s it. That’s what you’ve been doing. That’s what people want. You’re not a plumber. Stop. Stop it. That’s what people want from you. They’ll pay you to do just those four things.”

NOTE: (BlackSpeaks.com offers up AfroPreneurs, a news series featuring nonmedical white-collar enterpreneurs and professionals. AfroPreneurs are leaders and managers in a variety of non-medical fields who often use their talents to start their private practices or businesses or challenge themselves to transform and improve employment opportunities, goods and services as board members, group founders, mentors or college professors. Our AfroPreneurs series seeks to draw on and explore the expertise and experience of these non-medical heroes and put them in the public spotlight, one professional at a time.)

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Vladimire Herard, M.S.

About Vladimire Herard, M.S.

A print journalist for 21 years, Vladimire Herard freelanced for the National Senior Living Providers Network, (nslpn.com), the Guidance Channel and Longtermcare.com. Under CD Publications, Ms. Herard wrote about senior health, substance abuse prevention, and elderly housing. Under Inside Washington Publishers, she covered health care financing for Inside HCFA and food and product safety issues for FDAWeek. Ms. Herard also covered education, crime, and county affairs for daily newspapers such as the Chicago Defender. She currently covers senior long-term care, the pharmaceutical industry and issues and education. Ms. Herard resides in Chicago.

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