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Dorothy Askew - The Askew Group LLC

By Glenda M. Lassiter

"I'm a learner. I'm always seeking information." This mindset is how Dorothy Askew, the woman at the helm of The Askew Group, LLC, landed on the website of the Institute for Innovation & Entrepreneurship's Women's Business Center at Old Dominion University. Seeking further connections for her certified commercial and construction cleaning business, she registered as a new member and accessed the organization's bountiful offerings.

Erika Small-Sisco, WBC's Program Director, said what stood out about Askew was her audit logs showing she registered at 1 o'clock in the morning. "She is always actively networking to stay connected to opportunities," said Small-Sisco.

Askew started her business in 2007 and was experiencing comfortable success when she sought the WBC eight years later for education and networking. "Regarding education, they have such a variety of things businesses at different levels can use in terms of finding out, knowing about, and meeting the people who actually work with state procurement," she said. "They have many resources that will get you started in the right way and increase your probability of success. They have a support system in place for those women who want to start a business. They have people dedicated to your success. They are good at it.

"They show you how to set it up, register, certify, walk you step-by-step, hand-in-hand if you want," Askew continued. "Those are the types of people with whom they connect you. They also have things for people, like me, who have been in business for a while. And, the classes they offer are free."

When Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) sent a pandemic wave around the world in the spring of 2020, closure restrictions were slapped on non-essential businesses — a move that spiked unemployment to paralyzing numbers. Providing services deemed vital, Askew's Chesapeake, VA-based business continued running efficiently. She said WBC's offer for media and branding has been useful amid the infection-induced recession.

On average, women-owned businesses don't peak more than two employees, as stated by a report commissioned by American Express. For entrepreneurs who are both female and African American, the average annual revenue is $24,000; for women-owned firms overall, it's $142,900. Askew, an African American, has surpassed those benchmarks.

Small-Sisco said, "It has always been one of our goals to see our small businesses become more profitable and also scale. There was a statistic that said even though women are making up a larger percentage of small businesses, fewer than one percent gross a million dollars. That's such a small amount. I was really shocked at that because I see a lot of sharp women who are doing great things. I guess overall the picture is not as wonderful."

With its cooperative agreement with the Small Business Administration, the WBC is doing its part to change that narrative, and so is Askew. Part of networking, she said, is sharing information with other female business leaders, "telling them the resources are there. Because I hear people say the resources aren't there." Regardless of a company's size or how long its history, for favorable results from the WBC, Askew recommended, "communicate what your needs are, and they will tell you where the resources are to assist you."

The relationship between Askew and WBC has been one of mutual benefit. Askew was a panelist to their 2020 DreamBuilder graduating class. At a recent WBC networking event, she connected with a construction business seeking a company to do final cleans in occupancy-ready buildings. Askew expressly credits the WBC for contributing to her success. "On a day you might not be feeling so confident, they are believing in you," she said. "Those things help. There are days when you're out there by yourself. So, to have someone encouraging and believing in you, it makes a difference."

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