Laurie Sayles likes to make one thing clear. The founder, president, and CEO of Civility Management Solutions LLC, a consulting firm in Greenbelt, is more than a business owner.
“I’m an entrepreneur and I’ve always been an entrepreneur,” she said, noting how even as a child, she babysat and sold candy in her Chicago neighborhood, and modeled professionally in high school. “I always had those Chicago side-hustles and was always doing something to supplement my income.”
Entrepreneurship may have made Sayles more than a business owner, but it also helped her become successful.
Slowly at times, but inevitably, her passion as an entrepreneur helped her find the contacts and the contracts to make her business flourish.
Sayles spent a decade in the U.S. Marines, including three years in the active reserves, before opening the doors on her own business. She was introduced to it as an outgrowth of her military training while working at a boot camp program for civilians in Prince George’s County. One of her clients turned out to be the CEO of a government contracting firm. By accident, Sayles ran into the client in Washington, D.C., all dressed up, not in the typical workout clothes she usually wears, and the woman made an offer.
“She told me, ‘If you’re ever looking for employment, let me know,’ ” Sayles recalled.
Not looking for work at the time, she declined the offer. But a few months later, Sayles changed her mind and contacted the woman, who bought her on board, introducing her to the world of government contracting.
Sayles was fascinated, and it was not long before she wanted to start her own business.
“I spent a lot of time getting myself trained up,” she recalled. She also went to state-sponsored events, learning about small minority businesses and how to get contracts with the state, and the importance of making contacts.
“I did a lot of networking, going out and about, shaking hands, letting people get to know me as a small business owner,” she said.
It was not long before Sayles got into federal work, winning small contracts from the federal government. Her first success was obtaining gym memberships for members of the U.S. Army who must stay in shape but were not stationed on a base with an exercise facility.
“I was getting people registered in six or seven states,” Sayles recalled. “I thought, this is a real match for me.”
She soon hired a couple of employees, and more federal contracts followed, as did more networking.
“I was going to conferences, going to meet people,” she said. “I became known. When I walked into a room, people would say, ‘Hey, Laurie, how are you?’ ”
The business was still not generating a lot of revenue at the time, but she kept at it. Her big break came when she got into the 8(a) Business Development Program, a Small Business Administration program that gives preference on federal government contracts to small businesses that have had to overcome past hardships and challenges. Once that happened, business took off.
“It was hugely beneficial to me,” Sayles said, explaining that it gave her access to federal contracts and allowed her to prove what her company could do.
These days, Civility Management Solutions has contracts with several federal agencies, including the Department of Defense, the Department of Health, and Human Services, and handles a variety of tasks including helping the government create policy for grandparents who are raising their grandchildren.
She also competes in the state contracting arena and is exploring cybersecurity in partnership with an expert in the field.
With a variety of contracts and staff that now includes a vice president of business development, two program managers, an operations director, a business development administrator, an executive assistant, and various consultants, Sayles admits she is juggling a lot of balls in the air – and that’s the way she likes it.
“I’m still growing, have lots to do, and have every intention to grow up to be a mid-sized firm. I’m building a legacy, not doing this just to run around and sell.”
This article is featured in the 2022 edition of The Daily Record’s Expanding Opportunities Resource Guide for Small, Minority and Women Businesses that was published on Sept. 23. Published in conjunction with the Governor’s Office of Small, Minority & Women Business Affairs, Expanding Opportunities explores diversity, entrepreneurship and innovation in Maryland’s small business community. Read more from Expanding Opportunities or read the digital edition.