As part of our series called “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Began Leading My Company,” we had the pleasure of interviewing Erica Shelton.
She has been working for her father’s firm since she was 15. Starting as an intern, Ms. Shelton worked her way through various roles such as Lead Legal Recruiter, Director of Training & Development, as well as the Director of Marketing.
In the midst of COVID, she launched and led the sister company to Shelton & Steele for contract attorneys called TAP — Temp Attorneys & Paralegals. This launch process included handling all recruiting, marketing, and internal process efforts. This comprises of screening, strategic placement, onboarding, and the lateral integration process. I compose move requisites, marketing & practice evaluations, and candidate narratives to subsequently develop bespoke recruitment strategies. This opened the door for her to be seconded to Practus Law Firm, what Shelton & Steele identifies as the ‘Next Big Thing’, as their adjunct recruiter.
Ms. Shelton is an accomplished public speaker. She became the University-Wide Public Speaking Champion at UNLV by her Junior year of college and was the youngest Vice-President of Public Relations ever elected to the position at Henderson Toastmasters.
In her spare time, she enjoys volunteering, reading, and art, as well as playing competitive tennis. A hospitality student at UNLV, Ms. Shelton mentioned on the UNLV website for her success hosting a business fundraiser for the NCCS and has a taste for old world wines. She plans on pursuing her MBA at Glion Institute in Switzerland.
Since she was 6 years old, she participated in toy drives for children during Christmas, fed the homeless 100 steaks and 20 pounds of shrimp on the 4th of July at a shelter, and spends her weekends making 300 packaged meals to distribute out of the pack of her SUV to the homeless in Las Vegas. Her father was a homeless teen, so the Shelton Family always gives back whenever they can.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. I know that you are a very busy person. Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you grew up?
I was blessed and cursed with having my parents be the smartest people I know. It was insanely annoying as a pre-teen and teenage but now in my twenties I have so much more of an appreciation for the way they raised me. My parents separated when I was a baby and had joint custody. This meant I was on a plane twice every other month from 6 years old to 17. I loved it. I loved the independence. I was constantly moving which meant I was constantly adapting to my new environment and had to make new friends. At 13, my dad gently forced me into Toastmasters where the first speech I gave received the club’s first standing ovation. No pressure. Both of my parents came from humble beginnings and earned everything they worked for. They succeeded and failed and succeeded and failed again. But they didn’t sugarcoat life for me either. Even then, I knew life would be a bitch.
Regardless of life’s bitchiness, I became an achiever. Achieving is like a fix for me, a fix of pure validation. My method of coping through everything throughout my life was achieving. If my family was going through hardships, I could mitigate it by bringing home an honor roll award or making the varsity tennis team. I wanted my parents to get their ROI on their child, so I didn’t feel guilty for my existence. Could you tell I was raised Catholic?
What were your early inspirations that set you off on your particular journey?
I originally aspired to be an actress. I feel like this is very important to my career development because when I had first started in the business, I was absolutely terrified. My dad ran an executive search firm in the legal industry, recruiting and consulting attorneys. I had interned for him in high school but stopped to go to college. College kicked my ass. I came home a year and a half later, tail in between my legs, trying to figure out how I ended up right where I started. My parents were fair, if I wanted to go to school again, I was paying for it. There has never been a moment where I ever thought I wouldn’t be successful. Not because I had an unwavering confidence, but because I felt like I didn’t have a choice. My parents worked so hard and accomplished so much with their life. Not to mention, I was accustomed to a certain lifestyle and intended on keeping it that way.
So there I am at 19, making 100 cold calls a day, on the phone with attorneys who have graduated from Harvard, Yale, AND Columbia, trying to convince them to talk to me on the phone for five minutes, let alone hear about my client who’s script I haven’t memorized yet! But the inspiration came in the struggle. I would fake voicemails to make quota and be thrilled when an attorney turned me down in the first five minutes because then I could get off the phone. It only took a week or two (and binge-watching Harvey Specter in Suits) that I realized I wanted to be a star. I wanted to be really good at my job. But I wanted to earn it, that’s the only way I could sleep with it.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
Before automation, building databases was my favorite way to pass time on the boss’ dime. It required all of downloading v-cards and saving them into different folders. This was almost mind-numbing work. The advantage of building databases is you could have a fold of 7,000 v-cards and send them all e-mails in less than 5 minutes via mail merge. However, this is only effective if you select the correct field names into your e-mail. Field names are titles like, First Name, Company, Location. All things that indicate you actually know who you’re e-mailing as apposed to sending 7,000 people the same e-mail.
This disadvantage to using mail merge is always user error. For example, it was a Wednesday, I was actually happy with my hair, and wore pink lipstick. Psychologist saying when something traumatic (embarrassing happens) the memory stays in your brain so distinctly, you can remember the smallest details. So, there I am, quoting Mean Girls on Twitter, feeling proud because I just got done with three mail merges and it wasn’t even 11 am yet! And in comes e-mail after e-mail after e-mail. I didn’t think my mail merge letter was that good, but hey, anything’s possible! But then I realized, every e-mail I was receiving was either ridiculing me or asking to unsubscribe.
Fun fact: If field names are inserted correctly, they do not change according to every v-card. So instead of 7,000 attorneys receiving personalized e-mails with their correct names, every attorney received an e-mail that started with “Hi Paul,”. Now of the 7,000 v-cards I was lucky I had some Pauls in there because I got one scheduled call out of the mail merge. He didn’t join.
The Attack of the Pauls was not my first my mistake and it will not be my last. However, it was so embarrassing it stuck with me forever. To this day I triple check my databases before I send them. Before I launched TAP, Shelton & Steele decided to scale, and I was promoted to Training & Development. This led me to write our official Standard Operating Procedures and outline every Do and Don’t. Oh how the devil is in the details.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
Aside from my parents who have been the foundation of everything, launching TAP wouldn’t have happened without my partner Aimee Hetzer. When we first launched, she was acting COO and was promoted to CEO when I began my secondment with Practus Law Firm. Aimee is a complete and total knockout. She’s so nice and sweet but when she’s in Go-Mode, is absolutely unstoppable. There is no one I would rather have had on my team. Spreadsheets, charts, diagrams are all things that excite this woman. She is the glue that holds TAP together. When she’s not the glue of TAP, she’s volunteering, active in the fight against opioid addiction, and a marathon runner!
When we first started TAP, Aimee was doing all things operations and I was doing all things marketing. She is in New York and I am in Las Vegas and yet it didn’t matter the time of night, she got back to my e-mails within minutes. I was scrambling to get photos for the website, online impressions, advertisements, etc. No one was getting back to me. The beginning stages of starting your company involves coordinating your staff, similar to herding cats.
Aimee got her friend who was a food photographer and put on the most fabulous photo shoot in New York. She gave me so much to work with she inadvertently became the poster child for TAP. This worked out in our favor. Other recruiters would reach out to attorneys and never hear back. But if Aimee connected with them, they accepted and replied right away!
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?
Getting adjusted to being an entrepreneur was extremely hard. I was 23 when I launched TAP and learned a very painful lesson right away, that is when you are working for yourself, you are in charge. This is a total catch-22 situation, because if you’re in charge and want to take the rest of the day off, there is no on there to stop you. My entire childhood, I romanticized cubicle culture and would create outfits in my head for what I wear to the office. My reality was purely virtual. It was nice because my commute was 20 steps, and a traffic collision was when my cat and my dog were on the stairs at the same time. With that being said, it is extremely easy to get distracted in your house, starting with your bed. It’s even easier to over work because what else are you going to do in a pandemic?
Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
It sounds silly but humor me: When I was 19 and contemplating what to do with my life because I could not figure out what I wanted to major in, I binge watched The Devil Wears Prada for three days. I could not figure out why I loved the movie so much and then it clicked. I wanted the movie, I wanted to live it. I had a habit of watching shows or movies I wanted to embody before certain events. For example, if I was going out with the girls, I was getting ready to Sex and the City. If I had a huge meeting with a partner, I watched Harvey Specter in Suits to capture his charm. It’s kind of like watching a show where everyone speaks with a british accent, if you binge it enough you could pick up on the accent. Considering I always wanted to be an actress, when the tough times I hit I’d say okay — show time! What would Harvey do, what would Miranda do? I’d remove myself and embody what character I thought would fit my situation.
So, how are things going today? How did grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?
Not at all like we planned. This isn’t good or bad. Aimee and I came from executive search and permanent hire which has a certain structure and routine-like system. Temporary hire is a completely different story. Temporary hire in a world pandemic, was terra incognita. But Aimee and I took advantage of every resource and it has paid off. From educating ourselves from the University of YouTube,
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
My favorite thing about my company is the diversity. Not only is my company owned and operated by women and members of the LGBQT community, but we vary in age exponentially. From 23–58, every member of our firm has a voice at the table and is taken seriously. This has worked wonders as our younger staff is really could and creating and innovating and our more seasoned staff know exactly how to de-risk and execute the ideas. To the expert there are only but a few options, but to the beginning the universe is limitless. When experts and beginners work together, they bridge a gap while building a culture.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
The pandemic has been a great opportunity to establish your own pace. We live a very competitive and comparative culture where we inadvertently try to keep up with what we’re seeing. But the world came to a stop and everyone had to stay home. This was a total 180 for me because my method to not burning out what going out!Establish a routine. I know it sounds redundant. I have alarms on my phone that tell me when to stretch will schedule work outs into my work calendar, otherwise I won’t do it. A routine works wonders because when you step outside of it, you know you’re either not doing enough, or too much. It’s a benchmark.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I am here today because one person one day decided to bring goodness into the world. A reverend came upon my father when he was homeless teenager and took him into his home. It the most important in thing in the world to me give back. It is what gives my life meaning. In the beginning of running TAP, I had to bootstrap the company. But after that first check came in right before Christmas. I had decided I would spoil all of my friends and family holiday. And as I added multiple things to my cart, I realized more needed to be done. I started a Christmas tradition right then and there: however much I spend on my family and friends for Christmas, I match that amount to donate to my local community. “You can’t afford it if you can’t buy it twice.” Same concept: you can’t afford it if you can’t also donate it.
Wonderful. Here is the main question of our discussion. What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my company” and why? Please share a story or example for each.
1.Change is the only constant, make sure everything revolves around getting good at change. COVID pulled the rug out from under the world and it made me terrified because there is nothing, I hate more than being unprepared. From the software you use to the people you could lose, it is important to look at every component of your business and hypothetically question how it would survive the worst. The best thing to become is a nimble market adapter.
2.Know your weaknesses. Really know them, inside and out, and how to mitigate them. You are going to make so many mistakes. In the days of Plato and Socrates, philosophers alike used to come together and share their ideas, rhetoric, and critiques, forming one master mind. Thus, the origin of the word mastermind. Business is the art of relationships and if you are not a social person or struggle with building rapport, your partner needs to offset that.
3.The right community can push you forward but the wrong community can hold you back and that goes especially for your personal community. Leading a business/company is a risk and entirely out of one’s comfort zone. Exerting that change will cause those around you to reflect on themselves and their potential. Beware as some loved ones will feel defensive or insecure about your growth and (not meaning to) hold you back. No one ever tells you how lonely growing can be. Very much like growing pains, the pain can be an indicator of progress. Take it easy on yourself, it’s harder to see when you’re right.
4.Your brand needs to be established before you start selling. When you are first starting to lead, there are three questions people are going to always ask you before getting into business with you: “What are you selling, who’s selling it, and why is it different than everything else just like it?” if you can’t answer that briefly and extensively, you won’t succeed.
5.Be prepared to be a one man band for a while. If you are leading you are overseeing multiple people/departments/projects. All will vary in skill set and requirements. As a leader you are hands on and when you’re not, you are then a coach. Even if you don’t have experience in certain areas, nothing stops you from learning everything else about it.
Now that you have gained this experience and knowledge, has it affected or changed your personal leadership philosophy and style? How have these changes affected your company?
I have found that servant leadership to be the most effective. There is an old assumption that a company must choose between profits and people. This is wrong. If you invest in your people, they become a profit center. We are all human and even though it’s just business, empathy goes a long way.
This series is called “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me”. This has the implicit assumption that had you known something, you might have acted differently. But from your current vantage point, do you feel that knowing alone would have been enough, or do you feel that ultimately you can only learn from experience? I think that learning from mistakes is the best way, perhaps the only way, to truly absorb and integrate abstract information. What do you think about this idea? Can you explain?
Some questions can’t always be answered but merely endured. Experience is a driver and the perfect teacher. That is where most of my lessons are taught. Things like the launch process, running the operations, pitching the firm are all things you only really learn from experience. However, I wish someone would have told me how many friends would drop off my radar, how lonely I would feel, and to be nice to myself. The entire world is going to tell how much your ideas suck, and rejection will sting endlessly. You can’t afford to join the world in that negativity; you have to be your biggest fan and biggest hype man.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
I would love to open a finishing school for young girls. Not where they are taught how to set the table, although it is important, but how to build confidence, empower themselves and others, what sexuality is and why it’s okay to embrace yourself. I want to teach women how to embrace femininity and our power in it. Women live in such competitive culture that comes with a countdown timer. Whatever I can do to break that construct and I think it’s important to empower women from a very young age, and to encourage the concept that all ships rise with the tide. That starts with women.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Follow me on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/ericamshelton/
I also have a professional Instagram: Ericamshelton