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Meet Traci Wilkerson Steckel of Traci’s Paws and Wilkerson Consulting

Today we’d like to introduce you to Traci Wilkerson Steckel.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Traci. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
I grew up in a small Texas town and spent my first 9 years living “out in the country”. The entire time I lived there I can remember people dumping their pets onto our property. So, from a very young age my parents taught me about responsible pet ownership. They would take these discarded pets to the vet, get them spayed/neutered/vaccinated, and we’d keep them or find permanent homes for some. I guess throughout my adolescence and into adulthood, the word SUCKER on my forehead grew with me. People knew that if they couldn’t keep a pet, they could call on me. So, let’s jump forward a few years. I’m now living in San Diego and teaching at a private school. I had 9 pets, 6 of which had been given to me mostly by coworkers. This was a turning point and I knew that if I wanted to make a difference in the pet overpopulation crisis, collecting everyone’s unwanted pets was not the answer. I knew that I needed to help educate people on responsible pet ownership; to prevent an unwanted pet purchases, to keep pets in their current homes, and to promote pet adoption for those pets already in shelters or in the care of a pet rescue. Now, let’s jump to 2011. No longer teaching but in the exotic automotive industry, I missed that warm and fuzzy feeling I got from teaching. I decided to become very active in the Pet Rescue community and reached out rescue groups all over California and some of Texas, asking what their greatest needs were. Money, supplies, volunteers, foster families, and adopters. Despite not having time, I decided to volunteer with volunteer with Helen Woodward Animal Center during the holidays, which just made me hungrier to do something even greater. Now that I was no longer on a teacher’s salary, I felt more confident that I could. On April 17, 2013 I started a Facebook page just for sharing rescue’s pets needing homes. Shortly after, a family in Texas had a cat with kittens show up in their yard so I posted them too. Within hours I had a foster and multiple adopters for them. Then the most special thing happened. A senior Pomeranian I had posted from a high kill shelter in California captured the hearts of one of our Facebook fans, and we facilitated our first rescue in San Diego county, only 1 hour before he was being put to sleep! These 2 foster and adoption assists were all of the validation I needed to form a nonprofit. I went from being an unwanted pet collector, to creating a Facebook page for sharing the photos of pets on borrowed time, to founding the first 501c3 nonprofit of its kind, raising tens of thousands of dollars for our local rescues, and saving countless pets’ lives.

For Wilkerson Consulting, I have had an interesting career history, which led me to where I am today. My background started in Elementary Education, and I taught for 8 years before being laid off in 2009. The economic downturn was awful for many businesses, even private schools. The school I taught for never recovered and eventually closed. Of course, my entire life had revolved around teaching, and I had no idea what I was going to do with myself. Thankfully I had a friend watching out for me and although it was a complete 180, he helped me get into the exotic automotive industry. Since exotic car sales was new to me, and there were very few women in this industry at the time, the best way I knew how to market myself was through social media. I was using it in a way that only a few real estate agents were using it, but certainly not the automotive industry. From this I was offered a position with a Porsche dealership for being “innovative”, but I was content with my current dealership. Eventually years later, I accepted an offer with Maserati, then with Bentley. I found myself constantly finding new ways to market myself and the dealerships and I really enjoyed it. At the end of 2016 the 80+ hour, 7-day work weeks were getting really exhausting. My husband suggested I take some time off, so I did. I wanted to focus on doing things that truly made me happy. One being my nonprofit and the other to help others while getting paid! So, I began revising my business plan and truly developing the consulting business that I’d started in 2010, but hadn’t focused on until now.

Wilkerson Consulting is the culmination of my best worlds. My eagerness to learn and teach, and to help others do what I learned second nature while in the automotive industry. I feel like it’s a true win-win and it makes me very happy!

Has it been a smooth road?
For Traci’s Paws: I would have to say that before 2017, lack of time and patience were my two major struggles. From the moment I wanted to do something to help solve the pet overpopulation crisis to the day I started Traci’s Paws, there was a huge gap in time. I shed a lot of tears and experienced a lot frustration of not being able to do something sooner. When I did start Traci’s Paws I was actually no longer teaching, but in exotic automotive sales. This was great because the funds that prevented me from starting a nonprofit were there but now my weekends, holidays, and summers off were not! I worked through almost every lunch break for 4 years, and from 10pm-1 or 2am almost every night. So, when I decided to begin “the process” in 2013, the attorneys we were working with said that after all of their research, there was not another 501c3 nonprofit out there for “Pet Rescue Assistance”. Nothing out there with a mission or type of organization like Traci’s Paws, and they advised us against applying for 501c3 until we had at least a year under our belt. I was even advised that if it wasn’t a successful year, to just consider running Traci’s Paws without the 501c3 but this would mean that we would not be able to apply for grants, partner with other corporations, or receive many donations as they would not be tax deductible. So that was a huge but short-lived disappointment. I was also very surprised that a few people I was close with were so unsupportive. Not sure how often I heard a variation of “maybe there was a reason no one else had an organization like this and I should just give up” or how I was wasting my time and money. That first year was definitely a challenge but thankfully I did have more support than not, and with my tenacity, didn’t skip a beat.

For Wilkerson Consulting: When I started Wilkerson Consulting, it was actually under the advice of my first dealership I worked for. I started out working only 4 days a week and my boss encouraged me to do a few things on my own to make extra money. Since it wasn’t on his time or selling cars, it wasn’t a conflict of interest. Since I really loved my newfound career of buying and selling every kind of classic or exotic car you can imagine, the part-time consulting never needed to take the front seat. Eventually after I left, one of the other dealerships asked me discontinue my consulting as they wanted my undivided attention and again, at that time I was ok with it not being my number 1 priority. After I resigned from the automotive industry altogether, it took about 6 months for me to get my thoughts gathered and update my business plan before I started taking on new clients. So, although I wasn’t faced with any true difficulty, it did take some time before I could focus on making Wilkerson Consulting a true full-time business.

So let’s switch gears a bit and go into the Traci’s Paws and Wilkerson Consulting story. Tell us more about the business.
Traci’s Paws was founded for “Pet Rescue Assistance” which means we strive to save rescues, or “homeless pets’” lives, and assist our local pet rescue organizations. We produce many events annually for pet adoption, fundraising/charity, pet food and bedding drives, and Paws Parties (pet birthday parties benefiting local rescue groups). We also work within our community in a few ways to help promote and bring awareness to pet adoption.

We facilitate Humane Education Classes for groups of children and their families, and provide “Pet Hospitality” at local events such as AIDS Walk San Diego, Walk4ALZ, and the Linda Vista Multicultural Festival. We always try to incorporate pet adoption with a local rescue at these 3 events and now, Pet Therapy. Essentially, while we’re assisting our community we are assisting our rescue & pet therapy organizations even further.

I’d have to say that I am proud to just exist! It may seem ridiculous, but because we were the first nonprofit of our kind, we were advised that we may not be able to form a true 501c3. To have your dream possibly stomped on because it is “new”, and “one-of-a-kind”, is just sickening. Little did those attorneys know, I am very tenacious! Since we received our 501c3 status, we’ve actually seen a few other nonprofits similar to ours pop up and even provided advice to them when asked. In the last 5 years, Traci’s Paws has helped save many homeless pets and assisted many rescue groups by providing tens of thousands of dollars in funds, and supplies to keep them thriving. That in itself is enough to make me proud, but knowing that our success inspired others to take the plunge and start their own organizations to help pet rescues (and that it was a little easier for them to form their 501c3’s), makes me feel extremely proud!

Wilkerson Consulting is a consulting agency that really didn’t take true form until 2017. I service small-medium sized businesses with an array of needs, such as marketing, event production, fundraising, and honestly just those “little” nagging tasks that need 100% attention that not all business owners have time to address.

Wilkerson Consulting is unique because I’ve had such a colorful and skillful career background in the automotive, education, and nonprofit industries, a wider range of business types are able to benefit from my work than from the average consultant. I love working with business owners to help strategize and create a fun and innovative marketing or sales plan that may involve anything from something as simple as ghost blogging to create more traffic, to producing an open-air opera concert for charity, (which are a few of the things I did in 2017). One thing that I feel is pretty special about what I do, is driven by my love for education. When I know what my client needs assistance with, I make sure that not only am I just providing the service to complete this need, but I show them how to accomplish it and make sure they’re comfortable executing this on their own. Once they’re confident and ready, my work is done.

I guess you can say Wilkerson Consulting is like a very nice set of training wheels! Of course, I do have a few clients that simply do not have the time and just want me to continue my work for them on a consistent yet part-time basis.

How do you think the industry will change over the next decade?
Traci’s Paws: Unfortunately the pet overpopulation crisis is still a huge problem we face all over the world. We have seen great strides being made to reduce the number of pets going into shelters and for those pets in shelters/rescues being adopted. But this is a tremendous undertaking that will take many years to gain control of. Fortunately, we are already seeing our government passing laws like A.B 485, which was signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown, stating that dogs, cats, and rabbits can no longer be sold in pet stores in California. Even with more states joining in the ban for pet sales and being advocates for pet adoption, I really do not see that our services will change much. There are millions of homeless pets that need to find homes and Traci’s Paws will always be there to facilitate adoption events, and to find new and creative ways to raise funds for these pet rescue organizations and save homeless pets’ lives.

Wilkerson Consulting: Consulting is a very popular industry. In fact, I know quite a few people who were in the automotive industry who have gone out on their own to become consultants for various types of work. Marketing is always evolving and if you’re not helping a business with their marketing, you are constantly marketing your own business. It is imperative to think outside of the box and be a step ahead. Back in 2010 I was using LinkedIn to sell a few of the million + cars that we had for sale. An Enzo and a Koenigsegg are the two that come to mind. Not too salesy, but it still wasn’t received very well by most of the LinkedIn users. “LinkedIn is for business connections”, LinkedIn isn’t Facebook”, “Post that on eBay”. However, it did get me a job offer with Porsche for being “innovative” and now all I see are dealerships’ inventory on my LinkedIn feed! I’m sure we will continue to see changes with social media platforms like Facebook, announcing that newsfeeds will be filled with less public content like posts from businesses, brands, and media, we’ll need to be more creative with content and use other platforms. I will just continue to think outside the box. I’m not afraid to ruffle a few feathers if it means I’m getting the job done for my clients, and for myself.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Jamie Fields (Shutterpup)
Brian Russell (BRPhoto)
Dawn Hough Sebaugh (FINE Magazine)

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