Conversations Magazine, Oct./Nov. 2021 (Click below to order yours today)

Saturday, October 16, 2021

Business Spotlight: Serial Entrepreneur and Global Leader LaWanna Bradford Celebrates 15 Year Journey


by Cyrus Webb

The two of us have never met in person, but over the past decade it has been great to call serial entrepreneur and global leader LaWanna Bradford a colleague and friend. Though she has experienced highs and lows along the journey, she has emerged as not just a respected professional but an example of what hard work, dedication and faith can do in your life and career. 

This year as we are still dealing with a worldwide pandemic and uncertainty LaWanna is celebrating 15 years of success and longevity with The Bradford Group. In this conversation we talk about its beginnings, lessons learned and what she is doing to pay it forward to others. 

LaWanna, what has it been like for you to reflect on what you have achieved with The Bradford Group? 

It has been a bit surreal to think about where we were when we started and how green I was in the mortgage industry to where we are today. This year we are celebrating 15 years in the mortgage industry, which is truly a feat for a small mortgage brokerage. When I reflect on The Bradford Group overcoming the 2007-2008 mortgage crisis and staying afloat during the pandemic, I am so very thankful and humbled. So many of my contemporaries are no longer in business and were unable to keep their doors open during that very turbulent time. Grace and favor were and are shining on us. Our journey also causes me to acknowledge the brilliant team of loan advisors and consultants that we have had over the years and the guidance we received from our mentor because without them we would not be here celebrating today. 


We have had some amazing highs and some dark and troubling lows, but through it all, we never lost sight of our vision. The Bradford Group found creative and innovative ways to remain relevant in an ever-changing environment and in the eyes of our clients and prospective clients.


How did the initial idea for the business come about? 

The idea of The Bradford Group (TBG) came from my brother, Harlan L. Bradford, Jr, who was already in the mortgage industry. He wanted to create changes that he felt that could best unfold by opening his own mortgage brokerage.  The pain points that he aimed to address included client concerns of feeling unheard and being treated only as a number.  From there evolved our tag line of “Making a Difference” and our Customer Reconciliation System, which is a systemized method of evaluating concerns and developing processes to mitigate those concerns and provide solutions to create win-win scenarios for our clients and for The Bradford Group.

Is where The Bradford Group is today what you expected when you first started?  

No…not even close.  When we first began, our goal was to dominate the residential market as mortgage brokers in the southeast.  However, with rapid economic changes and needing to make radical decisions to create opportunity for sustainability, we are now largely in the investor and commercial market space. What has remained the same is our brand promise and commitment to our customers which speaks to our corporate values and culture. 


For those that are just discovering The Bradford Group, who is the target audience and what services do you primarily offer? 

Our primary target audience are investors and business owners. Our product sweet spot are investment and commercial mortgages. On the investment properties we provide mortgages on properties that that are 1-4 units or commercial properties that are considered Tier I and Tier II (i.e., multi-family, mixed-use property, retail, light industrial, office, self-storage, and warehouse). We also do loans for special properties like churches and daycare centers. Our church loan program is very hot right now as so many churches were closed during the pandemic and many are looking to restructure existing loans to make up for shortfalls in plate offerings.  We do provide advisory services for residential borrowers – the homeowner, and these loans are facilitated through our mortgage-lender partner, Malibu Funding, LLC.

Longevity is truly the name of the game when it comes to business. What do you think has been the key to your still being here when so many have come and gone? 

I believe one of the things that has contributed to our survival is applying the art of strategic planning. During our times of crises and change, we have remained agile and quickly apply a strategic lens to our decision-making model to enable us to assess the environment from all fronts.  The one thing that we can acknowledge is change is constant.  Therefore, we are always seeking to identify opportunities to navigate the industry changes while remaining relevant to our clients. We also ensure that our customer communication is ongoing. Rather than always pitching a sale, our focus is to educate first and create a more aware and informed client first, and then offer the sell second.  We have never looked at our clients as one-time transactions, but rather as an long-term relationships.


We believe we are making a difference by creating this level of client exchange because whether they opt to do business with us or not, we are confident that they will be more informed in their decision-making. We are confident that they will tell others about us because of the unique experience that we provide. For us, that is the short-term win-win. We are educators first and mortgage providers second.


2020 brought about changes for all of us. How did The Bradford Group and you meet the changes in the world?  

Yes, there were definitely unexpected changes in 2020. I think everyone, The Bradford Group and I included, felt optimistic and hopeful as 2020 rolled around. Many compared the concept of 20/20 vision with having heightened clarity and focus. For us, the shutdown…the pause if you will, did caused us to gain clarity on our direction. We quickly determined what path was not going to work for us and began to explore a new path for our business and partner relationships, particularly with how we were going to remain relevant and enhance intentional communication with our clients.  


As for me, I became very focused on my passion to encourage women in business elevate to their best and highest self.  I found myself on numerous virtual stages, countless interviews and completed two collaborative books speaking about the importance of strategic insight and remaining relevant in an ever-changing world. 2020 became a year of increased visibility and exposure for me and the work that I am doing. It also became a year where The Bradford Group began to strategically build a platform to take us to the next level.


Social media is important in any line of work. How has it helped you in sharing your message? 

Social media has become my friend. I have, with the guidance of a great coach, learned how to leverage our messages and brand though social media in an integrative way that increases my reach and overall impact. It has made me even more cognizant about what I am saying and how frequently those messages are getting out there and through what channels to my clients, partners, and prospective clients. I am still learning the art of social media navigation and how to tier it with traditional lanes of marketing and promotion to create more depth and consistency. I would not say that I am a social media superstar yet, but I am well on my way as I continue to learn, grow, and challenge myself to push the envelop to the next level. 


Now that the world is embracing the new normal how is The Bradford Group doing the same? The new normal is one that is ever changing. I think normal today is about fluidity, agility, and adaptability because we know the one thing that is constant is change. In saying that, what is next for The Bradford Group is developing online training modules for women who are seeking to better understand real estate investment and how it can supplement retirement income. We want to increase our footprint in the investment and commercial mortgage space and become widely known as a company that serves to educate first and sell second. We believe that if we can influence and empower an individual with knowledge to make informed decisions that are best for them and their family, then we are impacting lives in a most profound and lasting way.


Are you finding that some of what you learned in 2020 is remaining as part of your business moving forward? 

Yes, I think we have incorporated many lessons learned to strengthen how we do business, particularly with leveraging technology to increase our overall operating efficiency and enhance our customer relationships. The virtual world, as we all know, is here to stay. I think 2020 gave us a taste of what is in store for us in the upcoming years. I believe it is up to each one in business to be ready to embrace the fast-tracking virtual world that we have found ourselves to not only survive but thrive.


Outside of the work you do with The Bradford Group you have been taking the stage so to speak as hosting your own shows. Talk with us about that.  

Yes, that was quite fortuitous. A show owner on the Black House Channel, which is part of the Xperience On Demand TV Network, saw the work that I was doing to promote awareness around women’ issues during Women’s History Month.  I was using the international #ChooseToChallenge as a title of my interview series. This series, which was only intended to be 5 interviews of women in the U.S, turned out to be 21 interviews of women from the US, Ghana, UK, Canda, and Jamaica. It was the international reach that caught the attention of the network and I was asked if I would consider hosting a Choose to Challenge show. I agreed and now the variety platform is one that addresses global issues facing women called Choose to Challenge, the second is promoting awareness around mental health and that is called Let’s Get Loud About Mental Health, the third is an extension of my Business & Financial Raw Talk show where we discuss business and financial tips, tools and strategies. Lastly, I just added a new series entitled The Power of the Pen where I am interviewing 21 women who have published business or self-development books in 2021.  This has been a whirlwind of an adventure, but I am enjoying the new waters and the growth and education that I am gaining from this experience.


Fear is one of the things that stop so many from pursuing new projects or new ideas. How have you not allowed that to stop you? Years ago I opened my first business which was a brick and mortar licensed sporting apparel store. One of the brands that we carried was a t-shirt line entitled NO FEAR. There was a t-shirt that I wore (and still have) that shifted my paradigm when it came to following your dreams and venturing into the unknown.  The t-shirt read, “No FEAR…feel the fear and do it anyway.”  So that has been my mantra for over 30 years. I recognize that I may experience feelings of fear, but I realize that’s only false evidence appearing real, and I honor my feelings and then trust that God is ordering my steps and I press forward in total faith and surrender.


What advice do you have for others when it comes to starting a business and staying consistent in business? 

The most important thing is to clearly know your “why.” By identifying “why” you are in business, your motivating factor, this is going to keep you pressing forward when times are challenging, when customers are not buying, when partnerships fail, or when the naysayers come knocking. Your why is that resounding knowing within you that wakes you up early each day with excitement and ignites those creative juices. Anyone can say that they want to start a business, but it is that person with a clearly defined why that will begin to build a business that is tied to a purpose that is greater than themselves. When you have found your why and your passion, I believe that is when you realize that you love what you do so much that you would be willing to do it for free.  I believe that is when your impression becomes indelible and impact begins to happen.


Congratulations to you again, LaWanna. How can our audience stay connected with The Bradford Group and what is next for you?  

What is next for me is to increase our brand recognition as trusted advisors and educators in the mortgage space, and to be known as the provider of an excellent experience to our mortgage customers.  We also want to expand what we are doing in special markets and become an advocate for real estate acquisition as a wealth building strategy for populations of color. Lastly, we want to continue to beat the drum that calls to individuals who have mortgages to get their annual mortgage wellness check-ups. It often baffles me as to how many people are unaware that such a thing exists. As we take care of our physical bodies by getting our preventative annual check-ups, so should we insulate our financial well-being by getting mortgage wellness check-ups, which are no cost.


Anyone who is interested in connecting with us, learning about our products and service, or signing up for a FREE mortgage check-up, can reach us on our website at www.bradfordgroupmtg.com, or call 404-618-2824.  We can also be found on FB, and they can always stay connected directly with me via social media under LaWanna Bradford. For those reading this article, I have a special FREE gift for them. Please text BRADFORD to 888-111 and download your FREE gift as a special thank you for pausing to take time to learn a bit about The Bradford Group and our 15 year journey.

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