Michele Coley empowers the next generation of business owners

Michele Coley, owner of a Tuscaloosa Allstate agency, shows that “finding your voice” in the chaotic business world can be the key to success


Photo courtesy of YNOT iMages

Olivia Davis, Contributing Writer

Michele Coley, the only female African-American Allstate agent in Alabama, is a pioneer in the field of insurance sales. She holds a Business Administration degree from Stillman College, where she graduated cum laude in 2005. She served for four years as the chair of the Minority Business Council, now named the Diversity Business Council, and currently serves as an advisor to the new chair.

In addition to her extensive business career and volunteer service, one of her passions is mentoring and developing young people. She has learned several important lessons surrounding minority issues within her field and has many words of advice to young people surrounding one’s role within this crazy world. Her journey to success and the many lessons she has learned along the way provide insight into the modern business world.

Coley’s time on the Minority Business Council has been a huge influence on who she is today. The biggest issues she encountered while serving in this role was getting information to the people who needed it and incentivizing small business owners to receive proper training. This training includes topics such as the importance of a business plan, networking, proper tax and financial policy, human resources and diversity in hiring practices.

“It’s one thing to have a diverse group of people, but their voices also have to be heard,” Coley said.  

To combat these issues, Coley worked to create training sessions at different days and times that worked best for small business owners. She also emphasized the importance of introducing proper business training as something that would be worthwhile to small business owners long-term.

The challenges of being a minority in the business world is something to which Coley is no stranger. She said the amount of initial capital needed to start a business can be difficult to obtain and that minorities often don’t have access to this capital.

“I find that most people, once they’re able to overcome that hurdle and have the financial backing, usually they’re able to be successful,” Coley said.

Her personal journey through the business world involved a lot of practice on the process of learning how to coach a team of employees. Coley prides herself in creating a positive work environment for her employees. She believes the most rewarding aspect of being a small business owner is her employees, and she wants those who work for her to be passionate about coming to work every day to do meaningful work.

“It’s hands down the best thing I’ve ever done,” Coley said in an article published by The University of Alabama Culverhouse Business school on her most recent business venture. “I’m living my best life right now. I tell my team every day, ‘Thank you.’”

One of Coley’s biggest passions is mentoring young people. The biggest piece of advice she could give a young person today, especially young women interested in a career in business, is to be confident in themselves and their ideas.

“Find your voice, and make sure that you are able to assert yourself. Don’t be afraid of your ideas. Never apologize,” Coley said.

Coley said women tend to “sell themselves short” in the business world and second-guess their ideas. The ability to be assertive and aggressive, as well as having a thick skin, she said, are what allow people to be successful in the business world.

“Don’t take everything so personal,” Coley said. “Everything is not personal. Sometimes, that’s just how the business world is. People who are successful have to speak up. They have to be more aggressive. They have to be visionaries. They have to stand alone.”

Achieving success is one thing, but Coley said helping others will help maintain it.

“Once you get to a position, always be reaching back to help the next person,” Coley said. “No matter what step you take, always be looking back to help somebody else get to where you are. Always be willing to help other people. If you do that, you’ll always be successful.”