Fourteen years ago, Dawn Hendricks, 45, was ready to carve out her own path, take control of her destiny and earn a salary that mirrored her responsibilities. So she co-founded FM Talent Source, a professional services firm headquartered in Silver Spring, Md., where she now serves as president and CEO.

In October 2017, the U.S. Small Business Administration recognized her $15 million company as a woman-owned, small business. Her company offers clients management consulting in financial and grant management, as well as human capital strategy. It focuses on staff augmentation, strategic business solutions and executive recruitment.

Dawn Hendricks, president and CEO of FM Talent Source in Silver Spring, Md. (Courtesy Photo)

“Now that the certification has been approved, we’re able to bid specific projects that are set aside for small, woman-owned businesses,” Hendricks said.

Women-owned small businesses compete for a 5 percent piece of the more than $400 billion in annual government contracts awarded to private businesses, and FM Talent Source has landed impressive clients over the years.

It has inked government contracts with the U.S. Department of Defense, the U.S. Department of Education, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Energy, to name a few.

Hendricks’ corporate clients include Accenture, Adecco, AARP, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Getting to the C-suite wasn’t a straight path for the Prince George’s County resident.

Born in Washington, D.C. and raised in Fort Washington, Md., Hendricks moved to Los Angeles to pursue a professional dancing career. She had just earned her undergraduate degree in business administration from Hofstra University, but had been dancing most of her life, so she decided to see how far she’d get.

Hendricks had several hits.

She toured Europe with the traveling cast of Broadway musical “Black and Blue,” appeared in “Cinderella” starring Whitney Houston and Brandy, and on “Ally McBeal.” And she danced in music videos with New Jack-swing legend Teddy Riley, rapper Master P and others.

But after two years of hustling in LA, Hendricks was weary from the daily grind and ready to come home.  Working as a backup dancer in someone else’s shadow wasn’t how she envisioned her career.

She earned a master’s degree in human resource management from American University, got married, had her son and began to build her career at Fannie Mae.

Hendricks worked her way up to a recruiting manager. She was bringing in vendors doing the same sort of services she offers now and it found it was difficult finding high-quality firms that lived up to what they pledged to deliver.

She also wanted to support candidates through the interview process, help the end user secure quality candidates and thought she could do that with her own enterprise.

“I really saw a need in the space that I played,” Hendricks said.

But Hendricks was divorced by then and raising her 5-year-old son, Drew Miller, alone. She knew it would be risky to leave her job and strike out on her own.

So, Hendricks gave herself a cushion. She and her former partner Omari Franklin started FM Talent Source in 2004 and she stayed at Fannie Mae for two more years while she built her client roster and saved money. She started small and local — her first three clients were Segal Consulting, Discovery Communications and Friendship Public Charter School.

In 2006, Hendricks was comfortable enough with her portfolio to leave Fannie Mae and work for herself full time.

“It was very liberating and scary at the same time,” she said. “I was very methodical in my approach, which is why I slow-walked the process.”

In 14 years, her firm has significantly grown and she has just under 200 employees working in 12 states across the country.

Now remarried, Hendricks says anyone interested in becoming an entrepreneur should follow several steps: get clear on the service you’d offer and whether a market exists for it; develop a business plan and establish a network of people who can refer you to others.

“It’s not an easy process and it is a long process,” Hendricks said. “If you can start slow and make incremental shifts and refocus, I think those will really put you on a pathway to success.”