According to a report by the Center for American Progress, women of color “are a principal force behind one of the most important components of America’s current marketplace and our nation’s future economy: entrepreneurship.” Specifically, from 1997 to 2013 women-owned firms grew by 59 percent overall and African American women-owned firms grew by 258 percent! Sisters are definitely doing it for themselves.
Although mainstream media touts the wage gap at $0.79 for every dollar earned by a white male (and that’s bad), African American women are even worse off, earning only $0.64 for every dollar earned by a white male, states a newly released report from the American Association of University Women. Whether it’s our frustration with wage and other inequities in the corporate workforce, the entrepreneurial pull, or a myriad of other goals and desires, it is clear that African American women are leading the entrepreneurship charge!
So, whether you’ve already started your business or are considering taking the leap, congratulations and welcome to the vast world of entrepreneurship.
There is a great deal of “conventional wisdom” about what you need to know as an entrepreneur and business owner. As an entrepreneur myself, I have consumed loads of information to prepare for this journey—an incredible journey which no one is ever really prepared to take. This article focuses on those internal and external factors that are within your control, which I have found can lead to success in your business if mastered.
Let’s dive in!
1. You need to know yourself.
When I interviewed Black Enterprise Women of Power TV host Caroline Clarke on my podcast, she shared that her favorite quote is, “To thine own self be true,” by William Shakespeare. Being an entrepreneur is hard, yet for most of us it is a voluntary choice. There is something inside of us that yearns for more: more freedom, more control, and more money than a traditional job or career is able to provide. And while we choose to be entrepreneurs, and are often following our passion, those facts do not make the path any easier.
My Bahamian grandmother, when speaking highly of someone and his or her lineage would say, in her oh-so-comforting lilt, “She come from good stock, you know.” And that meant that the subject’s family was solid. The same is true for determining whether you are cut out to be an entrepreneur.This is not about judgment. There is no “right answer,” only the “right answer for YOU.” This is a gut check moment—because you will feel at times like you’ve been kicked in the gut. You are going to want to quit, repeatedly. The question is, will you? This is about having an honest conversation with yourself about your level of desire, dedication and GRIT. In her TEDTalks presentation Angela Lee Duckworth defines grit as, “Passion and perseverance for very long term goals… and working really hard to make that future a reality… Living life like it is a marathon not a sprint.”
2. You need to know other people and build lasting connections.
It’s not only lonely at the top, it’s lonely on the way to the top. Unless we have partners, when we pursue our entrepreneurial endeavors we are solopreneurs—it’s just us. And depending on your industry, it is very easy to feel isolated and in the weeds. It is important that you remain (or become) connected with three types of people—for the success of your business and your own survival.
Mentor—You must have at least one person on your team who is or has been an entrepreneur. Remember when I said you’ll want to quit? This is definitely the person who can help you determine how and whether to stay the course. Above all, this is a person who can help you navigate legal, financial, and other questions that arise in business. And if this person is in your industry, even better from a networking perspective. (I want to make a note here, that while having mentors with similar experiences as us can definitely be a benefit, we do not have to only seek out mentors who are Black or women. I’ve found personally and through observation that having a variety of people—including white men—as mentors can really help you position and run your business for success.
Professionals—Running your business like a business requires that you invest in a good business attorney and a certified personal accountant (CPA). (Also, note that a CPA is different from a book keeper.) You may feel that you are too small, but there are financial responsibilities that you must be aware of so that your business is structured properly and your taxes are handled accurately from the outset. I will also add that if you are not comfortable with or don’t have the time—but do have the budget—hiring a qualified social media and marketing expert can really do wonders for your business’s growth.
Network of peers—This can be an industry-related formal group or just people who you meet along your journey with whom you can commiserate and share best practices. These are folks in the trenches with you who will not scoff or judge you when you misstep or have self-doubts.
3. You need to have a full customer or client pipeline.
However you generate your income—whether from the sale of products or services or from passive sources—it is key that the revenue pipeline remain full and flowing. When I was a new real estate broker, I was so excited when I got my first few clients that I focused on giving them the best customer service experience possible and did not focus on marketing so that there were clients lined up behind them. When those deals closed, I had to scramble to market to new prospective clients, and during that period I had no deals close or income generating. Don’t make my mistake. You want to be sure that you keep a steady flow and focus your efforts on both customer service and current income sources, as well as taking the steps to generate future income. This can also be important if you need to pivot with your marketing to get good results. You don’t want to have to act from a place of lack.
4. You need to use social media.
Whether you like it or not, social media is an integral part of most—if not all—successful business and marketing efforts. As I mentioned above, if you have the budget, then I would suggest hiring a qualified social media strategist and watch the magic happen. But if you’re like most new entrepreneurs, you will need to manage your channel(s) on your own as you build an audience and revenue. The key is to choose the most appropriate medium for your business and industry. An awesome resource for choosing which platform is best is the social media marketing handbook, Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hookwritten by Gary Vaynerchuk.
The platform you use matters for reaching your target audience. For example, if you are selling handcrafted jewelry for middle-aged moms, Pinterest may be the best platform for you. However, Instagram may prove optimal for selling the same wares, but targeting those in their 20s and early 30s.
5. You need to know when it’s time to pivot.
The concept of pivoting, or changing course in your business to reach your goals, has really taken off with the success of the Lean movement. The goal is to find out what works quickly by discarding what doesn’t work and changing and optimizing until you hit your sweet spot. While you don’t need to ascribe to Lean sensibilities, being small and nimble can allow you to take calculated risks and pivot much faster than your larger competitors. Pivoting is sometimes used interchangeably with failing. While no one wants to fail, I think that sometimes as women we put a lot of stock in the opinions of others and bear unnecessary burdens to avoid failing. Remember, when Thomas Edison asked him why it took 1,000 failed attempts to invent the light bulb, he replied: “The light bulb took 1,000 steps to create.”
6. You need to know how and what to delegate.
In real estate, when developing property as an investment, you always want to think about the land’s “highest and best use.” That means what structure or use will create the most value, whether it be economically or to the community. The same is true of your most valuable resource: your time. If it takes you two hours to take your product to FedEx and in that same time you could generate $200 of sales, the cost-benefit-analysis is clear that paying an intern $10/hour or whatever extra fee FedEx may charge to come to you for pickup is a great trade off. This is the art of delegation. Using your time at its highest and best use and paying others to do things that take you away. You’d be surprised that you don’t have to be huge or generating much income to delegate tasks that free you up to create more product, services, and value—or can give you more time to spend with your customers, clients, family, or self. I recently attended a mastermind group (a peer support group for entrepreneurs) where two participant sidepreneurs (working day jobs while entrepreneurs at all other available times) discussed their concern that they had too much business in their side hustles and were concerned about taking the opportunities for fear they would interfere with their “day jobs.” One of the others in our group said, rightfully so,“You’re acting P.O.O.R.—passing over opportunities repeatedly.” Delegation gives you time and enables you to focus on the “right” opportunities.
7. You need to admit what you don’t know.
This is good standalone advice, but it also supports points #2 and #6 above. Good mentors and peers can help you by sharing industry-specific knowledge and information, as well as general business advice. This is also where joining a formal mastermind group can really add value and educate you as you grow. Additionally, if you’re spending six hours on your WordPress plugin to capture email addresses or change the font on your website’s welcome page, then you clearly don’t know WordPress and should therefore delegate that task to someone else.
8. You need to know that the customer or client isn’t always right.
Sometimes we have to let go of clients because they are not providing the value that we need to sustain our business, or even because they cause emotional stress and strain. Sometimes, saying “no” means saying “yes” to something better. Much like delegation, cutting ties with a taxing client makes room for a client you actually want to serve. Remember our desire for being entrepreneurs because it allows more freedom? Well, this is a perfect opportunity to flex that muscle.
9. You need to know when to go fly a kite.
Black women sure know how to work, but do we know how to play? I’m always amazed at how many men play basketball, golf, and flag football well into their 50s and beyond. For some reason, many of us sisters stop “playing” after college. There is an abundant research that physical activity is great for creativity. When our conscious mind is at leisure our subconscious is still working. It’s why we get ideas or find a solution to a vexing challenge while in the shower. New studies now show that daydreaming is important for entrepreneurs, as well. So dream on, sister! Don’t lament time away from work, because as an entrepreneur now, you’re never really away. And that’s OK. I’ll quote my grandmother and say with all love, “Rest ya self.”
10. You need to know that you DON’T need an elevator pitch.
We don’t pitch people in social situations; we connect and build relationships. It’s rare that you’ll only have 30 seconds to tell someone what you do or to describe your business. And if in fact you do only have 30 seconds, then offer to be of service to them. Find out what their pain point is and then determine whether you can help them. Share contacts and information openly to assist them. Believe me, that 30 seconds will make a lasting impression, because so few people have mastered the art of networking as relationship-building through service. You will stand out. The person with whom you connect will remember you and the next time that you communicate—and if you have something of value to offer, there will be a next time—you will have more than enough time to talk about what you can offer them. And nine times out of 10, he or she will ask to learn more about your services or clients.
It is my truest hope that you and your business succeed beyond your wildest imagination. I love hearing from my readers, so if I may be of any assistance or you have any follow-up questions to these ten tips, please do reach out to me.
CREDIT – forharriet.com