Nakia Vestal was kicked out of her mother’s home when she was 17, with no job, and broke. In a bid to survive, she became a stripper and then shifted into other forms of sex work. Along the way, she got pregnant and found herself in a sex trafficking ring.
Determined to change course, Vestal managed to escape human trafficking in order to make an honest living. In the process, the Knoxville, Tennessee native founded DollMaker Lashes, a beauty studio in Houston, Texas, that offers eyelash extension services. She started her business with just $400 in 2017 and has, by dint of hard work, built her business into a full-service lash studio with her own product line.
“I started with just a lash bed and my tools that I needed. And I didn’t have any marketing,” the 46-year-old entrepreneur and mother of two told CNBC. “Everything was word of mouth. I started from home in my dining room.”
Last year, she received a $10,000 grant from Verizon’s Digital Ready program, which helped her expand. This was after the pandemic affected her business due to low patronage as a result of lockdown measures, among others. The grant, according to CNBC, was offered to small businesses affected by COVID-19 in historically underserved communities.
Before starting her own business, Vestal worked in beauty salons and shops after being able to escape human trafficking in her teens. The experience she acquired as an apprentice helped her to start her own beauty business.
How did Vestal succeed in her entrepreneurial journey? What did she get right? According to her, her success was because of the following:
First, she explored financial options like grants and small business loans for underserved communities. “There’s resources, there’s crowdfunding, there’s small business loans,” said Vestal. “Especially ones that are in under-resourced communities, minority businesses, veteran businesses, Black business owners, and minority business owners.”
Vestal also leveraged social media channels like Instagram, Facebook and TikTok to grow her business. “Social media is free marketing. You have Facebook, you have Instagram, now you have TikTok. These are free tools you can use to really target whatever audience you’re trying to get,” Vestal said.
Since many training resources come at a cost, Vestal used a lot of free materials on the internet and she has advised others to do the same. “There’s free resources out there. Don’t feel like there’s a stupid question. You have to really speak up and you have to look for it.”
Lastly, she set herself apart from the rest and that was crucial to her success. She is all for giving back to her community, and that helped her secure the Verizon grant, she said. “You have to find something to give back to you. It’s not only about my business. No, you have to find a cause.”