Becoming an entrepreneur is an exciting venture that can often be the fulfillment of a life-long dream. But business owners also face a variety of challenges, and POC business owners face additional and unique challenges. New entrepreneurs wading into unchartered territory can often learn from the advice—and mistakes—of others. We asked a handful of POC business owners for their best advice to help fellow POC entrepreneurs entering the small business world.
As soon as you can, Mary Angela Munez, owner of GoLucky Studios, recommends working toward getting certified as a minority-owned business. “This makes you visible and able to accept government contracts that are set aside to provide opportunities to minority business owners,” she explains. “Right now, 5% of all federal money has been allocated to businesses that hold this designation.” State and city-level certifications can also provide access to bids on local contracts.
You probably want to hit the ground running, but Elisabeth Jackson, a small business owner of 3 years with over 8 years of experience in the small business world, warns against rushing the process and says you should instead focus on getting your systems right. “Black women are the fastest-growing entrepreneurs but are significantly absent when it comes to long-term profitable businesses,” she notes.
“Document everything you do, and create procedures and systems that can replace your workload for you as you grow,” Jackson says. “Also, I recommend having a strong product suite that increases your client retention so you aren’t relying on one product to make all your money.” In addition to not relying on one product, she advises against relying on one person—namely, yourself. “Don’t get caught up trying to do everything because that’s not sustainable in the long run.”
And since you can’t do everything yourself, Nerissa Zhang, CEO of The Bright App, recommends you hire help as soon as you can. However, she says it’s important to hire good people, and it’s equally as important to let those people go when it becomes clear that they’re not a good fit. “The reality is that there are many people in this world who will not respect the leadership of people of color, particularly if you’re also a woman,” Zhang explains. “As soon as you see any signs of disrespect from someone you’re paying, do not hesitate for a second—fire them immediately.”
COVID-19 has severely hampered brick-and-mortar businesses. But even in a post-pandemic world, Ray Blakney, CEO and cofounder of LiveLingua.com, recommends putting your business online. “In addition to the standard benefits of online business—such as lower startup costs and overhead, global reach, etc.—there are some unique benefits for POC.”
For example, he says that since there aren’t a lot of online businesses run by POC (comparatively speaking), this is an opportunity to stand out. “Not only can the unique point of view be shown on the website itself—it can also be used in marketing, as many journalists, podcast hosts, and websites are looking to include more voices from people of color, and they have a hard time finding people who can speak to this,” Blakney explains.
To Tasha Booth, CEO and founder of The Launch Guild, being an entrepreneur is an opportunity to be your “authentic” self. “Especially as a person of color, you will always be ‘too much,’ ‘too loud,’ or ‘too something’ for someone in whatever industry you’re in, and that’s okay.” But the beauty of being a small business owner is that you get to make the decisions and run the operation as you see fit. “Don’t think you have to fit a specific mold or cater to certain people to succeed and feel good about the business you’re building,” Booth says.
Michelle Diamond, CEO and founder of Elevate Diamond Strategy, agrees. “Understand the value and uniqueness you bring as a POC,” she says. “But at the same time, unless your small business is focused on your ethnicity or heritage, lead with your skill sets and the value of your products and services only.”
You may have a target audience, but Booth recommends embracing the community that embraces you. “When I first started running Facebook ads for my business 2.5 years ago, I noticed that the women responding to the ads and signing up for my services were primarily Black women.”
Initially, she says she was bothered that non-POC were not responding and believed it was only because she was a Black woman. “But now, I celebrate the fact that other Black women see my success and see what the possibility can be for them,” Booth says. “Rather than thinking of it as a detriment, I see it as one of my superpowers and something that sets me apart from all other entrepreneurs in the online business/virtual support industries, so embrace the people who are embracing you.”
Learning is a lifelong process – especially when you’re a small business owner. And according to LaKesha Womack, a leadership development specialist, it’s important to invest in your professional education. “No, I don’t mean getting another graduate degree: however, working with a business coach or consultant to help you develop a plan for your business and to hold you accountable will be one of the best decisions that you can make.”
While many entrepreneurs are great at what they do – she says being a successful business owner entails more than providing a service or product. “Working with a professional who has experience with business operations, human resource management, branding, and marketing can help your business to not only survive, even in turbulent economic environments, but they can also help to prepare you for growth.” Mentors for POC can also provide valuable support and advice to take your business to the next level and perhaps point you toward funding sources for business owners of color.
Being a POC entering the small business world will involve challenges, but that shouldn’t be your focus. “Oftentimes, POC may assume that they will encounter racism or bias, and while that does happen sometimes, the truth is if you have that mindset, you will attract more of the same,” says Diamond. However, she believes that the majority of people care more about your ability to add value to their lives than the color of your skin. “Focus on succeeding and having a great business; there is no limit to the success you can achieve for yourself, family, and community.”