More With Less: Starting a Business Despite The Odds
Did you hear?
While women of color encounter the most challenges in attaining sufficient resources to establish their own businesses, they remain among the fastest growing entrepreneurial segments in the country.
These are the findings of a new study released this week by the Center for Women’s Business Research. Titled The Economic Impact of Women-Owned Businesses in the United States, the report found that African American and Latina businesswomen, in particular, have experienced a respective 133.3% and 191.4% growth rate across a ten-year time span (from 1997 to 2007). This means that, of approximately eight million U.S. businesses owned by women, Blacks and Hispanics have a three to five times greater chance of launching their own companies.
Says Forbes’ Meghan Casserly:
In personal diatribes what is discussed is the internal debate between the nanny and quality time with children and starting a business or staying home, all of which are exorbitant luxuries to many minority women who have found themselves once again lost in the dialogue.Katherine Weymouth – albeit a multi-millionaire heiress to the recently sold Washington Post, who too is removed from the actual plight of minority women–at least attempted to touch upon this concept in her Post op ed.While minority and lesser-off white women remained just a stanza in the broader ‘lean in’ discussion, the reality is that Hispanic and African American women will play vital roles in the final frontier of the women’s empowerment movement: entrepreneurialism and economic freedom.
As a woman-of-color business owner, the findings of the report came as both a great surprise and a confirmation. My journey to entrepreneurship began back in 2010, but it wasn’t until last year that I finally made the leap towards professional and financial independence. I did so having little to no monetary resources upon which to go off of: I’d waived off applying for a business loan to avoid sure financial headache; and to complicate matters further, I also decided to move cross country from New York to California at the very same time.
More than a year later, I’m still not entirely sure how I managed to do all this at once and make it through. For one, my husband and I don’t have children yet which is one less responsibility we had to factor into the equation. However, having left established careers back on the East Coast in pursuit of our own start-up dreams, there was no shortage of complications and financial fall-outs that arose. Surely having a nice pecuniary cushion to land on would have been great, yet we had made up our minds that acquiring a loan and/or racking up credit card was completely out of the question.
So how did I survive my first year as a full-time business owner? Here are three key ways:
1. Build A Partnership, Build A Bridge.
This has become one of my favorite mantras of the past year, and a reminder that knowing and staying connected with the right people can be hugely beneficial to building a business on a restricted (or altogether non-existent) budget. Now, I don’t mean this in a selfishly opportunistic way; it’s hugely important that the people you connect with are not only ones you trust and respect, but who you know would also positively benefit from such an alliance. Especially among women and business owners of color, having a community of entrepreneurs that can support each others’ enterprising endeavors can lead to invaluable new opportunities and business relationships that money simply can’t buy. The key is to figure out how your specific skill sets can match up directly with theirs and be marketed collectively in attracting meaningful (and financially-rewarding) prospects.
2. Donate Or Barter Your Services
I know this is a difficult aspect to swallow, especially in a situation where money is tight. When you’re scrambling to finish up a last-minute assignment and make sure all the bills stay paid, it’s hard to imagine giving anything away for free. However, consider the various benefits that being aligned with other more established companies and organizations can bring in achieving your short and long-term business objectives.
For starters, it allows you to continuously sharpen and evolve your portfolio so that your well-honed skills don’t atrophy due to lack of exercise. Doing so could open the door to paid opportunities down the line, whether at the company you’re donating time to or via connections you were able to forge through them. It also provides a great opportunity to begin branding your company and building out a network whose audience is most likely to be interested in or have a need for your services somewhere down the line.
Note: When donating or bartering with another company, always make sure that the services you’re offering them match up with what you’ll be getting in return. You never want to find yourself in a position where you’re exhausting an inordinate amount of time on another person’s behalf without a) getting anything of comparative value in return or b) leaving insufficient room to focus on your own strategic obligations and goals. The best way to protect yourself here is to have an air-tight contract that carefully outlines the exact roles and responsibilities expected from each party. If applicable, you’ll want to include among your “asks” an end-of-year statement summarizing the amount of time donated in hours and their symbolic monetary value for tax-filing purposes.
3. Find Your “Expert” Voice
As a new business owner, one of the first things I had to do was humbly embrace my status as an expert in my career field. Being an expert doesn’t mean knowing everything, nor does it warrant being pretentious about what you do. Rather, it means having confidence in the value you can bring as an industry professional (whichever industry that might be) to the audience(s) you want to target. After all, how can you expect anyone else to trust your expertise if you’re not even convinced of it yet?
A productive way to address this is to start regularly blogging about industry-related topics and include your own insightful analyses. Whether based on a recent news article/study or even an informative social media update, offering your well-informed perspective helps add new layers to the conversation and underscores your experience. When you’re ready, start sharing your commentaries with others to spark further dialogue. Of all the social networking sites, Google+ and LinkedIn have been the most conducive (for me) to engaging new people and building online relationships. If you come across other bloggers of mutual interest, encourage them to contribute guest posts to your blog. This kind of reciprocity will go far towards attracting the kind of audiences that will help jump-start your business.
Overall, what I’ve learned is that there’s no “one-size-fits-all” approach to entrepreneurship. Only by fully assessing your own unique (personal and professional) needs will you be able to accurately determine what suits your journey best. Whatever courses of action you decide, it will be well worth the investment.
Are you a woman or minority-owned business owner? If so, what are some challenges you’ve faced in establishing your company, and how are/were you able to overcome them? Share your thoughts with us in the comments.