If you're an aspiring or new African-American woman entrepreneur, you've probably experienced the invigorating feeling in which you've said, "Yes, I'm finally doing it!" I finally overcame my fear of leaving a successful corporate career to launch my dreams.
It feels amazing to join the ranks of the fastest growing group of entrepreneurs in America The decision to take the entrepreneurial leap is one that is both courageous yet challenging, inspiring yet intimidating, and yields the promise of family balance, personal fulfillment and, hopefully, wealth generation.
It's not uncommon to find surprising statistics such as the increase in the number of African-American women owned businesses to over 300% since 1997, according to the 2015 State of Women-Owned Business Report commissioned by American Express Open. However, the increase in number of African-American owned businesses is just one fact, one piece of the equation. Although, we're starting businesses in record numbers, our companies lag when it comes to factors such as sustaining past the critical five-year mark or reaching $1 million in revenues as compared to other demographics. It's one thing to start a business. However, it's another to grow it and make it wildly successful.
While there are no shortage of conferences and seminars, the age-old question remains, "How do I grow my business to reach the seven- or eight-figure revenue mark?" For African-American women entrepreneurs, sometimes this aspirational goal can seem light years away as we watch peers who have greater access to resources that help push them past us to the finish line. It is one of the reasons why I love the book, 50 Billion Dollar Boss: African American Women Sharing Stories of Success in Entrepreneurship and Leadership.
As the title suggests, 50 billion dollars is the annual revenue generated by African American women entrepreneurs. Through the profiles of 12 African American women entrepreneurs and leaders, authors, Kathey Porter and Andrea Hoffman do an excellent job of highlighting examples of successful, high-performing African-American women entrepreneurs. The women featured have built exciting businesses, ranging from fashion to construction to cosmetics and everything in between. What I appreciate most is that each woman shares how they overcame challenges to reach and surpass the million dollar mark and achieve long term success.
In place of inspirational seminars and conferences, we need more resources to show African-American women "how" to become a high-performing women-owned business. After reading 50 Billion Dollar Boss, here are three things that successful African American women entrepreneurs do differently in business in order to pass the five-year mark as well as surpass the critical million dollar mark:
- Focus on Profitability vs Passion
It seems like one of the "in" things to do these days is to inspire people to follow their passion. That sounds great, but is your passion profitable? There are some business owners who strike gold and are able to have both. But there are times when following your passion can lead to slow growth and low revenue depending on your product, positioning, competition, and other market factors. Take for instance the growth and revenue potential between business-to-consumer vs. business-to-business entities. Both are great, viable paths. However, they can result in two completely different outcomes when it comes to revenue potential, cost per sale or order or the ability to scale quickly.
- Understand the resources and support available to them
Many times business owners miss out on the resources and support available to them simply due to lack of awareness. Two of the best organizations that can help create access for aspiring and new African-American women-owned businesses are the National Minority Supplier Development Council and the Women Business Enterprise National Council. Each organization offers a certification to certify your company either as a minority-owned business or women-owned business which gives you access to billions of federal and corporate contract dollars designated specifically for your company and more. Additionally, most corporations, higher education institutions and federal and local government agencies have supplier diversity professionals whose focus is to find qualified minority and women-owned businesses to do business with them.
- Mentorship, Mentorship, Mentorship
Another aspect 50 Billion Dollar Boss and I agree on is the importance of finding the right mentor or coach. I do not know any successful business that has elevated in its industry on an island and without guidance. Networking and collaborating to find the right inner circle, mentor, and ultimately your success team is imperative to the aspirational and aggressive goals that most have. "The importance of this cannot be stressed enough. As many African-American women are first generation entrepreneurs, we don't always have access to some of the networks where financing, references, resources, etc. are readily available. We have to be creative and step out of the "ideal" mentor box in order to advance our businesses. Mentors might not always look like we envision, so we have to be open to ANY opportunity where someone is willing to share information, make an introduction, etc. to advance your business," says Porter and Hoffman.
The reported interest and subsequent increase in African-American women-owned businesses is fantastic, but the sustainability of these businesses is imperative if we are truly looking at increasing generational wealth. As indicated in the stories of the women profiled in the book, revenue and wealth generation are not mutually exclusive nor are they elusive for this market segment. These points along with calculated risks, courageous collaborations, and ground-breaking access are required just as it was for each of the success stories in 50 Billion Dollar Boss.