African-American Entrepreneurs Share Their Secrets
Guidance from Four Successful Startup Leaders
When Christine Gant of Brooklyn, New York, discovered that some African-American hair care products contain potentially harmful chemicals, she decided to create her own beauty line featuring natural ingredients. Two and a half years later, Gant says her business is thriving and she's looking to expand.
Like Gant, a growing number of African-American women have taken on entrepreneurship in search of financial independence and success. Various studies place the number of businesses owned by African-American women at between 1 million and 1.5 million, representing about 5 percent of all U.S. businesses.
Being a successful business owner requires hard work, commitment and tenacity. We asked four successful African-American female entrepreneurs to share their essential secrets for success:
Find a Mentor
It takes a village to succeed as a small business, and small business owners often find that a mentor can help them to define, develop and build a career path. Gant says she met her mentor, who owns a successful business in the hair care industry, through church.
"It's been wonderful to be able to call and bounce ideas off of her and to support each other in our endeavors," Gant says. "We've talked about everything from product promotion to reinvesting much of my company's profits to finance my growing inventory of products."
Rely on an Accountant
Dionne Phillips, founder of D'Lashes, a luxury eyelash spa in Los Angeles, started her business with $65. She used that to buy supplies and venture out on her own after working as a makeup artist in Hollywood. Today, she boasts an impressive celebrity roster, a spa with a six-month waiting list and her own line of eyelash extensions. While Phillips is Hollywood's go-to guru when it comes to eyelashes, she admits she turned to a certified public accountant to provide financial expertise.
"I found a wonderful CPA that I paid by the hour," Phillips says. "He has a background working with spas and salons and he taught me how to budget for my business, maintain an excellent credit record, and grow my business."
Know When to Reinvent Yourself
In her 26 years of business, Andrea King Collier, a multimedia journalist, author and speaker from Lansing, Michigan, says she has mastered the art of reinvention. When she first launched her health-writing business, the majority of her clients were national magazines. Over the past two decades, as the journalism field evolved, Collier also changed, learning to write for different mediums including websites and blogs, and expanding the scope of her business to include photography and social media.
"My parents raised me to believe I could accomplish anything," Collier says. "I've never shied away from trying new technology, applying for fellowships or attending professional conferences that allow me to build upon my success."
Find Your Company's Voice
When Hallema Sharif of Atlanta left the world of corporate public relations to start her own consultancy, Hallema's World, she struggled at first to find her brand's "voice."
"I was initially pitching new business using the same strategies I had used working within an agency," Sharif says. "After six months, I stepped back and changed my pitch to reflect who I am rather than who I thought they wanted me to be."
While small business owners often spend a lot of time thinking about logos and other aspects of branding, few consider employing a unique voice that defines who they truly are.
"I'm a mom, a woman, and a seasoned public relations professional that has promoted major brands for over 25 years," she says. "I'm not an agency, and I needed to reflect that in my voice to let clients know what was special and unique about my business ... that whether they are a major corporation or a small company, I will give the same services and attention to detail."
For more success stories and expert tips, as well as valuable products and solutions, visit chase.com/forbusiness.
Photo: iStock/Getty Images | Linda Childers is a California-based writer who contributes to a number of national media outlets. Her articles have appeared in magazines including O, More and Spry and websites such as CNNMoney.com, Lifescript.com, NextAvenue.org and many others.