Black women are a dynamic force in the business environment. The U.S. Census Bureau reported that Black-owned companies grew more than 34 percent from 2007 to 2012, and Black women accounted for nearly 67 percent of that growth.
But starting a business is one thing, making it flourish is another, said Karen Taylor-Bass, a public relations and marketing expert.
Taylor-Bass, who has created and executed campaigns for celebrities and corporations, notes that Black women face a unique set of challenges. At the top of the list is a general lack of resources.
“Resources are not just money but also tools,” she told NewsOne. “Having the right resources enables business owners to get in front of decision makers and to know where to get what they need.”
Many African-American businesswomen, she added, lack another key ingredient to success: mentors.
Taylor-Bass serves as a mentor through Women Entrepreneurs-New York Cit, also known as WE-NYC. The city’s Department of Small Business Services launched the initiative in 2015 to help women—specifically those from underserved communities—start and grow their businesses. Fortune magazine points to WE-NYC as part of the reason that New York City is rated the “world’s best possible place to be a female entrepreneur.”
As one of the 17 inaugural mentors who volunteered for the group, Taylor-Bass conducts workshops and has partnered with the Harlem Business Alliance, where she offers one-on-one marketing and public relations coaching sessions.
The array of businesses is impressive, from techies launching apps to health care-related companies. Taylor-Bass noticed that a growing number of women are starting daycares that offer specialized programs.
Some, like Mangy Nkoli, are first-time business owners. Nkoli is wrapping up the groundwork for a first quarter 2017 launch of her natural skincare product line, called Nkoli Skin Food, for women and men.
She said men shouldn’t be shy about improving the appearance of their skin. The men’s line, called the “Prince Hassan Collection-Midnite,” has the slogan, “It’s cool to groom!”
While some clients are on the launch pad, others are seasoned business owners seeking fine tuning.
Sandy Baker, who started her jewelry business in 1971, meets with Taylor-Bass once a year to do a brand review. Baker told NewsOne that she was in graduate school, on a career path to become an art historian, when “the business bug hit.”
She launched her company with no business experience, a few hundred dollars, and lots of tenacity in a business environment that was unwelcoming to women—especially women of color. Today, her high-profile clients include Michelle Obama and Julia Roberts.
Baker, who first met Taylor-Bass at a Harlem Business Alliance workshop, said the expert “is a bundle of ideas.” She added that Taylor-Bass gives her homework and a lot to think about each year.
New and experienced business owners neglect, to their peril, to refresh, evaluate and think about their marketing and branding.
“You have to look at your business just like you look at your budget or diet,” Taylor-Bass admonished.
What’s the biggest marketing mistake? “Not marketing at all,” she responded.
“Entrepreneurs are taught to have a business plan. But much of the business plan is pegged to profit and loss. But a business plan is not a marketing-PR plan. What ends up happening is entrepreneurs are prepared to launch and operate their business, but unprepared to promote it.”
Marti Speranza, who served as WE-NYC director through its first year, told NewsOne that female business owners face a mountain of challenges.
The group commissioned research to determine the state of female entrepreneurship in New York City. It found a significant gender gap in which men own 1.5 times the number of businesses and earn 4.5 times the revenue that women do.
Baker recalled that she entered a male-dominated jewelry industry, in which there were only two female designers and both were supported by large companies; 2016 is not much different in many ways, take for example the tech industry.
Researchers also asked 1,500 businesswomen to identify the challenges they face, and WE-NYC tailored programs to respond to those needs.
Speranza said the biggest challenge is accessing capital. To address that issue, WE-NYC organized meetings and workshops with micro lenders and nonprofits that specialize in credit building.
“Entrepreneurship is hard work,” Speranza stated. “I commend women for taking risks. For many, it’s a necessity to make ends meet. Many don’t speak English, don’t have education or resources.”
Speranza, who was herself a small business owner, said the experience can be “isolating.” Nkoli can testify to that. “You must be your own trooper,” she said. That indomitable spirit keeps her going, now that her support system has crumbled.
Within a 14-month period, Nkoli’s mother and brother passed away. They were her biggest cheerleaders. At the same time, other family members who were helping her carry the load decided they would no longer help.
In the 1970s, when Baker was always the only Black woman at trade shows, she looked to her family for strength. “I was raised in a family that didn’t think about being held back because of being African-American,” she stated.