As every entrepreneur can tell you, starting a business can be difficult. More so if you’re from a minority group in America. For black founders, especially, the challenges are numerous. For one thing, 80% of black entrepreneurs have reported challenges with capital or funding. Many of them resort to using their own savings and investments (70%), some turn to family and friends for a loan (23%), and others still tap into their 401(k) plans just to get the money. These challenges might even double if you’re a woman.
But despite challenges, black entrepreneurship lives on—and there are silver linings. For example, the State of Small Business Survey 2019 has found that more and more African Americans are quick to start their own businesses, often from the age of 18.
There are also more black millennial founders emerging through the years, particularly women. It should be noted, too, that the average female-led small business is typically at 23%, but 38% of black small business founders are women.
And overall, there’s been a 45% increase in business share for black founders, which may explain why more and more founders are taking the leap in business.
And if you’re here today, you might be wondering how to start your own business, despite the challenges and mistakes new founders might face. Our advice: take it from the experts. After all, there’s no better way to assure your new business’s success than by learning from other successful black founders.
Here are five pieces of business advice from black startup founders.
Business tips from Black founders
Don’t underestimate the power of word of mouth —Chris Bennet, founder of Wonderschool
In an interview with Forbes magazine, Chris Bennet, founder of Wonderschool, has an important note about customers. When asked about how his school started getting its first customers, here’s what he says:
“Most of our first teacher customers came to us through referrals or by attending in-person events that we hosted—they loved everything about Wonderschool. Relationship building and trust are critical to our success.”
Word of mouth is free marketing for your business, and people are more often than not willing to trust the recommendations of other people about a product or service. In fact, a Nielsen study found that up to 92% of people trust recommendations from their friends and family.
Interestingly, word of mouth transcends personal relationships, meaning it’s not only effective between people who already know each other—84% of consumers are also likely to trust reviews and testimonials given by complete strangers as if it had been recommended by a friend.
In the beginning, focus your efforts on providing top-notch service and nurturing your relationship with those first few customers. They are, after all, key to getting rave reviews and much-needed word of mouth.
You have to be willing to take risks —Zim Ugochukwu, founder of Travel Noire
When Zim Ugochukwu launched Travel Noire, a website dedicated to offering guides and services for who she calls “the unconventional black traveler,” she says she faced a number of challenges as a young founder. Yet, despite all the hurdles she had to overcome, her popular travel guide was acquired as a subsidiary of the widely successful black publication, Blavity, a dream for most startup founders.
When asked what advice she had for other aspiring startup founders, she says this: “With no risk, there’s no reward, and you either get comfortable with uncertainty and not knowing where you’re going to end up, or you settle and you live this life that you don’t want to live.”
Disappointments can be conquered —Sevetri Wilson, founder of Solid Ground Innovations and Resilia
In a 2018 interview with Black Enterprise, Sevetri Wilson—the only woman in New Orleans to raise $2 million in startup capital—gives other entrepreneurs a piece of valuable advice:
“[You] have to know that disappointments are certain; disappointments are constant, but disappointments can be conquered. For black people, I feel we experience a large deal of disappointments and they can deliver the type of blows that some find hard to recover from. Learning to deal with disappointments and having the ability to get back up after you ‘ve been knocked down over and over again is what it takes to be successful.”
In a New York Times bestselling book, Asian American author Angela Duckworth writes about grit or the powerful synergy of passion and perseverance. Wilson’s advice encapsulates grit—and luckily, according to Duckworth in her book, grit can be learned and improved.
Trust in the process —Jahkeen Washington & Thomas Boatswain, founders of JTW Fit
Founders Jahkeen Washington and Thomas Boatswain are on a mission to promote better health and fitness in Harlem, New York. Considering the average salary of a fitness trainer range is about $59,000, both founders are strongly committed to their customers, providing personalized fitness programs for individuals and groups at a fraction of typical costs.
Their advice (that both entrepreneurs and their customers can learn from) is to trust the process. This is often easier said than done when in business, where you need to put in the work before you start seeing results. But as the young founders said, trust the process.
You have to put in the work —Kim Kimble, founder of Kim Kimble Salons & Kimble Haircare System
Celebrity hairstylist and founder Kim Kimble, whose impressive range of clients include megastar Beyoncé, has this advice for fellow black entrepreneurs:
“Faith without works is dead—you have to put in the work and take control for the success of your business.”
While it’s impossible to guarantee when your business breaks even its initial capital or when you can enjoy a steady stream of clients and customers, business owners must be the hardest working person in the room.
But this also requires putting in hours to rest and reflect on your next business moves. Burnout is a major problem affecting all kinds of persons, founder or not, black or white—23% of respondents in a Gallup survey reported feeling burnt out ‘all the time’ while 44% report feeling burnt out ‘sometimes.’
Part of taking control of your business means taking control of your life. So work hard, but work smarter to grow your business.