Since the controversial flood of the #blackouttuesday black squares on Instagram, newly-inspired social media activists have been grappling with how to contribute to the Black Lives Matter movement in a productive and authentic way. In addition to protesting, signing petitions, and donating to various organizations, social media has risen as an essential platform to share useful information and promote self-education. After all, the conversation cannot stop here; we must continue to educate ourselves and support Black people across all channels always.
Enter: She Did That, a documentary directed by New York-based filmmaker Renae Bluitt, which tells the story of successful Black women entrepreneurs. The film, born from Bluitt's In Her Shoes blog, is streaming on Netflix and is one of the many ways you can support Black voices, specifically in the entrepreneurial sector. The film centers around four protagonists: Luvvie Ajayi (Awesomely Luvvie), Lisa Price (Carol's Daughter), Melissa Butler (The Lip Bar), and Tonya Rapley (My Fab Finance), and includes additional interviews with other Black women entrepreneurs as well.
When young Black girls who dream of becoming bloggers, entrepreneurs, or engineers see strong, independent Black women in the fields they dream of pursuing, they feel empowered.
In addition to interviewing a number of contemporary entrepreneurial powerhouses, Bluitt also points out that there is a history of Black women entrepreneurs that dates back far beyond Oprah Winfrey. Take, for example, Clara Brown who was born into slavery but eventually became the owner of multiple successful laundry mats. She was also the first Black woman to participate in the Gold Rush in the mid-1800s. Brown is just one of many early entrepreneurs often not shared in the typical history classroom setting, but who has nonetheless laid the foundation for Black women entrepreneurs today.
The film also makes sure to include outstanding statistics that mark the progress Black women have made in the business world. In fact, African American-owned firms grew 34.5% between 2007 and 2012 and there are approximately 1.9 million Black women-owned firms. However, the work doesn't end here. Black women still have to work at least twice as hard in any industry to get ahead; those who rise to the top tend to say their success derives from not letting anyone tell them they aren't good enough.
After all, nothing says women empowerment like starting your own business and watching it take off successfully. Melissa Butler was a successful side hustler before her start-up beauty brand, The Lip Bar, turned into a nationwide phenomenon. The makeup brand, from its vibrant lipstick colors to 26 shades of foundation, is available at Targets everywhere and has graced the pages of Essence, Ebony, Cosmo, Huffington Post, and The New York Times. This of course doesn't mean Butler did not experience any obstacles along the way. When her business partner Rosco Spears (current Creative Director at The Lip Bar) and her went on the popular TV show Shark Tank to pitch The Lip Bar, they were told they would not be successful. Instead of talking business, the panel of businessmen and women complimented their outfits. The anger Butler felt only inspired her to go full steam ahead and take the plunge. As Maya Angelou said, "You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated."
Many women featured in the documentary have had their fair share of challenges, and Tonya Rapley is no exception. Rapley was in an abusive relationship which turned her finances upside down. After leaving the relationship and working her way back to financial stability, she decided to share her newfound knowledge on her Blog My Fab Finance and eventually became recognized as a millennial money expert.
Black women still have to work at least twice as hard in any industry to get ahead; those who rise to the top tend to say their success derives from not letting anyone tell them they aren't good enough.
Rapley is an exception (in the predominantly white business world), not the rule and that is the crux of the documentary. Black women are often overlooked in the corporate world and have had to work harder, smarter, and faster to get where they are because they've faced far more scrutiny than most every step of the way. So much so that another major topic of the documentary is the "superwoman complex" in which Black businesswomen feel they have to be "on" all the time and never say no — after all, in a world where they already have to work twice as hard to achieve their goals, it should not comes as a surprise that Black women can often experience severe burnout. Psychotherapist Therese Kempf speaks to how important taking care of your mental health and practicing self-care is, especially for Black people who often report being hyper-vigilant and "on guard" while in the workplace.
Despite the obstacles and struggles a Black women entrepreneur confronts along her journey, Black entrepreneurship is helping future generations in profound ways find inspiration and empowerment for their own journeys.
But when young Black girls who dream of becoming bloggers, entrepreneurs, or engineers see strong, independent Black women in the fields they dream of pursuing, they feel empowered. Dr. Nadia Lopez, founder & principal of Mott Hall Bridges Academy, expresses the joy she feels when her students' faces light up when they see women of color in business –– "From us, by us, for us." And it's not just the young girls who are being inspired by these incredibly successful women, this air of mutual support and inspiration continues throughout these same women's lives and careers.
Luvvie Ajayi, a New York Times bestselling author and creator of the blog Awesomely Techie, discusses Black girl magic, referring to how dedicated Black women are to supporting each other in their entrepreneurial pursuits. In an article for The Root, Bluitt states "It's so important for us, as Black women to come together because we don't have the resources that a lot of our counterparts have. And we're so much more powerful together. We come together and get things done in a way that most people don't even comprehend." This is Black girl magic in action: an empowering phenomenon that creates community among the Black women entrepreneur community and offers a support system to combat the aforementioned "superwoman complex."
Despite the obstacles and struggles a Black women entrepreneur confronts along her journey, Black entrepreneurship is helping future generations in profound ways find inspiration and empowerment for their own journeys. Bluitt concludes the film with the sentiment that we still have ways to go — Jessica O. Matthews, CEO of Uncharted Power, states there are currently only 26 Black-owned startups — but there is a shift happening. There will be both trials and triumphs, but somewhere out there, there is a young Black girl watching these trailblazers and dreaming of doing exactly what they're doing… but in a world where they are finally the rule, not the exception.
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"How did you ever get into a business like that?" people ask me. They're confounded to hear that my product is industrial baler wire—a very unfeminine pursuit, especially in 1975 when I founded my company in the midst of a machismo man's world. It's a long story, but I'll try to shorten it.
I'd never been interested to enter the "man's" world of business, but when I discovered a lucrative opportunity to become my own boss, I couldn't pass it up—even if it involved a non-glamorous product. I'd been fired from my previous job working to become a ladies' clothing buyer and was told at my dismissal, "You just aren't management or corporate material." My primary goal then was to find a career in which nobody had the power to fire me and that provided a comfortable living for my two little girls and myself.
Over the years, I've learned quite a few tough lessons about how to successfully run a business. Below are five essential elements to keep in mind, as well as my story on how I learned them.
Find A Need And Fill It
I gradually became successful at selling various products, which unfortunately weren't profitable enough to get me off the ground, so I asked people what they needed that they couldn't seem to get. One man said, "Honey, I need baler wire. Even the farmers can't get it." I saw happy dollar signs as he talked on and dedicated myself to figuring out the baler wire industry.
I'd never been interested to enter the "man's" world of business, but when I discovered a lucrative opportunity to become my own boss, I couldn't pass it up.
Now forty-five years later, I'm proud to be the founder of Vulcan Wire, Inc., an industrial baler wire company with $10 million of annual sales.
Have Working Capital And Credit
There were many pitfalls along the way to my eventual success. My daughters and I were subsisting from my unemployment checks, erratic alimony and child-support payments, and food stamps. I had no money stashed up to start up a business.
I paid for the first wire with a check for which I had no funds, an illegal act, but I thought it wouldn't matter as long as I made a deposit to cover the deficit before the bank received the check. My expectation was that I'd receive payment immediately upon delivery, for which I used a rented truck.
Little did I know that this Fortune 500 company's modus operandi was to pay all bills thirty or more days after receipts. My customer initially refused to pay on the spot. I told him I would consequently have to return the wire, so he reluctantly decided to call corporate headquarters for this unusual request.
My stomach was in knots the whole time he was gone, because he said it was iffy that corporate would come through. Fifty minutes later, however, he emerged with a check in hand, resentful of the time away from his busy schedule. Stressed, he told me to never again expect another C.O.D. and that any future sale must be on credit. Luckily, I made it to the bank with a few minutes to spare.
Know Your Product Thoroughly
I received a disheartening phone call shortly thereafter: my wire was breaking. This horrible news fueled the fire of my fears. Would I have to reimburse my customer? Would my vendor refuse to reimburse me?
My customer told me to come over and take samples of his good wire to see if I might duplicate it. I did that and educated myself on the necessary qualities.
My primary goal then was to find a career in which nobody had the power to fire me and that provided a comfortable living for my two little girls and myself.
Voila! I found another wire supplier that had the right specifications. By then, I was savvy enough to act as though they would naturally give me thirty-day terms. They did!
More good news: My customer merely threw away all the bad wire I'd sold him, and the new wire worked perfectly; he then gave me leads and a good endorsement. I rapidly gained more wire customers.
Anticipate The Dangers Of Exponential Growth
I had made a depressing discovery. My working capital was inadequate. After I purchased the wire, I had to wait ten to thirty days for a fabricator to get it reconfigured, which became a looming problem. It meant that to maintain a good credit standing, I had to pay for the wire ten to thirty days before my customers paid me.
I was successful on paper but was incredibly cash deprived. In other words, my exponentially growing business was about to implode due to too many sales. Eventually, my increasing sales grew at a slower rate, solving my cash flow problem.
Delegate From The Bottom Up
I learned how to delegate and eventually delegated myself out of the top jobs of CEO, President, CFO, and Vice President of Finance. Now, at seventy-eight years old, I've sold all but a third of Vulcan's stock and am semi-retired with my only job currently serving as Vice President of Stock and Consultant.
In the interim, I survived many obstacles and learned many other lessons, but hopefully these five will get you started and help prevent some of you from having the same struggles that I did. And in the end, I figured it all out, just like you will.