Black female small business owners reveal their top advice, lessons learned

KATIE KINDELAN
·9 min read

Black female-owned businesses are among the fastest-growing in America right now, data shows.

The number of Black women-owned businesses grew 50% from 2014 to 2019, compared to 21% for women-owned businesses, according to the 2019 State of Women-Owned Businesses Report, commissioned by American Express.

Black women are growing their businesses at that rate even with the odds stacked against them, including everything from lack of capital and funding to biases and lack of representation.

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The economic recession brought on by the coronavirus pandemic has also disproportionately impacted women of color in terms of job losses, and it will likely impact their recovery, too, experts say.

"Good Morning America" spoke with seven Black female entrepreneurs who have launched a total of six businesses, with at least one launching during the pandemic.

Black female small business owners share their advice during Black History Month. (ABC Photo Illustration)
Black female small business owners share their advice during Black History Month. (ABC Photo Illustration)

Each entrepreneur shared their biggest piece of advice for other Black women who want to start a business, and the biggest lesson they have learned along the way.

Tracy Vontélle Green and Nancey Harris, founders of Vontélle Eyewear

Green and Harris founded Vontélle Eyewear after they each lost a pair of expensive eyewear within the same year. When the pandemic hit, Green and Harris expanded their company to start selling face masks as well.

PHOTO: Nancey Harris and Tracy Vontélle Green are the founders of Vontélle Eyewear. (Darren Talent)
PHOTO: Nancey Harris and Tracy Vontélle Green are the founders of Vontélle Eyewear. (Darren Talent)

Advice:

"Our advice is to do your research and ask questions. Ask everyone, how did you do that? Regardless of industry. Where should I go to get this? Do not be afraid to ask.

In addition, the internet is your best friend. You can find a great deal of information using search engines, putting in your questions.

Lastly, ensure you have a business plan, review the numbers -- realistic ROI (return on investment) -- and continue to reach out to other startup business owners. There is the fun part of the business (which is your passion) and there's the necessary business needs (taxes, website management, content, inventory, meeting timelines, etc.)."

Biggest lesson learned:

"We agree that the biggest lesson we have learned from being a female entrepreneur/CEO is to sign people up! To get them to see YOUR vision and want to be a part of it. This is important as you need the buy-in to keep your company growing, keep your team motivated to do great things together and make sure you and your team are always working toward concrete goals."

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Deborah Clemons, founder of Infusion Blends

Clemons founded Infusion Blends, a line of spice-infused gourmet butters, after she started combining her spice rubs for steaks into butter to simplify cooking for a friend who was battling cancer.

During the pandemic, Clemons had to change her business plan and focus on selling her products online and in different boutique markets. She was also awarded a contract that landed 20,000 of her butters in food banks during the pandemic, which Clemons called the "largest selling, marketing and branding opportunity," she'd had to date.

PHOTO: Deborah Clemons is the founder of Infusion Blends. (Teresa Floyd Photography)
PHOTO: Deborah Clemons is the founder of Infusion Blends. (Teresa Floyd Photography)

Advice:

"My message speaks to all women, but in particular African American women because we have intrinsically different challenges to our ability to start a business, find capital and/or investors as well as support within our circle of friends and family who can mentor, advise or understand the challenges of being an entrepreneur.

My top advice: 'Know when NOT to give up.' Most people say, 'Don’t give up,' but I believe we need to go one step further to clearly define that message. Know when NOT to give up has a whole different meaning to me. When doors were closing and things were moving slow or not at all, I had thoughts that this must be a sign from God to let it all go. As my head wanted to give up and my heart was weary, God opened new doors.

I had to know if I should walk through that door and take advantage of the opportunity or let it all go. This is the moment when you are faced with knowing when NOT to give up. Every time I walked through that open door and did it afraid, the opportunity paid off. Now that is my definition of 'Know when NOT to give up.'"

Biggest lesson learned:

"Find the money first, then start your business, I have been told. That is easier said than done for sure. It’s a Catch-22 when you need to show your business is a viable business to attract investors and acquire loans, but at the same time you need those resources to make your business viable.

Putting the horse before the cart can be a necessary evil, but believing in what I’ve done and the perseverance to make it work and sacrificing certain luxuries has pulled me through. I have also learned not to be so hard on myself when a particular decision I made did not produce the expected outcome. I have learned to roll with the punches, figure out how to fix it and implement solutions."

Grace Eleyae, founder of Grace Eleyae

Eleyae launched Grace Eleyae, a line of hair-protecting products in 2014, after creating a product that helped heal her own damaged hair. During the pandemic, Eleyae had to steer her company through a transition to working remotely and through delays in being able to get materials and products from overseas.

PHOTO: Grace Eleyae is the founder of her own line of satin Scrunchies, turbans, headbands and more. (Courtesy Grace Eleyae)
PHOTO: Grace Eleyae is the founder of her own line of satin Scrunchies, turbans, headbands and more. (Courtesy Grace Eleyae)

Advice:

"Keep going. It may sound really simple, but there are so may obstacles we face as entrepreneurs, and it’s really easy to feel overwhelmed along the journey. But I always say, 'Keep going -- solve the problem in front of you. Don’t look at the mountain of issues and throw up your arms. Solve one problem, then the next and then the next.'

You’ll see that with each problem you solve, you will gain increased mental toughness to solve the next one. And when you are feeling discouraged, try to find the hope in the situation."

Biggest lesson learned:

"One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is the importance of hope. A quote I try and live by from Nelson Mandela is, 'May your choices reflect your hopes, not your fears.'

I try to find the hope in every situation. There have been plenty of times in our journey where it seemed like it was the end. Whether we faced financial issues, or operational issues or supply chain issues, the way we got through it was by making decisions that reflected our hope, not confirmed our fears."

Tiffini Gatlin, founder of Latched & Hooked

Gatlin founded Latched & Hooked, a line of textured synthetic hair extensions and hair care products, after leaving her corporate banking job to pursue her side hustle.

During the pandemic, she reacted to the closing of nonessential hair salons and retailers by creating a product that could be delivered to customers monthly and by working with hairstylists around the world to hold free virtual style sessions using Latched & Hooked products.

PHOTO: Tiffini Gatlin, pictured in an undated handout photo, is the founder of Latched & Hooked. (Courtesy Tiffini Gatlin)
PHOTO: Tiffini Gatlin, pictured in an undated handout photo, is the founder of Latched & Hooked. (Courtesy Tiffini Gatlin)

Advice:

"You can be afraid to fail, to get it wrong, to mess up, etc., but if you're going to be an entrepreneur, especially a Black woman entrepreneur, you'll need to have the audacity to do it anyway and the transparency to tell others about your journey."

Biggest lesson learned:

"One of the biggest lessons I have learned as a female entrepreneur is to ask for help. Because most women are seen as natural problem solvers, I used to think that asking for help would make me look lazy and weak, however, what I later figured out was asking for help provided me with new solutions, created mentors and advisers and improved my resilience."

Jamila Powell, founder of Naturally Drenched

Powell launched Naturally Drenched, a vegan hair care line for people with curly hair, during the pandemic, after she was forced to close her Miami-based hair salon for a period of time.

PHOTO: Jamila Powell is the founder of Naturally Drenched, a vegan hair care line. (Naturally Drenched)
PHOTO: Jamila Powell is the founder of Naturally Drenched, a vegan hair care line. (Naturally Drenched)

Advice:

"I would definitely recommend connecting with someone who is already in the business to get an idea of how to prepare for what's to come in the future. Having a business mentor or adviser can be really beneficial throughout the process.

Also, you also always need to know your numbers. I'm guilty of wanting to jump in head-first and then I'm left wondering what I have done. At the end of the day, it all comes down to planning, staying organized and being prepared."

Biggest lesson learned:

"Patience has been a lesson that I'm still learning. When I have an idea, it’s like I have a one-track mind. I've learned that it is better to take time to fully prepare for your moment in the spotlight.

I really value the time and dedication that I put into everything I do and will adjust when necessary."

Alisia Ford, founder of Glory Skincare

Ford founded Glory Skincare as an inclusive beauty brand that offers expert advice and clean beauty products for women of every hue. She launched her company at the beginning of the pandemic and soon after changed her business model to offer personalized subscription boxes for customers.

PHOTO: Alisia Ford is the founder of Glory Skincare. (Glory Skincare)
PHOTO: Alisia Ford is the founder of Glory Skincare. (Glory Skincare)

Advice:

"There is no better time than the present to build your business. Historically, leading consumer brands and startups started in times of financial uncertainty and market instability.

So, I say to my fellow budding entrepreneurs, keep going after your dreams. What I’ve learned thus far is the team you build is so important, and it can truly make or break your business."

Biggest lesson learned

"With every decision, move with purpose and authenticity.

As a woman who has often felt like an outsider because of my skin tone, I saw an opportunity to put women of color at the center of everything. I wanted to create a brand where women of every hue felt empowered to prioritize their well-being and make informed choices about their skin health. Glory is my homecoming.

We are a community where women of every color and background are celebrated. As a female entrepreneur, it is crucial to stay rooted in your purpose and values in order to create a community of people who truly want to support you and see you succeed."

Black female small business owners reveal their top advice, lessons learned originally appeared on goodmorningamerica.com