Do well in school, go to college and get a good job so that you can support your family. That's the time-honored formula for success taught to us by our parents. Most people aren’t encouraged to journey into entrepreneurship.
For many, starting a business became the only option after the financial crisis of 2008 devastated the job market. Unemployment rates in the African-American community continue to remain higher than almost every other ethnic group despite a national economic rebound.
According to the U.S National Black Chamber of Commerce, there are approximately 2.1 million black-owned businesses in the United States. Black-owned businesses generate a combined total of $138 billion in revenue each year. A recent study by Babson and Baruch Colleges reported that in the United States, the percentage of adults involved in startups in 2012 hit 13 percent – a record high since Babson began tracking entrepreneurship.
But, for every highly successful entrepreneur there are hundreds of others attempting to create generational wealth and sustainable stability with “their dollar and a dream.” Today’s climate presents new and old challenges for entrepreneurs of color to navigate.
One of the challenges Quintel Gwin, a Charlotte, N.C.-based interior designer, faced was the cost of creative services such as website design and marketing. As a result, she invested in educating herself so she could manage her website and digital presence.
Jasmine Lawrence, founder of Eden Body Works, understands the challenges of launching a new business all too well. She started her company in her kitchen, but after an appearance on Oprah, product demand exceeded her initial plan. Not only did she need money to purchase materials, ingredients and packaging to meet the increasing demand, she also had to deal with delayed payments from retailers, sometimes not receiving a check for products until 60 days after an order shipped.
But because Lawrence worked with a financial advisor, accountant, and legal counsel to develop a solid financial plan before she launched her business, she was better prepared for those obstacles. She also participated in an incubator program in New York City, where she was mentored by financial professionals and given an opportunity to work through her business plan to ensure that her return on investment, price points and exit strategy made sense.
“I think it's necessary to have a strong financial foundation before and during the business building process,” Lawrence said. “It helps keep you in line when obstacles occur and provides a road map for growth.”
Entrepreneurs of color looking to start a business in the tech field face particularly high hurdles for startup capital. Minority-owned firms are less likely to receive loans. They're also more likely to be denied credit, receive lower loan amounts and pay higher interest rates than their nonminority counterparts.
Errol King, co-founder of Hidden Level Games—an indie gaming studio focused on transforming players into creators—didn’t let that stop him. He and his co-founder decided to fund their business with their own money. He feels that by making this decision, they maintained ultimate freedom and control over the direction of the business.
King didn’t work with a financial planner when he started his business. He suggests that anyone considering a financial professional be sure that he or she has first-hand experience running and growing a business
“Knowing how to manage one's personal finances is very different from manipulating startup finances,” King said.
Deciding whether to bootstrap or pursue outside funding is one of the biggest decisions an entrepreneur will make. It can dramatically impact the overall business experience. Gwin points out that, “to maintain and grow a business, both bootstrapping and securing external funding may be necessary at different stages of business growth.”
If funding is absolutely necessary and working on a shoestring budget isn’t an option for your business, Lawrence recommends that aspiring entrepreneurs explore other avenues for cash, including crowdfunding—such as Kickstarter or Indiegogo—grants and business-plan competitions.
Cash-strapped entrepreneurs should also research local and federal government as well as nonprofit organizations for access to inexpressive resources and classes.
Gwin also stressed the importance of prioritizing healthy client relations and honing your time-management skills. At the end of the day, “passion alone will neither pay the bills nor attract and retain clientele.”