The numbers tell the story: More than 100,000 small business owners were forced out of business during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, and more than half of those businesses were minority- or woman-owned.
“People struggled with their digital pivot,” explained best-selling author, keynote speaker, and marketing consultant Melinda Emerson. “If they were not set up for eCommerce or with an email list to communicate with their customers, they were at a loss over the past 18 months. Traditionally, minority and women businesses are not in high-growth fields, and access to capital was a challenge even before the pandemic for African American and women business owners.”
Emerson, named by Forbes magazine as the No. 1 woman for entrepreneurs to follow on Twitter, says the fact that women of color have started businesses at 4.5 times the rate of any other demographic over the past five years is encouraging, however, these businesses don’t tend to be in growth industries.
“Eighty-eight percent of women business owners don’t earn $100,000 in revenue, and African American women don’t earn more than $25,000. Thus, they are not scaling, and they are often underfunded ‘solopreneurs’ who need real business models and training.
“It’s so hard to get access to capital and hire a team when you aren’t generating recurring revenue. There are a few things that are needed to be successful in business: a great idea, confidence, marketing savvy, an amazing network, access to capital, access to business opportunities, mentorship, and training. If we don’t start developing a pipeline of women and minority businesses who get funded to build high-growth businesses in the United States, we will not achieve economic equity for all in our society.”
Speaking from experience
When Emerson realized she wanted to start a business, she began doing her research.
“I bought business plan software, I took out a home equity loan and paid off all my bills, I even paid off my car,” she said. “I took in my younger brother as a tenant to lower my mortgage, and I worked part-time for one year for a business like the one I wanted to start. I learned it takes relentless consistency to be successful in business, and you must be a lifelong learner.”
Emerson ultimately wrote “Become Your Own Boss In 12 Months” because it was the book she’d never read.
“I wanted to shorten people’s learning curve as they started out in business,” she said. “I consider myself a master content developer and a teacher. My mission is to end small business failure. I love helping entrepreneurs win.”
In addition to mastering the complexities of marketing, small business owners must know SEO (search engine optimization), content, email, social media, and how to buy paid ads. According to Emerson, this is all easier said than done.
“Many business owners, including minority and female business owners, are challenged to keep up with all the changes,” she said. “Those who are not tech savvy are really struggling. Unfortunately, Black entrepreneurs and women who are underfunded can’t afford to hire any help.”
Her advice? “Make sure you have a great idea and value proposition. Develop sales systems in your business and focus on developing a source of recurring revenue. Build a business that you can sell one day.”
Silent no more
Emerson says that since the death of George Floyd, many of the powers that be finally started to realize that institutional racism has permeated every aspect of American culture and economic equality.
“Entrepreneurship is about wealth creation,” she said. “I am thrilled by the number of venture funds and initiatives from major companies like Verizon, Chase, Morgan Stanley, Amazon, and PayPal that are specifically trying to build the capacity of African American- and woman-owned businesses, but there needs to be much more.
“A lot of corporate brands and foundations made pledges, but there have been very few that have put out specific long-term programs designed to level the playing field. Today’s aspiring business owners should apply for everything and speak up if they feel like they are being treated differently.”