Over the course of my life, I’ve had a bird’s eye view of what it takes to be a Black entrepreneur as the wife of one. From what I’ve observed, embarking on the entrepreneurial journey is an act of courage. It’s a daunting road that comes with a lot of uncertainty and challenges, yet is simultaneously one of the most rewarding experiences life has to offer. For the Black community specifically, there are even more hurdles to overcome during this journey. It cost Black business owners approximately $21,000 to start their businesses — $5,000 more on average than their non-Black peers, according to an Intuit QuickBooks study.
While this can feel discouraging, there are countless examples of successful Black entrepreneurs who have overcome roadblocks and gone on to achieve success. Issa Rae and Nate Burleson are two Black entrepreneurs who were tested along their entrepreneurial journey. Issa’s fame peaked when her show “Insecure” gained critical acclaim, and she’s now the CEO of her own production company called Hoorae Media. Nate is a former NFL athlete and host of CBS Mornings, as well as the owner of several small businesses.
A fireside chat produced by my team at Intuit QuickBooks featuring Issa and Nate put a spotlight on their experiences navigating entrepreneurship as Black individuals, including some of the greatest successes and struggles they have faced. Here are three key learnings from Issa and Nate that stood out to me and that business owners should keep in mind.
“Business owners are pulled in every direction — and it can often feel like they have to mold themselves to be what others are looking for. Ultimately, it will have a positive impact on a business if the owner remains true to themselves, Nate shared. “You’re the best at being you. And when it comes to your business, that’s what people identify with when you talk about supporting Black business. [People will] support the most authentic version of that.”
Code switching, or acting differently to avoid being stereotyped, was reported by 82% of Black business owners. This can dilute your authentic voice. It’s important to take the time to determine exactly what your voice is, and stand by it.
Nate went on to share that “unless you recognize the codes, you’ll never know if you’re switching or not. And unless you identify what your voice is, you will never know if you’re being authentic or not. You don’t even know if you’re conforming, and somebody from the outside might see you and say, ‘Yo, why won’t you be yourself?'”
Know What’s Non-negotiable
Just as a business owner should stay true to their voice and exhibit authenticity, it’s also important to stay clear on their vision. There will always be moments that require flexibility, but it’s critical to understand where the line needs to be drawn — and stick to it. Issa experienced this many times firsthand, and shared how she voices her vision with diplomacy.
“I’m going to be stuck here seething inside, because I’m not expressing that I want this to be shot in a certain location, even though it costs more money. Or I want this particular costume designer, even though she doesn’t have experience, but I know she can do the job better… But I always also present things as a dialogue, like I just want to express this. And if there’s any pushback, I’d love to just talk through it.”
Remember to Recharge
Rest usually lands on the bottom of most entrepreneurs’ to-do lists. The early stages of a business can be particularly difficult, recharging is critical, even with so much to get done and a near constant feeling of urgency. This can be even more acute for Black business owners, regardless of their success because they have the added challenge of dealing with the residual bias which can impact everything from their access to capital to customer perceptions. In fact, 79% of Black business owners have experienced racism from a customer. And 57% of Black respondents indicate that they were denied a bank loan at least once when they started their businesses — compared to 37% of non-Black business owners.
Success itself can lead to burnout.
Issa shared, “I know as entrepreneurs, as soon as you get that wind of success, and the promise of your business booming, you want to say yes to every opportunity. You want to say yes to every meeting. Everything could lead to an opportunity to make your business more successful.”
The exciting promise of a business taking off can come at the price of rest. To address this, Issa had a “year of no” where she prioritized herself and was regimented about when she would take meetings, agree to help other people, sign on for projects, and more. Finding the balance between driving business growth while leaving room for recharging is imperative.
Being a Black entrepreneur has inherent challenges. While these struggles are very real today, the outlook is positive for future entrepreneurs. Three out of four (75%) Black business owners think the next generation will experience less hardships than they have. Black business owners see their success and lessons learned as part of a legacy to pass on for the prosperity of future generations.
A communications professional with more than 25 years experience in the public and private sectors, Erica Terry Derryck currently leads global communications for the Small Business and Self Employed Group at Intuit. Prior to driving communications for the business unit that brings QuickBooks and Mailchimp to millions of small and mid-size businesses around the world, she led the PR, social, editorial and marketing partnership teams at Mozilla, the makers of the Firefox web browser and served as communications director for Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf and former San Francisco District Attorneys Kamala D. Harris and George Gascón. Born and raised in NYC, Erica is a soon-to-be empty-nester who lives in Oakland. When not wrangling teenagers with her husband, she aspires to knit, travel and read more, but actually does home improvement projects, watches bad TV, tours estate sales and plots becoming a full-time florist. She has a master’s degree in journalism from UC Berkeley and a BA from Wesleyan University in Middletown, CT.