This article was originally published on 05/23/2019
African Americans have always had to be resilient and find multiple ways to provide for our families. We hustle, period. Whether it’s picking up additional trades, shifts, or inventing products — our people always deliver. This grit and innovation is part of why we’ve have seen an uptick in Black business in the past decade. Thanks to social media, the millennial mindset of being the boss and not getting bossed around, and just Black people’s natural inclination to build something new — the number of companies owned by Black millennials is growing at record speed. However, startup founders — like any business owners — have a set of mistakes they should avoid when trying to build their empire.
As an entrepreneur that works with small to midsize businesses regardless of their growth phase, I have witnessed several missteps startups make. The first one is branding and research. When starting a business, the name matters most, as you will say it at least ten times a day. It should not only be creative, but simple. This all starts with research. Take time to see if there are companies with the same name locally, regionally, and nationally to understand the growth options you have up front. This approach gives you the opportunity to stay in control of the narrative, and the guardrails for your brand vs. going national. Also, how your brand looks from a creative standpoint should be simple, clean, and direct. When deciding the color, look at the human emotion guide to understand how colors make consumers feel. It matters, and limit your color choice to no more than three. The cost of printing and producing increases with the more colors you use.
The second misstep some founders make centers around understanding their business’s main product and services. Anyone can jump out of bed with an idea, but you will need experts to prove it works — that the concept is proof positive. The same rule applies for services. You need a few customers to test the service, give honest feedback, and then be willing to rinse and repeat the process. The internet makes it seem like you can create a product overnight, get a few sales, create a funnel, and boom — you’re profitable. This frame of thinking is wrong and not scalable. As my grandma said, know what you bring to the table other than your appetite.
In addition, your product should aim to target a specific audience, and you should know everything about that consumer segment — how they make purchase decisions, where they shop, competitors in the space, and how your product is different. For example, Black women are some of the main influencers and drivers of popular culture. They are usually some the first to share a product if it’s good or blast the brand if it’s trash. Therefore, when marketing to them, do your homework, and be able to define the product or service along with the need.
Final note: create content that matters, and moves the needle on community issues and increases awareness for good. Build your audience on your own platform. Think about it, if you have millions of followers on Instagram, and they decide to shut down business pages for companies that aren’t investing in their platform, what happens to your business and audience? My hope is that African Americans focus on the impact and purpose of their businesses before going to market. If it already exists, partner with someone and help them make it better. After all two brains are better than one.
Roy Broderick, Jr. is the CEO of Intuition, an Atlanta based multicultural marketing firm specializing in brand development.