Amazing Women Entrepreneurs Making a Difference in the World

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If you think you have to run a billion-dollar company to make a difference in the community, think again. In a nod to this past Women’s Entrepreneurship Day (November 19), Black Enterprise caught up with two women trailblazers for their best business advice.

[RELATED: Successful Women Entrepreneurs Share the Business Rules They Didn’t Follow]

Rahama Wright is a member of President Obama’s Council On Doing Business in Africa and CEO of Shea Yeleen, a unique social enterprise and a commercial entity that sells high-quality, unrefined shea butter products, available at Whole Foods Markets.

The traditional career or business rule you’re glad you didn’t follow.
Climbing to the top of the ladder usually requires having advanced degrees and years of work experience. I broke all the rules by launching a social enterprise in my early 20s with little business background, mediocre funds, and a tiny network of friends and family. My wild idea to start a company that directly benefited rural shea butter farmers in West Africa was driven by my desire to support a better future for women and their children. My lack of experience did not factor in because what I lacked in skill I made up in heart and persistence. I was also fortunate enough to meet people with the right skills who believed in my vision and led me in the right direction.

Of course, my journey was a slow process. I call myself the 10-year overnight success! It took about 7 years before I was able to get my products into retail and adequate funding to scale the business from a strictly e-commerce platform to over 100 retail locations, including Whole Foods Market. If I had chosen a more traditional career path, I know for a fact I would not wake up every day enjoying the work that I do!

When you first started in the business, what was your biggest challenge and how did you overcome it?
Shea Yeleen offers a premium shea butter product. We create living wages by supporting women-owned cooperatives in Northern Ghana to make a value-added product, the unrefined shea butter, instead of harvesting the seeds at a much lower cost and much lower profit. To succeed, we needed to get our products in major retailers, which presented several challenges.

When I made my initial pitch to Whole Foods Market our products were not ready to be in a major retailer. I soon learned that pitching was only part of the process and rejection was the other! After each rejection, I would take feedback and readjust and pitch again. The entire process required updating my packaging, securing investment funding, and ensuring that I had enough inventory to scale. The process was well worth it! Shea Yeleen is now sold in over 100 retail locations along the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic, with new stores in the pipeline.

Many trailblazers find themselves making their own rules. What have you discovered you’d do your own way?
Starting my business at such a young age required me to always make my own rules. Probably being the eldest of five kids had an influence in my take-charge attitude that has served me well as I have developed my enterprise. Knowing early on that I was not going to follow a traditional career path required me to be a proactive problem solver, and I learned along the way.

Having to learn the business as I go makes me extremely adaptable and dedicated to finding solutions. I listen to feedback, and if it makes sense I try to implement it quickly. I take the advice I receive from vetted advisors and I trust myself to make the right decisions for my business.

The skills that I mention here are the real entrepreneur toolkit. It’s fantastic if you have an MBA or another advanced degree, but if you have an idea you believe in, you’re a problem solver, and you’re persistent, you will go very far in business.

Luvvie Ajayi is an award-winning writer and digital strategist covering everything from technology and social injustice to comedy and travel. She’s worked with a variety of major brands, such as XFINITY Comcast, Target, BET, Nielsen, HGTV, Verizon, and Toyota. She’s also co-founder of The Red Pump Project, a nonprofit organization that raises awareness about the impact of HIV/AIDS on women and girls. And she’s working on her first book, titled I’m Judging You, to be released in 2016.

When you first started in the business, what was your biggest challenge and how did you overcome it?
My biggest challenge was charging what I was worth because I thought people and companies would walk away from me if they thought I was too expensive. So I’d lowball myself and then end up getting cheated because it seems that during those times when you make concessions, people will ask you for more. They pay a nickel and want a dollar worth of work. I finally had to stand strong and realize that I bring a lot of value to the table, so I’m worth what I ask for, and people can walk away. Those are not the ones I should be working with, because when people come to me for anything, it should be because they know I am the best choice. It was a tough lesson in making sure people do not take advantage of you.

We have to learn to ask for what we want with an exclamation point and not a question mark. It’s a continuous lesson, though. It never stops.

 

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Entrepreneur Talks Finding Success by Creating Her Own Dream Job

Monica

Monica G. Coleman, founder & president of M320 Consulting, breathes life into the quote: ‘your dream job doesn’t exist, you must create it.’ “I kept landing what I thought were ‘dream jobs’ but still felt like something was missing,” said Coleman. I knew that I wanted to work in the sports and entertainment industry, but I also enjoyed some aspects of brand development and traditional marketing.

Many people felt that these two worlds were completely separate, but I saw an opportunity to combine the best of both worlds, so I launched M320 Consulting. I wanted to be at the intersection between key consumer lifestyle touchpoints like music, fashion, entertainment and corporate brands; specifically among multicultural consumers. This may seem common now, but 10 -15 years ago, companies were still figuring how to authentically connect with multicultural consumers.”

[Related: From Intern to CEO: Glenda Smith Talks What it Takes to Run a Successful Nonprofit]

Coleman’s marketing and communications firm, which is based in Atlanta, Ga., has worked with a few global heavy hitters. “Our first client was Magic Johnson’s Burger King Restaurants, which was huge for a brand new agency,” said Coleman. “However, the client trusted us, we delivered, and we’ve been growing as a multicultural marketing agency ever since.” Other clients include Pepsi, Lexus, The Home Depot, entertainment properties like Funk Fest Concerts, and the Bank of American Atlanta Football Classic, and non-profits like The City of Atlanta’s Office of Recreation, and marketing agencies like GLUE, Walton, Divine Marketing Agency, and Liquid Soul Media.

When it comes to her best career advice, Coleman says, “own your truth.” “The biggest career mistake I made was letting fear guide me by taking jobs and opportunities because I wasn’t fully committed to accepting that I was an entrepreneur. I suffered and my work did too. It’s important to fully commit to what you inherently know is the path for you, and when you do, things will begin to fall into place and you’ll have a level of peace that is indescribable.”

BlackEnterprise.com caught up with the enterprising trailblazer to learn more.

BlackEnterprise.com: Since starting your own business, what has been the most surprising thing you’ve learned about yourself?

Coleman: I’ve learned that I get the most professional satisfaction from helping other people’s goals and dreams become a reality. As a consultant, I’ve been able to take on clients that may have been failing, or may have known the results they’ve wanted to achieve, but lacked the strategy to get there.

What’s the biggest challenge you faced on your entrepreneurial journey?

One of my biggest challenges has been marketing my business, which is ironic because we are a full-service marketing firm. I care most about promoting and positioning my clients, so I’ve struggled with figuring out how to tell the story of what we’ve accomplished as an agency in a way that is meaningful.

The best step I’ve taken to overcome this, was hiring a firm to manage our marketing, which takes me out of the process, and that’s been great! Our new agency is helping to develop regular communication with current and potential clients, and to secure speaking engagements and other opportunities that allow me to demonstrate what the firm is delivering in the marketing space.

What are the top 3 resources you use to help manage your business?

1) A To-Do List – I start every day with this age-old tool. Some days, it may have 22 things on it, but it’s a great feeling to cross things off as they get done, and it helps me keep track of my deliverables for the day.

2) Client Communication – I make it a point of connecting with my clients by phone frequently, and I’ve found that doing this has led to honest dialogue that helps mitigate risk and sprout new ideas and programs.

3) Project Management Tools – As entrepreneurs, our instinct is usually to get going and figure things out as we go. However, as your business grows, the need to manage projects and people becomes more and more important. I use something internally called a project grid, and it allows me to track key project deliverables and timing. You can also simply create a formula that works well for you in Excel.

What are things women can do to break barriers?

Gender barriers exist, but I believe that the vast majority of professionals want to work with and learn from talented people who are going to produce results – regardless of gender. The first thing women should do is have confidence that their professional experience, expertise, and preparation have given them the right to contend at the same level as men in their desired professions. Work from a place of belonging and not a place of asking permission.

Another suggestion is to have a male mentor who is interested in your professional development. This can definitely help broaden your perspective about business and building relationships in general.

You have some pretty well-known corporate clients. Any secrets or inside tips to landing major clients? 

At M320, we focus on two key things: relationships and results. We’re interested in fully understanding our clients’ business because it makes us better able to service them, and we arm them with the metrics and tools that they need to look great internally, which makes us a valued partner.

You’re also a mom  juggling the demands of business and family. Any tips or advice for making it all work?

Balancing family and business is something that many entrepreneurs continuously try to master. Two of the most important things that I’ve learned are:

For The Entrepreneur – Your family probably doesn’t understand exactly what you do or how much work and time it takes, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t love and support you! Communication is extremely important in helping your spouse, parents and friends understand how they can best support you. Don’t assume that they’ll never ‘get it’! Spend time bringing them into your world by sharing details about your day, your work as it’s in progress, or challenges that you’re having, and it will often help increase both their understanding and support.

For the Family Member – Let go of the traditional idea of ‘normal’ because many entrepreneurs don’t work ‘normal’ hours or have ‘normal’ business habits. Clinging to what is supposed to be normal can lead to friction, misunderstanding, and resentment. Spend time collaborating with the entrepreneur in your life to determine what your normal can potentially be, and focus on that.

 

 

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6 Reasons All Business Owners Should Register Trademarks

trademark

Many business owners and entrepreneurs wonder whether they should trademark their company name. I was one of those people, but once I began researching the pros and cons the answer was crystal clear. It shouldn’t even be a question for anyone who also wants to protect their company.

[Related: How to Make Sure Your Business Is Sustainable]

First, some background: in early 2015, after we changed our name from AQB to Fourlane®, we promptly applied for a trademark on Fourlane and our sister company, POSWarehouse®. Both names now have approved trademarks, or in this case, “service marks.” A trademark and a service mark really aren’t different. It just depends whether you have a product or service. A trademark—designated as ™—is used for words, phrases, symbols or designs to identify and distinguish the source of the goods of one party from others. A service mark (using the registered mark or “®”) is also referred to as a trademark, except it identifies and distinguishes the source of a service rather than a product.

Despite the hassle of dealing with government agencies and paying for a trademark attorney to help sort out details, as well as the time it takes to jump through government hoops, here are six reasons why trademarking your name is important.

  1. It protects against impostors and copycats. With a trademark, your name is legally protected so that no one can duplicate it. A trademark protects ownership rights over the name–a logo, tagline or whatever you’ve trademarked. Once you have a trademark, competitors can’t use your name. If they try, you can take swift, legal action.
  2. It secures your brand on social media. Customers search for brand names on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and other social media sites. The social media venues have policies in place to protect you against abuse—someone grabbing your company name and misrepresenting your brand can result in suspending the account. See Twitter’s policies for more information. Our business name, Fourlane, was formerly a Web design firm before we took over the URL. To get access to the Fourlane account, all we had to do was change the e-mail address.
  3. Trademarks never expire. Nabisco Cream of Wheat, Carnation Condensed Milk and Pabst Blue Ribbon all have trademarks over 100 years old. Once the process of trademarking is complete, you’re protected with no pesky renewals. This also means we can sell our trademark if we ever want to do so.
  4. Trademarks are inexpensive. Depending on the type of trademark you need, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office charges between $225 and $325 per trademark. The minimal fee makes the decision whether to trademark a no-brainer, but remember that this does not include any research or legal fees. I suppose you could avoid engaging a lawyer, but let’s face it; I don’t practice law, and lawyers don’t customize software for business process.
  5. Trademarks build brand loyalty and evoke pride in our employees. Registering trademarks mean you’re in it for the long haul. This reassures our customers and our staff that we’re committed to the business.
  6. Trademark safeguard against cybersquatting. Cybersquatters register domain names that are identical or similar to well-known trademarks with the purpose of selling them for a high fee. The Anti-Cybersquatting Consumer Protection Act was passed in 1999 to allow the trademark owner to sue to collect damages from individuals who registered a domain name that is identical or similar to the trademark.

Trademarking may not be for everyone, but just like anything involving the government, the process takes months of research, and there is a long waiting period to get approved. However, I do not regret jumping over any of these hurdles. It’s the cost of ensuring that the business I’ve built remains solid for the long term.

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