It takes a special level of bravery and grit to break through opportunities that have been historically stonewalled against us. This is especially true when setting out to successfully build a business entity as a woman of color.
Jetheda Hernandez, an adjunct professor of marketing and entrepreneurship at Coppin State University and a business owner, knows this struggle all too well. She often can be found advocating other women of color to take charge of their entrepreneurial endeavors and seize all opportunities, with the purpose of helping them level up their enterprise game.
Below, Hernandez chats with EBONY and expounds on how female entrepreneurs can grow and succeed in business.
EBONY: What's the one advice you would offer to most female entrepreneurs?
Jetheda Hernandez: We shouldn't look at opportunities like, "Oh, that might be too big for my business. I don't want to go after that." Go after that contract, put your name on that application and send it in. For Black women, this is our time, this is our business, and this is our future—own it.
Access to capital, especially for women of color, is an important element that alters the success of those who aim to grow their business. It is something that our community struggles with disproportionately. What are some ways that people of color can get creative or get their foot in the door to this access?
I think that for business owners, particularly women of color, access to capital will always be a conversation worth having because there are so much capital that's needed, depending on what type of business it is that you're starting or that's been created. The process to obtaining access is not always friendly to approach through traditional lending institutions like a Wells Fargo or Bank of America. There are a significant amount of CDFIs, community lending organizations, and small business investment groups that do a really good job of helping people of color get over some of those barriers. Many of the barriers have to do with the amount of collateral that that your business might have or that you personally might have to put against the loan. Working with some of those programs that have looser entry qualifications is sometimes helpful. A lot of times with access to capital, acknowledging what that capital is going to be used for, like marketing assistance or product development, helps as well. There are actually programs that you can find that will do those things pro-bono. Sometimes it's not necessarily capital that you need most but exposure to the resources that supplement for the service that you were actually going to fund. Other organizations are pushing for some changes with the financial regulatory system as it relates to accessing capital as greater conversations continue.
Can you share tips that you believe are integral for business owners to follow in order to successfully scale their businesses, whether they are just starting out or already established?
Create a business that solves a problem: Your business must be the answer to someone else's need or want. There's always going to be a need for something—so what will your entity fulfill? It takes a specific passion to turn that idea into a monetizable perspective. At the end of the day, we want to make money in our business. We want to create a legacy or a second stream of income. In order to do those things, we have to create something that is profitable.
Connect with other women in business: As women of color, we understand that other women may be going through the same processes that we're going through.For example, I can talk to my non-business friends all day about QuickBooks not running payroll on the correct day and they will go glassy-eyed. That is because they don't know what I'm referring to; they don't own or run a business. Thus, it's very important to have a strong "board of directors" of mentors and business-minded confidants who can help you navigate your own situation or just be a sounding board.
Embrace being the face of your brand: If you are encouraging someone to buy into something, make sure you own being the face of your company. Doing this takes a little bit of storytelling and a little bit of finesse. At the end of the day, you are the best representation of your business, especially when you're starting out.People often will say to make sure you have your elevator pitch ready at all times. You are always going to be the best voice for your brand and your own cheerleader.
Be patient with yourself and with your business: There are many trajectories of a business. For most business owners that stay in the small business category, the beginning stage of your business is really the most fragile. There's going to be a lot of ups and downs and sometimes failures. The important thing is to push through and be patient with yourself. Be patient with the different phases of your business because it will transform. The business that you start today will not be the business that you know or end up with in a year as it will not stay the same. So stick it out and be very aware of your brand as it grows and don't be afraid to grow with it.
Be a big business before you're a small business: Thinking big will prepare you for big success. Think like you're already a millionaire. Establish a good foundation such as filing your quarterly businesses taxes, follow proper accounting practices and setting up a legal structure early on. Preparing for the big picture for what will happen five to ten years down the road is the right mentality to have. Apply for a loan to upscale your business (even if you don't need it in the beginning stages you may need it further down the line), seek out partnerships, look at major contracting opportunities but also make sure that all of your i's are dotted and t's are crossed.