The stats don’t lie: Black women are leading new business growth in this country. Even after a global pandemic, African American females are still the fastest-growing demographic of entrepreneurs in the U.S., with nearly 2.7 million businesses nationwide, according to Chase. Entrepreneurship is not for everyone, but as a successful serial entrepreneur, author, and speaker, Sharmeeka “Bawse Lady” Brooks knows that being your own boss can completely change your life. Whether you work a 9-5, already have your own business, or are looking to pursue entrepreneurship, Brooks is dedicated to helping those who want to be the boss of their own lives – especially when it comes to finances and mindset.
She’s sharing the knowledge she wished she had when she was thrust into entrepreneurship in 2013. After a decade of working in retail full-time and on weekends for her employer, they surprised her with a lay-off and no safety net. With just $50 to her name, the mom of two at the time (she now has three children), Brooks—a self-professed introvert—stepped way out of her comfort zone. She created a brand that not only led to her seven-figure financial success but also helped her gain the emotional and spiritual victory she’s always wanted.
Here, the Miami-based female powerhouse and Instagram sensation chats with EBONY about her path to entrepreneurship, what’s next for her career and advice on becoming your own boss.
EBONY: How did your path to entrepreneurship begin?
Sharmeeka “Bawse Lady Meek” Brooks: I was working in retail for about 10 years and was fired out of the blue. At the time, I only had a high school education and I had no one to turn to, but I had ideas. I thought about jewelry. Women love jewelry. So I went to a store similar to Forever 21 and I bought little gold rings for $10. I spent $50. Then, I went to the strip club during the day shift because I knew those ladies had money. I would buy the jewelry for $10 and sold it to them for $20. In February 2013, I made $183 to pay my utility bills. I had a background in sales and I was so excited because I knew if I could make $100, $200, then I could make $1000. In April 2013, I came across a post on social media of a woman selling shapewear. It made me think, “I can sell shapewear too!” So I posted my transformation picture and started telling my story on social media.
How did you step out of your comfort zone to put yourself out there on social media?
Before I became an entrepreneur, I had low confidence, so when I became an entrepreneur I called myself "Bawse Lady." I had to develop an alter ego so I could get the work done. Sharmeeka is still shy, but when I’m Bawse Lady I can step out of my comfort zone. I always tell people who are going through struggles to think positively because you attract what you think.
What happened after you launched your shapewear?
It changed my life. My financial status changed dramatically and I began making six figures. But as fast as I made it, I spent it. I’m a first-generation millionaire so there was no one in my family to help me figure out what to do; no one to help me invest or save my money. But there were people who told me how I could spend my money. And, I went along with it.
What was the turning point for you?
In January 2015, I did my taxes and realized how much money I was wasting. I made seven figures but didn’t have $100,000 in the bank. I was still living in the hood and had nothing to show for my money. My businesses were doing well but every month I was starting with a deficit, so I decided to make a change.
I needed a fresh start. I decided to give my life over to God and trust him with everything. Everything comes together for the greater good when you trust God. Sharing my personal story on Instagram caused people to reach out and say thank you for talking about being an entrepreneur—the hardships and all—in a real way.
You’ve been inspired to help others because you know how alone entrepreneurship can make people feel, especially if you’re an introvert. Is that why you started Foundation to Elevation?
Yes, I was mentoring people one-on-one and then I began touring around the country sharing my advice with larger groups. I was able to see first-hand how I was helping people and that helped launched Foundation 2 Elevation, my company about all things financial health, spiritual health and mental health.
What’s your best advice for those wanting to start their own business?
Entrepreneurship is not hard. What’s hard is the mental part of it—believing in yourself and not letting the naysayers negatively affect you. It’s critical to work on your self-development.
- My first tip would be to make sure you’re in a great space mentally and emotionally.
- My next piece of advice is that anything you would do for free is what you should do as an entrepreneur because money cannot be the motive. There are going to be hard times, but when the money slows down are you going to quit?
- You also need to understand branding, content and marketing. Some people start a business thinking because they have an LLC and a website, they’re going to just have customers coming through their doors or to their website. Marketing is key whether you want to pay for ads or build your brand on social media for no cost. You have to market your product or service and build an audience. People spend their money with who they like, so you have to ask yourself how are you going to stand out? The best way to stand out is to just be yourself.
- It’s necessary to have a mentor. I was a millionaire up until 2020, but I became a multi-millionaire when I learned from mentors; it sped up my success.
How do you stay motivated? What’s your daily routine?
I stay motivated daily by not getting too comfortable with my success. I stay hungry and that keeps a fire under me. I wake up and pray; I open my bible and ask God to lead me to the right passage at the moment. I get my daughters ready for school and next I’ll go for a 3-4 mile walk. While I walk I listen to some form of personal development on YouTube. Then I get to work.
What’s next for you?
My personal development ebook Foundation 2 Elevation is available now and comes with a 30-day workbook that you can print out. I also have a course called Building Your Business as an Introvert. I made it very inexpensive because most introverts overthink everything. Currently, I’m writing a book about my life story. And I’m on a new show called Million Dollar Hustle on Lifetime which focuses on the personal and professional endeavors of a group of women. Next, I’m working on investing and opening a restaurant. My dream is to open a Foundation 2 Elevation facility where women can come for spiritual, mental and financial help.
What is your best advice for anyone about making an entrepreneurial leap?
The only way to win is to take that risk; otherwise, you’ll live in regret forever. Every time you have some sort of ‘failure’ just think of it as a lesson that will strengthen you for the next level.