Right before I was about to throw in the towel officially, I received three new orders.
The origin story:
Let's take it back to the summer of 2019. I left my summer business consulting internship Diffvelopment in New Jersey with the intention of continuing my business venture. I returned home and got right to work. I began to study other young business owners through Youtube to learn the process of not only starting a business at a young age, but also running a business by yourself. There were lots of talks about purchasing an LLC, securing an EIN, establishing a business bank account, building business credit, and setting up a functioning e-commerce website.
Utilizing my iPhone and natural lighting I used the end of my summer to snap product pictures, create captivating and thorough descriptions, purchase a domain name, and create a functioning website. My first website host was WIX, but the host site was slow and often lagged and in business a slow website has a high bounce rate. Next, I tried Square/Weebly, which was user-friendly and the interface was simple to operate as an individual with minimal coding experience.
I designed multiple logos and settled on a simple text font style. I created all of the branding, researched skincare ingredients and recipes to enhance my product line and the day before my launch I texted my sisters "I have a school project that I need your help with." I asked my stepbrother to borrow his steamer and backdrop stand and with two yards of forest green and brown fabric I created a ghetto photoshoot. Technically I tricked my sisters but we often joke about how I conned them into engaging in free labor under the guise of a school project that did not exist. However, I needed the photos quick and I knew they were perfect for the job.
Once the website was established and published I waited for an order, and I had created a business Instagram and Facebook and was utilizing both platforms as a marketing tool. Through the utilization of hashtags and the once cohesive algorithm of Instagram I was able to reach a larger audience.
Weeks had passed and I hadn't received an order, yet my website was receiving traffic.
As I was sitting at the dining room table, I received a notification. My aunt purchased around eighty dollars worth of product. I immediately jumped into action because that's one thing about me, I don't play about people's money and I wanted to ensure that I provided a speedy service, no matter who had made the purchase. When starting a business at a young age people often think that there's a lack of professionalism. Nonetheless, I wanted to ensure that if I were to engage in business, I operated as a great business owner despite my age.
Unfortunately, a few months following a few new orders the pandemic hit and everyone was confined to their homes. Not only were people losing their lives because of a rapidly spreading virus, but people were also losing their lives to the hands of law enforcement. In the midst of the political unrest, I took to Instagram and made a video. An action completely out of my comfort zone. I spoke about my feelings and ultimately stated that as a business owner I intend to utilize my platform and influence to stand with what's right. I pledged that for all purchases a donation would be allocated to an organization that was community-oriented and mental-health based. Surprisingly, the video received lots of praise and adoration.
I remained true to my word and the organizations that I donated to were: Sister's Unchained, Girls Who Code, Silence The Shame, and many more.
Within my first year of business I earned $10,000 big bucks, which I never reaped the benefits of. Instead, I recycled it within the business because I was not taught the importance of paying yourself as a solopreneur. Simultaneously, my personal Tik Tok began to gain traction and I began to distribute viral videos often, resulting in an increase in following. I existed as a young black female entrepreneur and I was succeeding.
Beginner small business tips for success:
- Do... secure your EIN — It's a free and simple process to apply.
- Do... contact your local bank and inquire about establishing a business checking and savings accounts, as well as a line of business credit
- When establishing an E-commerce website Do.. focus less on the aesthetics to begin with and prioritize a functioning hub where your customers can easily spend money and contact you if necessary
- Do... secure your social media handles and domain
- Do... ensure that your business name is available
- Do...register for a business address if you do not have a physical location to protect your personal home address from the public. Ipostal1 is my current favorite and affordable platform after I was scammed by another, which I will discuss later on in the article.
- Do... make sure your product pictures are clear and utilize natural light
- Do... utilize SEO as your secret weapon across all social media platforms
- Do... begin to track and save your receipts for tax purposes and ensure that you are utilizing a credible and reliable tax agent
- Do... ensure that you have a scale and understand how to ship items
- Don't use your business for personal expenses, which is considered a misappropriation of funds
- Don't over promise, sell what you have!
- Don't ignore mistakes and gaslight your customers. Customers are forgiving if you're honest and upfront.
- Don't scam or attempt to cheat people.
- Don't constantly change your prices without discussing the change with your audience.
- Don't spend your funds without a plan or budget. It's important to know how much money is coming in and going out.
- Don't price your products off vibes (LOL!). That's what I did and most of the time I was right, but in order to see a return it's important to understand the cost of production and profit per unit.
Not me getting robbed twice and missing out on $500:
Here's where running a black owned business online started to get interesting. "I think I girl bossed a little too close to the sun." Orders were flowing at a more consistent rate and I figured that establishing my business as an LLC was the right move at the time. In my state, establishing an LLC costs $500 yearly, however I figured the protection was worth the investment. After debating between utilizing LegalZoom and Incfile I opted for Incfile because it was the cheaper alternative. Upon reviewing their services I purchased their LLC incorporation assistance, their added registered agent service for my LLC, and their virtual address add-on.
After providing the necessary funds to the platform I assumed that I was in the clear. Incfile was great in terms of establishing my LLC and providing a registered agent, but I was forced into the 'Karen' role and had to utilize the Better Business Bureau (BBB), but i'll explain in a few!
I was contacted about an opportunity to sell my products on a major platform as a black owned business online and I would be awarded $500 upfront simply for providing my products (and no this was not the scam.) There was a thorough process and the final requirement was a letter with a code that would be sent to my place of business to confirm the legitimacy of my company. Here's where things get interesting, after inputing the address provided by Incfile into the application, I waited for months for the letter. Eventually I realized that I was not receiving mail for a service that I was paying for. After emailing and calling Incfile to no avail I put on my highlighted bob wig (aka my imaginary Karen Wig), folded my arms, and snitched to the BBB. To my surprise multiple businesses were complaining about the same problem on the BBB! Eventually I received a response, a thorough refund, but unfortunately I was never able to sign-up for the program.
DO... do your research on a company before you decide to utilize them.
To add insult to injury I was robbed again! I don't live in a gated community, but I do live in a nice neighborhood and assumed that my wallet was safe residing in my glove compartment. When you start a business of your own ensure that you are tracking your card activity, statements, and banking accounts. I bet you're thinking, what dummy would leave their wallet in their car, especially overnight. I was young! I assure you that I will never make that mistake again, but back to the story. In the past when I needed my wallet at night or during the day I often went to my car, grabbed my wallet, and returned it immediately after. Unfortunately, I was being watched and on the night when I went to my car to grab my wallet to purchase more inventory my wallet was there, but my cards were gone!
I ran inside and tore my room apart assuming that I had forgotten to return them, however something told me to check the accounts. My business credits cards were practically maxed out, my personal credit cards were maxed out, my personal debit cards connected to my checking accounts were emptied, and they utilized my Square card to purchase Chinese food. As a novice rob victim I was shocked and dismayed.
I immediately jumped into action and called my bank's customer service. Obviously, I was hysterically crying and as I was attempting to talk to the representative he hung up on me, which resulted in more crying.
In the end my money was returned and I have an idea of who the culprits are, but no tangible proof, but a police report was filed. They also stole my polaroid camera out of my arm rest, which was a Christmas gift. They will pay for their crime, but they taught me a valuable lesson.
Small business tip for success: Do not keep all of your funds in one account and check your accounts and statements often. The only reason the thieves weren't able to wipe my accounts completely was because my money was separated into multiple accounts.
After getting robbed twice and attempting to run a business as a solopreneur I decided to girl boss again and I purchased a vending machine. I was a dual business owner. The vending machine began as an idea amongst friends, but unfortunately fell through and I purchased the machine on my own. I can discuss the pros and cons of owning a vending machine business in a separate post, and I have also made multiple videos on Tik Tok about it. However, in making a video discussing the simplicity of purchasing a vending machine I gained my first million view video and gained 10,000+ followers.
As a result I was earning money from the creator fund, my business, and the vending machine. Yet, again I was not reaping the benefits of the funds. Instead I was utilizing the businessed to fund each other. I owned the vending machine for a year, but similar to Sincerely Sanguine the manual labor was my responsibility. I was tasked with creating product for my business, filling and collecting the profits from the vending machine regularly, and working full-time.
I owned the vending machine for a year, but to prepare for a new role transition that demanded most of my time and allocated little time to tend to the machine I sold it. As I said previously, I don't play with people's money and I didn't want my new commitment to conflict with my business reputation, therefore I sold the machine.
There was pushback and remarks such as "you couldn't have someone help you" and the answer is no. I did receive the perspective that "you can only sell what you own" which made me feel better about my decision.
Lastly, around this time I had connected with a man that owned a shirt company through my sister. He commissioned me to Tie dye hearts on his shirts for a valentine collection and for anyone that knows anything about Tie Dye designs it's a very tedious and meticulous process. I tied and died about 50 shirts of various sizes the largest being a 3XL, which is a significant amount of material. My fingers were pruned due to the repeated tying of wet garments and in the end I managed to complete such a large ask in under two weeks. I utilized the dye that I had on hand and purchased more to meet the demand.
I was payed less than I believed that I deserved and internally felt exploited, but I was the one to blame. Many people abide by the philosophy of "it's just business" and I got got in that situation. He messaged me again to discuss another collaboration, but when the prices went up the communication halted, which was for the best. In the words of queen Nene "you never win when you play dirty, honey!"
Keys to a successful business:
- Do... remember to pay yourself
- Do... make smart financial and business decisions and investments. Advice is great, but unless someone is in or has been in your position their advice is useless.
- Do... check the BBB
- Do... ensure that you're diversifying your income
- Do... ensure that you manage and honor your reputation
- Do... ensure that you are paid for your work and if you feel exploited or used in reference to pay, you didn't charge enough
- Do... network with other business owners
- Do... utilize your businesses to fund other projects and business ventures
- Don't engage in business with friends if they're not all in and an iron clad contract is not in place
In the end I just do too much:
From starting a business at a young age and learning the ins and out of running a business by yourself. I managed to create a successful black owned business online, the first black owned business (online) within my family. I am proud to say that I am amongst many black women entrepreneurs and an even smaller demographic of young black female entrepreneurs. During the pandemic the girl boss movement was in full-effect and unfortunately due to the state of the economy and world everyone is attempting to keep their head over water. The pause on loan repayments has halted, the PPP loans have dried up, stimulus checks are a thing of the past. Business owners were shouting to invest and engage in passive income now the tune has changed. The clarity on when to start a business of your own is now unclear. Do I need to turn my passion project into a cash cow? How can I invest, when I can barely put food on the table? Social media is changing and as the world is evolving more people are adamant about being their own boss, but what does that entail?
From my experience owning a business is rewarding, but I do entirely too much. Determining the type of business that fits your needs, lifestyle, and capacity is imperative. I am never not doing something in reference to advancing in my career or education and attempting to run a business in the midst of that has been difficult.
I was ready to throw in the towel and I only begin to share information once I am certain within myself and I told my youngest sister, I don't want to sell products anymore. Her response was "well can you teach me so I can make it for myself" and "what about the people that use your products?" I have no intention of teaching her trade secrets, but I will say I did think about my customers and I am not interested in quitting, I aspire to rework my business. As the business stands I wear many hats and when my personal life speeds up, my business gets the back seat and as a result the sales begin to dwindle.
Tik Tok has shown me that I can earn money passively, simply by opening my mouth to speak. I intentionally do not actively push product and I am intentional about what I choose to share on my platform. In speaking about the book 'Get Good With Money' I earned a commission every time someone purchased an item through my link. In addition to receiving an invite to speak on the 'Brown Ambition Podcast' about my business within the episode 'How to Finesses a credit Card.' I often speak truthfully about a product or book and surprisingly as a result of my Tik Tok the book sells out. Most recently many people have asked me to read their book and if I feel inclined to make a Tik Tok they would appreciate it, in other words they want me to work for free to make them rich. I don't think so! In reading a book, that requires my time, energy, and commitment and unless a check is cut I don't foresee me reading a "gifted" book. Especially since my Tik Tok review about 'The New Basic Black Book' received one million views, and not only did the book sell out across the internet, but the jungle app marked the book up to $300 because of the demand generated by my video.
The man that coined the title 'Earn Your Leisure' was onto something. I assumed that owning a vending machine was passive income, but manual labor is still required, therefore a vending machine is not passive income unless you own multiple machines. I am past the stage of wanting to pour my all (physically into a business.) Sincerely Sanguine was not about the money, this business was never about the money. Yet, I find myself increasingly frustrated and discourage when people (family and friends primarily) are inquiring about free products and services, but also claim to support. This tells me that my business is great, but not good enough to pay for, but again this was my fault.
I am writing this article as a form of honesty and to show young business owners that entrepreneurship is not easy and through my experience, I hope that those interested can learn from my experiences.
Business starting tips for small business owners:
- Don't give out free product or services
- Don't accept word-of-mouth order. Unless they place an official order through the website, it doesn't exist and should be regarded as such.
- Do... Reduce the amount of coupons and discounts you distribute
- Do... appreciate your customers and keep them in the loop
- Do... create authentic community
- Do... set clear boundaries and expectations early
- Do... understand the power of your influence
Just when I was about to throw in the towel for good this time, I received three new orders and two were from out of state. While i'm not ready to give up completely, I am ready to do things differently at this stage in the game!
Share this with a new business owner, they could use the insight. I know I could have!