When I launched PPC, I knew I had a lot of factors that could be seen as working against me. I’m a woman, a millennial and I’m black. None of these, however, have been more pressing for me in corporate America than my blackness. So, with February coming to a close, I want to take the time to reflect on my journey in black history.
The thing that no one tells you going into the workforce is how little “what you do” matters in comparison to “who you know”. Perhaps nowhere is there more prevalent than the world of consulting.
I learned quickly that there were certain social groups that I would never be seen as part of due to the color of my skin. I learned I had to work twice or three times as hard to get anything because I would never be the beneficiary of the unconscious social biases we all have of wanting to help and promote individuals who remind you of yourself.
There were simply so few African Americans in positions of influence at these consulting firms, and while most companies tout diversity and inclusion as a core principle, one glance at their senior leadership or board of directors proves otherwise. As an African American, I was less likely to get promoted (despite similar or superior performance evaluations) and prone to spend significantly longer at a position than my counterparts.
All of these factors in combination with my growing desire for freedom and flexibility in my work inspired me to become an entrepreneur.
During these past 3 years in growing PPC into what it has become, I have learned a lot about myself and a lot about the unique experiences of being a black business owner. Allow me to share my journey with you:
What Are The Top 5 Things I Learned in launching a Business as a Black Woman:
- Relationships Can Make or Break You– People do business with people that they like. I discovered this very early on and have made it a point to build and maintain a strong network, which can be challenging for me as a natural introvert. As a young black woman, despite the fact that my parents were both college-educated, they simply did not have a strong professional network. As such, I found myself starting from scratch with no real blueprint. This can be overcome through persistence and due diligence, but this is the area I have noticed we as black entrepreneurs tend to struggle with the most.
- Outsource– Know your strengths and hire skilled professionals to assist in areas you aren’t as strong in. I am a firm believer in outsourcing in my personal life and leveraged this same technique in my business to deliver great results. It is important to understand how every aspect of your business works, but that doesn’t mean you need to be responsible for doing it. One of the first things I did was find an experienced accountant and bookkeeper. I love to try to support black business whenever possible for these items, but at the end of the day, I found sometimes it’s difficult to find the types of businesses you need and ultimately the best person for the job wins.
- You Have to Overcome Appearances– I am black, young and a woman, it’s hard to establish myself as an experienced professional upon first meeting potential clients. I have found that if I can get my foot in the door, I always prove myself. But I am constantly having to overcome first impressions. One thing that I have learned is to always over-prepare. I take every meeting and interaction seriously, do my research and come to the table with preparatory materials about myself and the company. This helps to establish my brand off the bat and combat any potential negative connotations around my youth and experience.
- Play the Long Game– I get it, I am a millennial and LOVE instant gratification. But you won’t make it if you aren’t able to sacrifice in the short term for the long goal. I think that as an African American, we have been hurt by the lack of opportunities to build generational wealth, so when we begin our journey we aren’t usually afforded the same luxuries in terms of financial security or parachutes that some of our colleagues have. I have always been savvy with money, but if you aren’t you will find that you have to develop those skills to succeed in business. It’s typically rough starting out and you need a nest egg to help ease into entrepreneurship.
- Build a Thick Skin– It’s not a question of if, but things will get tough. Consulting is a competitive space as is, and the lack of diversity just makes it that much harder to excel. On one of my first projects under my business, I worked side by side with one of my prior Big 4 firms. They were gunning for some of the work I had sold to the client, but I was prepared to deal with them. I knew their tricks and I wasn’t afraid to get bold. It’s difficult because I am always in an environment where no one looks like me and I have to make extra efforts to connect and collaborate. That used to intimidate me, but now I understand it’s part of the job and enjoy rising to the occasion.
In the past 3 years, I have gone from the Big 4 to being a big boss at my own company. It has been one of the scariest and most exciting journeys I have ever taken, and ironically once I was out of the walls of corporate America, I found it much easier to find acceptance and success in the workplace, by playing by my own rules.
If there is anything I can leave you with, it is this, “ You don’t have to be great to start, but you do have to start to be great” – Zig Ziglar
If you have a story of your own and would like to share, comment in the section below!