Throughout American history, Black business owners have been the backbone of our nation's economy, representing the American spirit of innovation, grit, and hard work. That untold story is the focus of BOSS: The Black Experience in Business, directed by Stanley Nelson, which follows the story of Black entrepreneurship from the country's founding to the present, showing how African Americans have used business as a tool of wealth-building and freedom. (You can learn more about Stanley Nelson's work here.)
I reached out to Black business owners from all over Boston and asked them for their advice for the next generation of Black business owners. Here's what they said:
Zeena and Letisha Brown are co-owners of Brown & Coconut, which creates nature-made skincare products. They recommend creating a business you love: “Make sure your heart is in your business. Owning and running a business is not easy and you’re going to go through challenging times and you need something to anchor you back during difficult moments. If your heart is in it and you have a true passion for what you’re doing, it’ll pull you through those times and ultimately make you more successful.”
Jae’da Turner is the founder of Black Owned Bos., a platform that supports Black businesses in the Greater Boston area. “One of the biggest pieces of advice I have is to ask for help. You don’t know everything but what you do know is that you have a passion for what you started your business in and you know what your skill set is. So make sure that you are leaning into others who have other skill sets that can support you and help make your business great.”
Kevin Hart is the co-owner of Pure Oasis, Boston’s first adult-use cannabis dispensary, which is 100% Black-owned and operated. “Dream big, remain focused, get organized and be prepared to set the example for the next generation of Black business owners. The path to success will be harder for you than most, but stay the course and again, be prepared to overcome obstacles of all proportions.”
Daniel Garcia-Decoteau, owner of Hair It Is in Mattapan, known for its unique and unisex haircutting services, shared his personal journey as a business owner: “Owning a business allowed me to advance my education, buy a car, and own a home. I don’t believe in missed opportunities! I think the best way our culture will advance is through equity and ownership. So, go out there and own something. In my twenties, I saved money and took calculated risks. I was afraid! But don’t let fear be the reason you fail to take action.”
Marie-France M Noel, Founder and Creative Designer of KADOKÉLÉ, a lifestyle brand offering jewelry and apparel inspired by Caribbean art, recommends finding your voice: “Use your voice and authentic story as the driving force to unify your brand. Your brand cannot exist without your authentic voice. My other advice would be to be consistent! Let it be the foundation for all that you do, whether partnering with other creative minds or expanding your product line.”
Dion McKinley, owner of Deliver Wash laundry service, recommends the three Cs: “Commitment: As an entrepreneur you must commit to your brand. It’s not a sprint — it’s a marathon. Consistent: An entrepreneur must be consistent to ensure brand quality. You have to compete with other brands that may have been around for awhile and have a large customer base. Courage: An entrepreneur must have the courage to fail. Yet you can’t waste your time worrying about your business failing — nothing is guaranteed.”
Steve George is the founder of Boston On The Rocks, an events company that focuses on private and corporate mixology and drink themed events. “In the USA, capitalism is king and with that, it is important to know that the only way to be free in this system is to have your own ideas, your own visions, and, most importantly, your own businesses. Being your own boss is not easy and takes a lot of courage, but if you strive to be great and want to pave your own path, I highly recommend that your ideas be brought out and exposed to the world. If you have a vision, let the world see it.”
Schnelle Shelby is the owner of SchnelleCares, a hand-crafted accessory shop committed to social good, including manufacturing masks during the pandemic. “My best advice is to rest. Rest is important to give you energy to innovate, think critically, and to bring your best self forward. Get your sleep and dedicate at least one day a week to do absolutely nothing."
Kimberly Prescod is Vice President atFamily Hardware Corporation, which has operated in Dorchester for more than 30 years. “Put God first and you will never fail. Customer service is key to maintaining loyal customers. Remember to be attentive to your customers while providing a variety of products and services. It is okay to seek help from others in order for your business to grow. People will doubt you, but let that be your motivation to push through any failures or hard times. Reset if needed and try again.”
Colleen Hall is the founder of the Jamoji App, an emoji and lifestyle keyboard mobile application that includes Jamaican cultural expressions, phrases, food and places. “It’s important to have fun and enjoy what you’re doing so that it doesn’t become a chore. Meditate in both stressful and joyous times. Most importantly — just start. Once you start, you’ll figure it out from there.”
Mavis Hicks is the owner of Beauty N Simplicity, a handcrafted beauty and skin care brand focused on total-body wellness: “I urge you to stay the course of your dreams and ideas. You will face many challenges and may want to give up; but the real journey is in the tenacity to keep going. Your mindset should be one of consistent development, and understanding that ‘perfect’ is a fictional concept. Mental and emotional rest will need to be a priority to maintain balance and harmony within oneself.”
Danielle Johnson is the founder and owner of SparkFM OnlineRadio, which empowers underserved voices in the community: “Just go for it. Do research, figure out if it’s a viable business. Don’t wait to be perfect — just go for it. Just keep swimming; eventually you’ll reach the shore.”
Christie Lindor, CEO of Tessi Consulting and author of the forthcoming book, Why Great People Quit Good Jobs: 10 ways to create a progressive, high performing, and radically inclusive culture, suggests learning the financial side of your business: “Learn how to create and manage budget to actuals, pay taxes, keep your financial records in order, and know how to read basic financial statements. While you can hire someone to help you with this, it is still important that you understand the numbers."
Tony Rich, Founder and Managing Director of EventHorizon has three suggestions: “1) Content is king. The more dynamic and robust your content, the faster and more consistently you'll amass a large following. 2) List building: Use technology in the form of email service providers, chatbots and other tech to build a list of active and reliable potential buyers and organize it. 3) Scalability. You have to provide a service model or sales model that is scalable to thousands of potential buyers.”
Patricia McCallum, owner of ALIGNFITS, encourages young entrepreneurs to stay focused: “Keep pushing past the many bumps in the road and past adversity. Whatever your goals are — they can be achieved. Yes! You'll make a bunch of mistakes trying your best to move forward, but, guess what? That just means that you are learning, If you are having a hard time thinking about where to start with your goals, write it down, set a date (it puts pressure on yourself). Eventually it will be your reality.”
Imani McFarlane of Tafari Wraps designs hair accessories and educational programs rooted in Afrocentricity. “Have faith and always seek guidance from your ancestors. You were blessed with a passion that excites you, so trust your vision and believe in your voice. Not everyone will see your vision and not all will want you to succeed; identify those blockages and clear them out of your way. Prioritize self care. You cannot properly serve your community when you have not served yourself.”
Anna Foster of A Maven’s World Lifestyle Brandhas tips for finding your place in the market: “First, begin by clearly defining your product or service. Define the person or business that will want to use what you have to offer — understanding the needs of consumers is essential. Do your research — market research including running a focus group, scanning industry reviews or doing a market survey. This will lead to success!”
Andy Jacque is Co-Founder/COO at Pulse 24/7 Mobile App, which empowers small businesses through technology: “There's a huge racial wealth gap in this country. And I believe much of it is because the dollar doesn't circulate long enough in the Black community. Today, Black small business owners are being cannibalized by the explosive growth of the on-demand economy that large tech companies have created. Now more than ever, we must make it a priority to empower them with cutting-edge technology in order to compete and grow.”
Joye Williams is the creator of Joyefully Natural, a garden-to-table herbal remedies business. “Stay consistent in your craft and embrace being a perpetual learner. Be open to the opportunities to learn. Build authentic relationships and be transparent and honest. Be yourself and trust your process. Say kind words to yourself, especially when times get tough.”
Stream BOSS: The Black Experience in Business on GBH Passport.