I watched Madonna's 10 minute acceptance speech for Billboard's 2016 Woman of the Year Award while in the midst of trying to convince myself that I can one day run a million dollar business.
Her speech was a reflection on her ability to maintain a 34 year long career in the music business despite the criticisms she faced as a woman in a position of power.
It was enlightening to hear Madonna, a woman who has achieved multimillion dollar success, say "There are no rules -- if you're a boy. There are rules if you're a girl." It's not a surprising statement, but more a confirmation. It's a reminder that sexism is as strong a force as ever, especially at the highest levels of success, even for someone who has been around as long as Madonna.
The thing about being a woman in business is that as you grow, you start to realize all the basic stuff you didn't know but that's totally integral to running your business--while also realizing that there are men all around you that have somehow inherited this knowledge through class or privilege or both.
Even though I'm sure as a woman in business I'll face barriers to success based on class, privilege and of course gender, participating in the Urban League's 2016 Women in Business Challenge has given me and Julia, my business partner, some of the tools we need to close that gap in knowledge.
We're in a class with about 14 other women entrepreneurs competing to pitch our business at New Orleans Entrepreneur week and win a grand prize of $10,000. The best part about the whole thing is that we get a business consultant that we meet with every week to develop our business and financial model.
We are 5 weeks into a 6 week business accelerator course that's a part of the challenge. We are knee deep into our business plan. We are practically drowning in marketing and sales strategy, throwing around terms like "market segmentation" "financial projections" and "beachhead markets." It's all very overwhelming and sometimes we feel like our heads are going to pop off.
We're just about done our first full draft and although it's been painful scrutinizing each and every paragraph, we know it will be worth it when we're done.
As a woman and a person of color I think it's important to share the knowledge that you have with other people who may not have access to the same resources. That's why I wanted to write out a few of the things we've learned so far, in case it helps other women or entrepreneurs just starting out.
Here are a few business development do's and don'ts:
Do hire subcontractors: you can't be everywhere all at once. Train and hire subcontractors that can get the job done the way you need it done. This applies to our wedding business. We're already double booking dates for 2016 and we're connecting with other wedding videographers who can help us film.
Do invest in a professional accounting system. A personal accounting system like Quickbooks is a $300 investment. That may seem like an unnecessary spend to the budding do-it-yourself entrepreneur, but it's the best way to keep track of your spending, especially come tax time. When it comes to our business, we realized a basic excel spreadsheet with dates and invoice numbers won't cut it anymore. We just got Quickbooks, and our business consultant Mr. Frank is helping us learn how to use it.
Don't decide your prices only based on what your competitors charge. Of course it's good to know what your competitors charge so that you know what the market can bear (i.e. what customers are willing to pay), but this singular way of pricing does not account for any of your overhead or operating costs, such as taxes or subscriptions you pay for to keep your business running. Basically, It's an easy way to lose money.
Our business consultant gave us a costing sheet that allows us to input all of our basic costs and calculate our profit margin on every job we do. That way, we know exactly why we're charging what we're charging and most importantly, we don't lose money on jobs.
Don't skip your business plan. It sounds pretty basic, but many small business owners get so focused on the inner workings of the business that they feel like they don't have time to write it all out.
This is what happened to Julia and I before we got into the Women and Business Challenge. We tried to write a business plan at the start of our partnership, but quickly lost motivation in the midst of trying to organize our website, portfolio, pricing and other general sales tasks.
Since we were required to write a business plan as a part of the Women in Business Challenge, we realize the value of that process. It's helped us ask ourselves some BIG important questions about our business that we would have otherwise skimmed over.
If you just started a business or are thinking about a business and don't have a business plan, I highly recommend you google "small business resources" in your area and get help writing yours.
Lastly, I want to share my gratitude for everything the Urban League has given us through our participation in this challenge.
Our weekly meetings with our consultant have forced us to confront hard questions about who we are, what we do, and what we want our business to look like in 3-5 years. Through much careful thought and revision of our business plan, our business consultant has given us faith that we have a solid plan moving forward.
Whether or not we win this challenge, we know we've already gotten the crucial advice and guidance we need to become the type of creative, impactful, woman-run business we want to be.