As a Black woman who has earned her MBA and established a thriving single-member limited liability company (LLC), I’ve noticed that business partnerships rarely extend beyond narrow economic interests. What I mean to say is, for me, starting a business had less to do with wanting to use my skill set to earn as much money as possible, and more to do with the desire to uplift and empower my community.
It is my sincere belief that for-profit entities can be economically successful and socially conscious, which is why intentionally partnering with members of the community I’m looking to service is part of my business plan. But, before I jump further into how forming and maintaining intentional business partnerships can lead to professional success and community achievements, let me tell you a bit more about how I arrived at this decision.
Yes, I fully realize just how simple and obvious that realization sounds. However, after working at a few non-profits over the years, I found that many organizations placed so much emphasis on championing the mission that they would often neglect their basic operational needs.
Therefore, I decided to set-up a ten year plan which included the following: (1) leave my current job working at a non-profit; (2) earn my degree; (3) spend some time working in management at a reputable organization to learn the ropes post-graduation; (4) move onto founding my own organization focused on racial justice efforts.
I fully intended on using my business skills to run a non-profit that prioritized my entity’s operational needs while simultaneously servicing my community. What ended up happening was entirely different, mainly because I started my studies bright-eyed and bushy-tailed only to finish them completely disillusioned.
The Turning Point
While in graduate school, I realized that the non-profits I studied, worked with, and consulted for were rarely able to successfully shift equity, make notable contributions to achieving equality amongst marginalized groups, or empower and uplift the communities they claimed to serve.
Oftentimes, the work became a game of intent versus impact, as intentions were laid to waste in the face of very little positive impact. From what I witnessed, it was difficult to affect any real change while working with these organizations due to a variety of factors. These factors included everything from not identifying and tending to the root cause of specific social issues, to extremely inflexible and bureaucratic systems that stifled ideas and actions that could lead to real change.
Upon graduation, I found myself still wanting to enact change, but no longer seeing myself working at a non-profit organization in some mid-level management position. I no longer saw that route as the best way to accomplish the goals I had created for myself.
So, I went back to my activist roots. I recalled my contributions to racial justice organizations where I had participated in protests and even written about the importance of issues, such as financial literacy in regards to economic achievement in communities of color.
It wasn’t long before I realized that economic justice was a key component to elevating marginalized groups in a capitalist society. The link between financial success and community achievement was undeniable. This realization is what ultimately led me to start my own business, one that chooses to work with people and entities that are owned and operated by people of color and, more specifically, women of color.
As a single-member LLC, I’m the sole owner and operator of my business. Therefore, I have the power to mold my business into an enterprise that I believe can serve both my community and me. I decided to pair what I learned in the classroom with the knowledge I gained while operating in activist spaces.
One of the first things I did after officially incorporating was spending an afternoon really thinking about my values and how to apply them in my professional practice. What started as a list of values transformed into guiding principles as to how I conduct business.
After listing my values, I also came up with a mission statement. Since most for-profit entities are not mission-driven, it’s pretty unusual for a for-profit entity to create one. However, I felt it was important for me to do so because my business involved working with and for my community. Highlighting that fact in a statement has helped me solidify my business identity and keep my priorities straight as things progress.
Finally, I listed a few goals that I believed would allow me to fulfill what was outlined in my mission statement. This practice helped me create a business plan, which is comprised of short-term and long-term outcomes that I would like to occur.
Where My Business Stands Now
After thinking through my values, mission, and goals, it was clear to me that I should prioritize working with startups run by people of color and, more specifically, women of color. Doing so felt like the natural next step and an imperative given that women of color are the fastest growing business owners, yet we still experience disadvantages due to the fact that we are systematically marginalized on the basis of both race and gender.
By working together and supporting the endeavors of other women of color, I believe that we can collectively rise and succeed within our respective professions. Choosing to intentionally partner with this specific clientele also falls in line with my mission of shifting equity and attaining equality, and helps me achieve my goal of fostering an economically strong community.
In my mind, the achievements of the marginalized and underrepresented also serve as reminders that we can still thrive despite the oppression we face. They function as steps towards the creation of a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive workforce, which in turn can have a profoundly positive and necessary impact on society at large.
From a less theoretical and more professional perspective, my brand identity is strengthened through working only with those whose values overlap with my own. People are able to look at my work and whom I’m working with and immediately see a pattern that mirrors my mission statement, which bodes for stronger business relationships built on mutual understanding and shared goals.
How It Works
Thinking through how you want your business to run is one thing, but actually putting those ideas into practice is another. By choosing to intentionally work with certain people and entities, I’ve had to employ methods that allow me to stay true to my decision to do so while simultaneously growing my business. Some of these methods include the following:
- Doing a fair amount of research and pitching my services. As a new business, you have to put in the work to acquire clients and contracts. Therefore, I invest time in researching different businesses I want to work with and create a client profile. From there, I specifically target businesses that fit the client profile and I believe could benefit from my services. Then, I begin pitching myself to those entities.
- Being upfront and honest about my values. I also make sure that my professional profiles highlight the services I provide and the type of people I’ve worked with. I also don’t shy away from any of the relevant work I did as an activist so that people have an immediate understanding of what I value and where my priorities are.
- Evaluating businesses holistically. I take a holistic approach to evaluating businesses I’m interested in working with. This forces me to look beyond how much the business is currently making to identify other important factors, such as growth potential and current investment in the community. This approach also encourages me to stay true to my values.
- Making difficult decisions about who to work with. I have definitely had to turn down work and, in some cases, stop working with clients whose values and overall business goals did not align with my own. I’m not going to lie, having to make those calls has been difficult at times, especially as an owner of a new business where signing new clients is a necessity. However, for every client I have decided not to work with, I have been fortunate enough to attract other clients with whom I’ve entered into a mutually beneficial working relationship.
- Taking a pay cut. Since I have decided to prioritize working with businesses that are oftentimes startups or are relatively small, I have had to take a pay cut in regards to my services in some instances. However, I’m typically entering into business arrangements that are long-term commitments. This means that I’m able to negotiate contracts where my pay is scaled so that as a client’s business grows in part to my services, my pay also increases.
My experience as a business owner has taught me that not all companies have to be cutthroat, bottom-line-driven beasts. We can care for our respective communities and further champion resolutions to social justice issues while conducting business. The key is embedding those values into our business models and intentionally partnering with other people or entities that also harbor those same values.
From a business standpoint, working to build up a brand or business can be a great way to attract more clients down the road, since you can literally point to tangible accomplishments that came as a result of your work. That is to say, you don’t have to “aim high” by trying to attract bigger clients in order to succeed. You can be successful building alongside people who are in a similar spot professionally with the intention of reaching the top together.
Finally, I’ve come to really understand just how much the talents of people of color and, more specifically, women of color, are in relation to social justice work. Therefore, if you’re serious about shifting equity and making strides towards equality in a capitalist society, investing in underrepresented and under-supported communities is a must.
“Miya is a freelance business consultant, writer, and self-proclaimed digital nomad. When she’s not traveling she can often be found hard at work on her laptop at her favorite coffee shop in the Washington, DC area. Cats, Thai food, and trash TV are a few of her favorite things.”
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