There are a ton of misconceptions regarding the state of African-American owned businesses and the purchase power of consumers that look for quality products and services. Unfortunately, there is a percentage of Entrepreneurs that feel a sense of entitlement when it comes to obtaining the dollars of those consumers that is associated with a significant influx of money available through said consumer, which will only increase, according to statistics. I had the opportunity to interview Angela T. Jones, author of Breaking Through the Black Ceiling. She shared her thoughts on the aforementioned misconceptions and the importance of changing the thought process of Entrepreneurs in order to supersede the average shelf life of new business owners and excel in the areas of development and sustainable progression.
In your opinion, as a consumer, what is the most important factor in customer service relating to purchasing products or services from their peers?
Consumers want what they want at the best value and they look for “extras” like included warranties on certain types of products, or rebates and special offers. Those “extras” provide an increased consumer experience. Whichever business is capable of providing the best consumer experience and value will receive that consumer’s dollars and loyalty.
Is it accurate to assume that black business owners with great concepts for their brand will automatically succeed when it comes to growth and sustainability?
Black business owners should never assume they will have automatic success, regardless of how great their idea is. That is the biggest mistake made. Your idea may be great but someone else, somewhere else is having the same idea, with small differences. Change is a constant. Growth requires being capable of adjusting to changes as they come and sustainability requires being able to predict and prepare for changes long term.
How important is the research of current and predicted trends related to business for new and seasoned Entrepreneurs?
Research of current and predicted trends is always important for any business at any stage. Failure to research through every stage can cause your business to become obsolete. Technology is always advancing, your competitors are watching what you do and are then researching what they can do to become better than you. Think Netflix versus Blockbuster. Netflix filled a void that Blockbuster didn’t take the time to research to see if it could be incorporated into their business model until it was too late. Now Netflix is winning Emmys and competing with the major television and cable networks, not just delivering DVDs by mail.
Business owners often confuse popularity with success. Why is it important to know the difference between the two and how can the misconceptions surrounding these attributes hurt your business goals?
Popularity is not success. With social media being the giant it is, anyone can become a public figure or a star, however popularity doesn’t give anyone the ability to run a profitable business model in a global economy. With so many people seeking fame and popularity, it has become an oversaturated commodity that doesn’t hold value for very long. Success is the ability to build a business, product, technology or something of usefulness that people will pay money for. Success if the ability to create jobs, contribute to the economy and provide opportunities for the generations to follow. Popularity doesn’t even require any talent anymore. Success requires drive, ambition and knowledge, either learned in a formal or informal setting. If popularity is a person’s focus, they are overlooking what it takes to run a successful business. A brand is only as strong as the products and services it provides; a brand is not valued solely by the amount of popularity its creator has. Some of the people on the Forbes 400 list are rarely seen in public or followed by paparazzi, yet they are extremely successful billionaires. Wanting popularity is a distraction and can cause more harm than good because it causes the public to focus more on you as an individual (flaws and all) than the products and services your business provides.
Should business owners do away with limited thinking when it comes to attracting investors for their business venture(s)?
Absolutely. There are so many opportunities available to find potential investors, but business owners concentrate on the ones they see other people going after and due to lack of research, they miss out on other available opportunities. For instance, due to the success some companies have had using crowd funding or appearing on Shark Tank, many business owners put too much focus on getting those same exact opportunities for themselves. In the meantime, they are missing out on micro-loans, competitive grants, venture capital, and local funding opportunities available to them.
How do brand builders differentiate their daily activities from those that simply own a domain name or list themselves as a CEO or President of “company”?
Brand builders have something of value to offer the public, even if they elect to give it away for free. Brand builders are the professional athletes in their industry; they practice daily, they have a routine that results in measurable productivity, they review themselves for ways they can improve and they do so each day. Brand builders eat, sleep and breathe their business, products and services and they can define exactly what they do and what their goals are when asked. Brand builders are hands-on with their product or service; they know it, they nurture it, the look for ways to improve it. Brand builders have focus on a bigger, long term picture for their business. Owning a domain, having a company or a title are the aesthetics of a brand. However, if those aesthetics aren’t supported by strong bones and muscles, they don’t matter.
Why should the art of negotiation be mastered? Relatively, how long and under what conditions should a barter system between business owners be practiced?
Every multimillion dollar deal between businesses was a result of negotiation. Someone asked for something of monetary value in exchange for something else of monetary value to either acquire or sell the business in question. If you don’t know your company’s value, the value of the products and services you provide, you can’t effectively negotiate what you want in the deal. Barter agreements should only be in place for as long as both parties are in need of the arrangement and both parties continue to benefit from the arrangement. Regardless of the duration of the barter agreement, it should be in writing to secure both people’s interests. If one party isn’t doing what was agreed upon, the agreement should be terminated and services sought elsewhere.
Based on the data referenced in your book (according to Black Enterprise Magazine, black buying power is projected to reach $1.1 trillion dollars by 2015), why is there a significantly smaller percentage of black owned business owners that benefit from an apparent influx of consumer buying power?
Some people would argue the reason is because black owned businesses aren’t supported by the black community. The reality is that black owned businesses don’t provide the services and products that the greater majority of black consumers want because of their own assumptions of what black consumers want. We don’t spend as much money on clothes and shoes as perceived. Yet, most black businesses that open are retail related. Retail is controlled by trends in fashion, which can change every three to six months of a year, forcing businesses to keep up with a much larger industry (the fashion industry). Yet the trend itself could take several more months or even a year to match with consumer demand. There are a plethora of needs in the black community, but black owned businesses don’t represent those needs as well as they could. They don’t research where money is being spent in the black community and they only want to provide a product or service that they assume is already in demand. Which it may be, but only temporarily. Therefore, they miss out on a piece of the pie so to speak, by chasing a bandwagon.
You also mention in your book that “Blacks often are more interested in developing “friendships” that can be used short term in business, are not mutually benefitting, and are “hooks ups” versus strategic business arrangements.” Please explain further why you feel these are detrimental to being a business owner.
Friendships are personal relationships, but business isn’t personal. We don’t have to be friends and spend our personal time together in order to make money together. Personal feelings and business relationships don’t mesh the majority of the time. If anything they cause more problems and drama. Yet, too often we think we can only be in business with our friends, or that our friends’ needs should be a priority in our business model. Your true friends will pay you for your products or services because they know you’re trying to solidify your place in business and you can’t do that if you give all of your products and services away to them for free or as a hook up. Friendships can develop over time during the course of solid, mutually benefiting business relationships, but friendship should never be a requirement in order to do business together.
How important is it to diversify your employees and suppliers when it comes to operating your business in the interest of development and evolution?
Diversity is extremely important in a global economy. A global economy is inevitable and being a participant in it should be a goal of any business owner. As much as people like to see people that look like them, they like to also see a representation of people who don’t. Making an effort to run a diverse business says that as a business owner, your focus is not on race, religion, gender or sexual orientation, but on the people capable of doing the job. Being open to diversity puts you in a position to earn the respect of others who don’t look like you or believe exactly what you believe. That can open doors for your business in other states, countries or continents. It can save you money because you open up lines of communication that may not have been there before. It can help you make money because it introduces you to potential consumers who look at your employees and suppliers and see themselves represented. It creates a common ground that isn’t hindered by biases. That may make some people uncomfortable, but those aren’t the people you need to do business with. Diversity makes dollars.
ABOUT ANGELA T. JONES
Angela T. Jones is Chief Executive Officer of Super Woman Productions and Publishing in Detroit, Michigan. She’s a published author, a gifted motivational speaker, movie producer, blogger, radio show host and contributing writer. Angela’s written works have been published by Global Grind, Essence, Yahoo!, Detroit CEO Magazine, LinkedIn and Thrive Detroit Street Newspaper. For more information, visit her website http://www.superwomanproductions.com or connect with her on Twitter @BestSuperWoman and @SuperWomanMedia. Her latest book, Breaking Through the Black Ceiling (dedicated to the memory of business owner Mark England) is available now. A portion of each copy sold will be donated to Karmanos Cancer Institute in Detroit, Michigan.