Category Archives: Business

5 Things African Americans Have To STOP Saying About Black Businesses

“Negro banks, as a rule, have failed because the people, taught that their own pioneers in business cannot function in this sphere, withdrew their deposits.” – Carter G. Woodson

African American businesses face a lot of hurdles in their ability to get started, grow, and survive. They come from everything from a lack of access to capital, predatory behavior by other communities, and a plethora of other variables that make being an African American entrepreneur not something for weak of heart. However, one of the most formidable adversaries to African American entrepreneurs is the African American community’s perception and attitude towards the very businesses trying to spur economic development in and for the community. 

The HBCU Money staff put together a list of five things they would like to see the community’s behavior and attitude towards African American businesses improve.

5. Can I get the “hookup”?

The goal of a business is to pay for its expenses, pay its workers, and hopefully after all is said and done leave enough money for its owners to have a living. Yet, family, friends, and sometimes strangers seem to think for the African American small business owner or entrepreneur we are the exception to that rule. The “hookup” has been the downfall of many African American businesses. Instead, this is a great opportunity to say how can I hook this business up with more word of mouth advertising so that they can grow and bring jobs and wealth to our community? 

4. Black businesses have bad customer service.

Has an African American store ever followed you around the store? Accused you of stealing before you walk in? Redlined your whole community? The list could go on and on. Yet, you rarely hear us as loud and vocal about customer service from other communities as you do the trope about African American businesses’ customer service. Is there bad customer service? Yes. Is there good customer service? Yes. Like all other communities we run the gambit, but the bad ones whilst a minority tend to get the lion’s share of the perception. Do African American businesses take customer service seriously enough? That is a different question all together, but what is definitely not true is that African American customer service is far worse than the predatory behavior we experience in other community’s businesses. Perspective.

3. Black businesses charge too much.

African American businesses are often accused of charging too much for their product or service. There are a number of factors to this misconception. More times than not African American businesses are in line with the market pricing. However, when they do tend to be higher than the industry, it is because their business is heavily reliant upon an African American consumer or they lack the ability to scale. Being heavily reliant on an African American consumer base is fundamentally economically challenging. We are the group with the lowest median income and wealth, which means we have the least disposable income to be consumers in the mainstream sense. Whereas a consumer in another community maybe able to purchase a product every week, we maybe only able to purchase it every month. For an African American business this forces them to try to capture more sale at once because of how rare the sales will be. We also rarely have the resources to scale our businesses which allows for driving down costs, but again this in large part is because of factors like African American small businesses having less access to capital, businesses too highly focused on African American consumers who have little disposable income, and a concentration in businesses that are often very difficult by their very nature to scale (i.e. restaurants, barber/beauty shops, clothing lines). 

2. Products are inferior.

Outside of food, hair, and entertainment there seems to be a pervasive belief that African American businesses tend to offer subpar products and services. To Dr. Woodson’s aforementioned point, it is often in areas where our own community believes we are incapable of competing and doing well in the space that this is so acute. African American businesses tend to try to produce a product that is superior in many cases because they are fighting this perception. However, it should be noted that there is often a disconnect of what should be quality and should not be. Also, if a consumer is buying a knockoff or counterfeit product which is popular in the community, then the expectation needs to be aligned as such. Unfortunately, that is not always the case. 

1. Need to do more for the community.

Before African American businesses can often become profitable they are being asked to give away their products and/or services to the community. A common misconception often that because you own a business, then you must be making money. It can take an average of two to three years for most conventional businesses to become profitable and even that is a tricky statement. Being profitable simply means that your business revenue is greater than your business expense. So for instance, if your businesses expenses are $2,000 and your business earned $2,001, then you are profitable. However, nobody would assume that that businesses is making enough money for its owner to live on let alone even take a salary. In most instances, especially for African American businesses those early years are spent plowing every dollar of revenue back into the business because usually there was little in the way of startup capital provided. It is usually many years before a business can actually support its owner(s) financially. Does this mean African American business owners should do nothing for their community? Absolutely not. In reality many do even when they can not afford to do so, but we are saying that our community needs to be slower to criticize just how much a business should be doing before they have even had a chance to get our their proverbial feet.

At the end of the day, our businesses are trying to compete against sometimes what feels like insurmountable odds. Those odds do not need to be exacerbated by our own community. Holding African American small businesses and companies accountable is one thing, but continuously treating them in a nihilistic manner is a recipe for economic disaster. Economic development strategy has a myriad of components to it and our behavior and attitudes toward our own institutions goes a long way in our ability to become economically empowered.

12 Things Your HBCU Alumni Association/Chapter Needs To Do To Be Financially Successful

“Planning is bringing the future into the present so that you can do something about it now.” – Alan Lakein

Far too many HBCU Alumni Associations and Chapters have been asleep at the wheel for far too long financially. They have conducted themselves like a child who says they want to start a lemonade stand, but refuses to take the time to make a plan of acquiring lemons, sugar, water, and certainly not building a lemonade stand. There is more time spent playing with their friends and then seemingly complaining that their friends do not support their lemonade stand – that does not exist. It is enough to drive one mad. We have laid out twelve steps that HBCU alumni associations and chapters need to do to make themselves financially integral and sustainable for the future to meet the financial needs of both African America and the HBCUs they serve.

  1. Move banking accounts to African American owned banks and/or credit unions. It is utterly baffling that HBCUs and HBCU Alumni Associations/Chapters at this point still have not done this very elementary point of economic development given the acute presence of the #BankBlack movement over the past few years. Public HBCUs have more red tape by being state institutions and there are significant political dynamics at play there, but private HBCUs and HBCU alumni associations/chapters at private or public HBCUs at this point simply have no excuse.
  2. Invest in technology, especially financial technology. If HBCU Alumni Associations/Chapters want younger alumni involvement as they claim then they have to come into the 21st century – do you realize we are two decades into the 21st century and some HBCU foundations, alumni associations/chapters do not have a functioning web presence. This is where typically you would insert a mind blown emoji or gif. It is unfathomable and inexcusable at this point. HBCU Alumni Associations/Chapters need a web and social media presence independent of the mother institution for a myriad of reasons that should be readily apparent without great explanation. Alumni associations/chapters can work out an agreement with their schools to create work study that involves social media work and web development for those students who are interested and have the necessary skillset. Otherwise, spend the money and pay for a real web designer and social media manager – it is worth it. Financial technology – accepting payment by Venmo, CashApp, etc. should not be groundbreaking it should be standard. There are a plethora of financial technology available for nonprofit organizations. This should be the job of the treasurer at both the national and chapter levels to find technology that can improve the financial efficiency.
  3. Collect information on your members. Know your association/chapters strengths and weaknesses. If you plan on doing education outreach with your alumni association/chapter, it may help knowing who in the organization that has a background and connections in education. Need to put on an event? It may help to know the alumnus who worked in event planning or knows someone who does. Other information should be household income, level of education, home ownership, etc. The more information the better (we will explain the value of this in another point). But not knowing what assets you have is a dearth of proper planning and strategy.
  4. Write a business plan. If you do not know where you are going, any road will get you there. This opaque behavior is stressfully true with HBCU Alumni Associations/Chapters. We have an alumni association/chapter, now what? Having a written plan of what you want to accomplish, why, and how is paramount to any organization. HBCU Alumni Associations/Chapters are no different. The business plan should be reviewed and updated every 3-4 years to ensure that goals are on track . A review committee made up of internal and external members would be advised.
  5. Create a revenue and investment committee. These can be one committee or two committees, but it needs to exist. Beyond dues, how does the association/chapter plan to make money? Thinking of ways that revenue can be generated and those ideas presented to the association and chapter would be vital. Seriously, because have we not killed the annual golf tournament? Someone on this committee needs to have an investment background and if there is no one in the chapter with it, then invite a local financial adviser to sit on the committee in a volunteer role to help.
  6. Raise dues. There was just a collective gasp from everyone just now. However, creativity. Right now, most associations/chapters charge annual dues of $25-35 annually. Going to a monthly model of $5-10 can skyrocket annual dues revenue to $60-120 which is an increase of over 100 percent in dues revenue and it is an amount that few will miss. Implementing financial technology can allow this to be automated around alumni pay periods.
  7. Produce a newsletter and sale local advertising. Remember the roster of your membership and the data we talked about collecting. This is extremely valuable in putting together a media kit that you can use to sell local advertising in. Most alumni associations/chapters send out newsletters anyway. The ability to monetize that in the most optimal way requires being able to tell potential advertisers who they are reaching. Imagine being able to simply sell ten advertisements a year with twelve month commitments that each pay $50 per month. This is $6,000 in new annual revenue for the chapter from local businesses and relationship building.
  8. Hire a financial adviser. It can be the aforementioned one or a different one, but this also needs to be done. Associations/Chapters should be generating far more income than they do with the collective financial ability at their disposal. As an entity, your association/chapter can have a brokerage account that invest in stocks and bonds – not just sitting in a checking and savings account losing purchasing power. Ensure that the financial adviser is credible. There are even African American brokerage firms that can provide accounts and advising all under one roof. Again, we are not going to fundraise our way to institutional wealth. Our organizations’ money needs to be making money while it “sleeps” because money never sleeps.
  9. Purchase real estate. Now that you have a financial adviser, your chapter should also retain a real estate adviser to help build a rental property portfolio. Remember, we just created $6,000 in new annual revenue via the newsletter. You also raised dues from $25 to $60 and with the $35 surplus on a chapter of just twenty alumni that provides and extra $700 annually. In line with your investment income from your brokerage is also rental income. The association/chapter can focus on purchasing everything from single-family to commercial properties. If chapters purchased near their HBCU, it could help stem off any potential gentrification as many HBCUs are seeing, but in little position to do anything about. They could also purchase real estate locally where their chapter is located. This would provide the association/chapter another stream of revenue and diversified real estate holdings.
  10. Invest in African American small businesses. This could be done in conjunction with African American owned banks/credit unions. If a small business could not qualify for a SBA loan, then the chapter could work out a deal with the bank that would allow them to review the investment on the bank’s recommendation. The chapter would then either invest in the business with equity or provide a loan and act as a shadow lender. We know this is something desperately needed for many African American small businesses who are trying to grow and for some reason or another lack access to traditional financial products. Imagine a local African American kid comes to the bank with the next great social media company, but he needs $38,000 to get it going and does not qualify, but the bank says they have a program that may work to help him. The chapter invest the $38,000 for a 50 percent stake and acts as a passive investor while the kid builds his dream. Why $38,000? This is the amount Mark Zuckerberg and classmate Eduardo Saverin invested to get Facebook off the ground in 2004. A company now worth $840 billion and a 50 percent stake would be worth $420 billion – from a $38,000 investment. Not to mention the potential to secure jobs and internships for your HBCU’s students and alumni as the company grew.
  11. Endow internships at local organizations. HBCU alumni constantly complain about our students not having access to opportunity. Well, now with your new found financial wealth you can buy them access just like everyone else does for their community. The Museum of Natural Science in New York, Miami, Houston, etc. sure do appreciate that $100,000 donation your association/chapter gave them to hire a paid summer internship. The condition? That intern needs to come from your HBCU. Now, a student from your HBCU gets a paid summer internship, work experience in a field of their interest, and most importantly builds their professional network.
  12. Be transparent. Associations and chapters need to ensure that members feel like they know and understand what is going on. Part of this is improving the membership’s financial aptitude through financial literacy so that they understand the decisions being made on some level. Have a quarterly review of the financial portfolio and an annual audit. Trust is vital and for African American organizations that trust is built through transparency.

HBCU Alumni Associations & Chapters should be the symbol of group economics for African America. Instead, the actions have been more hat in hand with the rest of African American organizations who could, but do not leverage their capability. The infrastructure is there for HBCU Alumni Associations & Chapters to be financial forces if the proper financial strategy and plan is implemented. It is time to stop playing and start planning, there is a lemonade stand to build.

Black News Channel’s Chairman J.C. Watts Discusses BNC’s Deep HBCU Ties & FAMU Partnership

In a recent interview with Bold TV, Chairman of Black News Channel, J.C. Watts, discusses his plans for the coming launch of the new television channel that seeks to focus on a myriad of topics from culture, religion, politics, economics, and more that cover the diverse range of African America’s views on topics. Chairman Watts emphasizes that this will be a channel for African Americans and by African Americans. Just how far that is to go though we will discuss later on in the article.

Starting at the 8:50 mark in the video, Chairman Watts discusses with Ms. Sheffield, Founder of Bold TV, the important relationship that Black News Channel will seek to build with HBCUs and just how much content there is available within those institutions alone. A statement that should be not underappreciated given that BNC is going to attempt to be a 24/7 news channel. While the plan a few years ago was for BCN to be housed on the campus of Florida A&M University, the company has shifted its focus on making the FAMU School of Journalism a target school for BCN with internships, curriculum engagement, and employment opportunities upon graduation.

The company features a host of Rattler alumnae. Mr. Amir Windom, a rising star in media circles will be the Director of Creative Services. It also features Ms. Georgia Dawkins, who will serve as Director of HBCU Services. Lastly, the Director of Corporate Business Development is Ms. Erika Littles.

Ms. Sheffield brings up just some of the larger outlets in the landscape that currently stands in African American targeted media like The Root, Black Entertainment Television, NBC Black, OWN, TV One, and questions aloud where BCN will find its place among the field.

However, a point that was not brought up and should always be at the forefront of our minds when new products are launched that target African America is who actually is profiting from our eyeballs. We are often providing the labor and the viewership in many instances while reaping none of the economic rewards that comes with ownership and ultimately the control of the narrative. BET is owned by Viacom, NBC is owned by Comcast, The Root is owned by Univision, which itself is owned by very Eurocentric private equity firms, and even OWN, the channel beloved by Oprah followers, is majority owned by Discovery Communications. On the website for Black News Channel, while Chairman J.C. Watts is listed as a co-founder, the other co-founder is Bob Brillante. What is the potential ownership split? There are seven other owner/investors listed on the company’s website, but what each individuals stake is remains unclear. As a private company, they are certainly not required by any means to disclose this information, but it would certainly go a long way to endorsing just how much of an African American “owned” media asset this actually is.

There is a harsh reality that the majority of sizeable media assets focusing on African Americans is not in the ownership hands of African Americans. The Washington Post reported that in 2013, “African American ownership remains particularly low, hovering at less than one percent of all television properties, and less than 2 percent of radio.” This is certainly not to say that Black News Channel will not have an impact. It is projected to employ almost 100 people, many of them being HBCU alumni and students as we have already seen in key positions, but we must push the envelope further. We need more investment in publications that are owned by our community like HBCU Digest, Atlanta Black Star, HBCU Gameday and many others.  Traditional media is not dying, it is evolving (and consolidating into the hands of a few) and has already done so in major ways. Unfortunately, we are often lacking the resources to keep up despite our ingenuity.

We appreciate that the Black News Channel makes it a point to be transparent about their ownership, hope that they will be an inclusive platform to smaller African American owned publications looking to establish themselves, and definitely continue to integrate itself within the many schools of journalism that HBCUs have and the richness that those assets can bring to the table.

The Conundrum Of HBCUs & American Campus Communities

Glorious shall be the battle when the time comes to fight for our people and our race. – Marcus Garvey

It is often preached that one of the major obstacles to African American economic development is the inability for the African American dollar to circulate within the community. This is often viewed on an individual level by where African Americans shop or eat, but what about at the institutional level? Do African American businesses and institutions like HBCUs also have a role to play in the circulation of the dollar? The answer is without a doubt, yes. Perhaps even more so and more impactful than anything individuals can do. Yet, it seems that when it comes to real estate development and student housing, specifically HBCUs have missed a golden opportunity to circulate millions of dollars within the African American economic ecosystem. To be more blunt, they have failed. That land development is not more revered is somewhat remiss given the lore of the 40 acres and a mule legacy within our communities, but our lack of strategic integration has become others opportunities.

American Campus Communities is a real estate investment trust (REIT) that was co-founded in 1993 by Bill Blayless. Its primary developments are as their name suggest focused on college and universities both on and off campus and primarily housing with some retail mixed in. They have built 206 developments spread across 96 colleges of which 11 have been built on 7 HBCU campuses. Prairie View A&M University, which has a twenty year relationship with ACC,  has the most with four developments with the most recent one opening in 2017. ACC as they are known by their ticker symbol is publicly traded with a market capitalization of $6.1 billion and annual revenue of almost three-quarters of a billion dollars. They have a unique niche in the campus housing development space. However, the story does not simply end there.

If HBCUs are going to do business with developers that are not African American and more importantly HBCU alumni, then there should be something that compels them to do so. A company with an outstanding track record for diversity, a stake of the company in their endowment portfolio, etc. Yet, further examination of American Campus Communities leaves serious questions about exactly who is making the decisions to use them for HBCUs. Of the company’s executive team, senior officers, and board of directors there is not one African American present and no HBCU alumni present either. In fact, there are no ethnic minorities period on the aforementioned groups and only a handful of women. What are decisions like this saying to our community that we so passionately claim to be saying we have the interest of? Are we to believe that there are no African American real estate developers who we trust or are worthy of such projects?

Don Peebles, Sharon Johnson, and Quintin Primo, three African American real estate developers with a combined net worth of almost $2 billion, have developed multi-faceted real estate development corporations and are nationally known certainly would seem more than capable of handling the multi-millions worth of development that happens at HBCUs. There are likely hundreds if not thousands of local African American developers as well like Sharone Mayberry in Houston, Texas who renovated Unity Bank, the only African American owned bank in Texas, and is leading the efforts of renovation in Houston’s historic Third Ward.

It is hardly a surprise that some of these HBCUs are being directed who to use or even having it chosen for them as six of the seven HBCUs who have ACC developments are state schools with Clark Atlanta University being the one private school. Being a public university means that public politics from the gubernatorial office and state politicians have a heavy influence on who receives government and public contracts for work throughout the state. This probably comes with a concerted lobbying effort by ACC to select politicians who make the decisions. The autonomy that state/public schools among the smaller schools (see HBCUs) often marginalizes their decision making while the state’s flagships tend to have the political capital to leverage their own autonomous decisions as it relates to almost every facet of their strategic decision making.

To be clear, this is not a suggestion that all American Campus Communities needs to do is add a token African American to their executive team or board and all is right in the world. That would still not create institutional circulation of the African American dollar and ultimately that is what this is about. If embracing the true circulation and creating a multiplying effect it would take HBCUs concerting with African American financial institutions to sell the bonds that would raise the funds for such construction, then taking that funding and having a request for proposals that ensured HBCU engineers, architects, and developers were a healthy percentage of those who were vying for the bid. Something akin to the Rooney Rule that the NFL uses in ensuring minority coaches get interviewed for head coaching positions that come available. The fact that HBCUs do not seem to be making a more vigorous effort to do this is troublesome.

Time and time again, African American institutions, be it HBCUs, churches, or businesses operate in their own bubble and are not more purposeful in integrating themselves, which makes the dollar within our communities even more difficult to circulate and therefore antagonistic to our institutional economic development. Alumni must deepen their resolve to be involved in not only fundraising for HBCUs, but auditing where those dollars go once they are received. It would be prudent if alumni demanded accountability of just how much of the annual services and products were bought from businesses owned by HBCU alumni. There is a long way to go in moving the needle on circulating our dollars more effectively, but a $10 meal at an African American restaurant versus hundreds of millions in development deals between HBCUs and our own real estate developers is a stark difference in getting us there.

How To Work With Friends as Clients, and Not Kill Each Other In The Process

HowToWorkWithFriendsBlogPost

By Jasmine Oliver

As a creative, it is inevitable that at some point in our career one of our close friends will either approach us for help with their project, or we will see how our skill sets could benefit their situation.

These can be tense situations to handle as there is more than just money on the table, a friendship is at stake as well.If these situations aren’t handled properly, you could lose a client and a close friend.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

1. Never work for free

One of the biggest mistakes that can ruin friendships and your business is volunteering your work for free. While we have the best intentions and want to help our friends, we are doing them an injustice if we don’t charge for our services.

If you’re a graphic designer looking for real-life advice and long-term success, The Graphic Designer’s Guide to Clients by acclaimed designer Ellen Shapiro is the book for you. Not only does she reveal the secrets behind getting the clients you want to recognize your name and brand, but she also discusses how to land those clients and create a positive and productive working relationship with them.

When you volunteer your work for free, you are putting that project at the bottom of your priority list.

Paying your bills will always come before doing free work for a friend.

Despite your good intentions, when times get tough you will end up pushing their project aside to get money in the door.

When you don’t charge your friends, you are disrespecting them and their business. This grave mistake has personally cost me several friendships over the course of pursuit to being a freelancer.

Every time I volunteered my work with true genuine intentions of helping the other person, but as paid clients picked up I had to prioritize my time on what was going to pay the bills.

Ultimately, my friends felt disrespected. They became very upset that I pushed their project aside and our friendship has never been the same ever since.

Never work for friends for free, its not worth it.

2. Only work with a friend if you truly believe you can provide value

Approaching friends as potential clients can be an awkward thing. Sometimes you may see a friend who could desperately benefit from your services.

But how do you approach them? Instead of thinking of approaching your friends as ‘trying to make a sale,’ try to think about it this way.

If you can really provide value to your friend, then you would be doing an injustice to them by not offering to help them. Never look at friends as just a source of income, only work with them if you truly believe you can benefit their situation.

3.Keep things professional

BAHHHH!!!! This part is hard, especially when dealing with friends that you even consider family. I know. I get it. Trust me.  When working with friends, it is essential that you keep things professional. You must treat your friends with the same professional care that you use on all of your other clients.Go through the same process and handle them just like you would with any other client.

Getting loose or unprofessional about the process with your friends is a quick way to bring uncertainty and doubt which can hurt the project and the friendship.

4. How to talk money with friends

Talking about the money, honey. Talking about the details with friends can be weird at first. As a result, many freelancers totally avoid this topic and end up with a loose scope or awkwardly dance around the money subject.

Instead of avoiding the topic, you need to face this head on and make sure everything is clear up front.

An easy way to do this is through e-mail. Having the money talk with a friend over the phone can be quite awkward, but doing it via e-mail tends to make it a bit less scary.

Whenever I send over my budget and proposal via e-mail I always give my friend the option out. I will say something along the lines of “If this project is out of your budget range, then no worries. I value our friendship more than this project and I won’t be offended if you say no.”

While that may not be the best sales tactic, it is essential in preserving the friendship.

5. Separate friendly talk from client talk

Another struggle for many friends is that working together can often mean that many once great friendships begin to diverge into a constant talk of the project at hand.

Set boundaries.

If you are out one evening having a good time, make it a rule to keep your work stuff out of the conversation. Or you can schedule regular work calls and keep those focused exclusively on the project at hand so that the rest of your life can go as normal.

Setting boundaries helps keep your friendships intact as the project moves forward.

6. Trade Agreements/ Bartering

Often friends can’t always afford to work with each other, but a trade of services may be something to consider.

Personal training in exchange for marketing.

Food in exchange for web design.

Accounting in exchange for business coaching.

Trade arrangements aren’t a bad thing, but the key is to make sure that you still structure those deals just like you do with any paid project.

Set clear expectations as to what each party will receive and put it in writing.

With trade agreements it is easy for one person or the other to feel cheated or undercompensated for their time. Get clear about what is being traded so that both parties feel equally compensated.

The bottom line

Working with friends as clients can be an enjoyable and profitable process. But you must handle these relationships with care because it is more than a project on the line, your friendship is at stake as well.

Jasmine Oliver is the creator behind VYRL CO. DESIGN. It is here that you will find a catalog of what inspired me, the struggles of growing as a creative and the joys, a place to share travels, and explore the journey of pursuing a beautiful and fulfilling life as a graphic/web designer and commercial photographer.  This rerun is with the consent of Vyrl Co. Design and may not reproduced otherwise. Visit her blog by clicking here.