A few weeks ago I was reading an article about grant programs for members of historically marginalized groups. When I first started my business, I was encouraged to apply for a few of these funds and told that because I’m a Black woman entrepreneur, there would be a lot of funding available for me. The truth is actually much more complicated.

According to a 2023 McKinsey study, only 0.1% of venture capital funds go to Black and Latina women entrepreneurs. When I’ve applied for funding, I’ve found that often the hurdles to getting it aren’t worth the hassle. In one program I applied for, the organization wanted me to provide both my parents’ birth certificates with no guarantee of funding. Another was a training program in disguise – it felt remedial and the fine print was that I had to give hours of my time (in this case – up to 100 hours) to “learn” how to run a business before I could get a $10K grant. Really?!

I know these funds do good work, and I’m grateful they exist. But I share this story to disrupt the assumption that Black women entrepreneurs automatically get preferential treatment and handouts. In reality, only 3% of businesses are Black-owned. Two-thirds of those businesses have fewer than 10 employees and only 39% of them are owned by women. As a Black woman running a small business, I see every day that we’re still fighting an uphill battle, and public perception is at odds with my daily reality.

So this Women’s History Month, I want to get candid about what it’s actually like to start a business as a Black woman entrepreneur. There are ridiculous myths I hear all the time – that starting a business is easier for Black women, that I launched my business “at the right time,” that everything must be going smooth, or that having a bestselling book is a guarantee of success. While I’m incredibly grateful for the successes I’ve had, there have been real challenges and struggles. Here are some lessons I’ve learned along the way:

1) Starting a business means you’ll have to grapple with constant change.

There are so many factors that fluctuate during the startup phase of a business. Finding the right team can be a big challenge, and it can be hard to realize that some team members will work out and others won’t. You’ll have to make tough decisions and look for folks who are ready to grow with your business (and varying phases of business require different types of skills). I realized that, as an entrepreneur, I had different relationships with employees than I did as a corporate manager, so I had to redefine what a good manager looks like and how I wanted to show up.

Change is also an unavoidable dilemma with the products you offer. Sometimes a product’s “first draft” isn’t working out, and you’ll have to pivot so they work more effectively for your clients. Other times you have to determine how to respond to client feedback.

You also have to get the help you need. The coach that worked three years ago may not be the coach for you now. Same with vendors – I recently audited all of mine.

To grow is to change – and that change means you’ll constantly be challenging yourself to see things in a new way. It’s not easy but it’s definitely worth it!

2)You have to define (and redefine) what success means to you.

Success is a pretty subjective thing – it means something different to everyone. What matters when you’re starting a business is to determine what it means to you.

Continually ask yourself what it would look like to be successful, and make sure it’s something you can measure as you grow. Is it making a lot of money? Is it the value you create? For me, it’s the impact Change Coaches has on the people we work with. That’s not to say that other things like freedom, wealth building (we all have to plan ahead), etc. aren’t important, but acknowledging that the most important thing was making positive changes in organizations, in different industries, and across an array of clients has been instrumental in guiding my decisions.

One more note around the topic of success – on social media, everyone puts their best foot forward, so you have to remember that the success that you appear to see doesn’t always match up with what’s truly going on behind the scenes. I have continually learned this firsthand when I’ve had conversations with people who I look up to. Everyone is facing challenges! Don’t base your success on what you see other people doing. Also, remember there’s room for everyone to succeed! This was a critical learning of mine.

3) Don’t be afraid to think outside the box while also staying true to your purpose.

Speaking of purpose – something important that I’ve recently realized is how much it matters to me to make sure more people get access to the work we do. We have a good mix of corporate clients, but the services we provide them aren’t always accessible to smaller organizations or individuals who could benefit just as much from working with Change Coaches. This is what inspired a couple of new offerings in 2024 — more on that in a bit. We secured many of these clients through thinking outside the box. When I first started Change Coaches, I spent most of my time doing 1:1 and group leadership coaching. I saw the deep impact it had, so I’m now rebalancing my time so I can personally provide this coaching on a larger scale again. As I mentioned earlier, success to me means having an impact and part of my purpose is making that impact accessible in more places. Here’s to more success for us all! 👏🏾🎉

Women entrepreneurs – especially women of color – I want to hear from you in the comments. What are some of your greatest lessons learned?

And, as promised, here’s more about a few new Change Coaches opportunities:

  • Keep an eye out for our Accelerator programs for credentialed coaches and individual leaders at accessible price points. To keep up with the updates on both of these programs, join the Change Coaches community newsletter.
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  • Schedule a complimentary Coaching Chemistry session with me! You can learn more and express interest here.