Growing as a Small Business Owner
Patience. Humility. Vulnerability. Confidence. Endurance. These are the continuous lessons I am learning as I grow my small business.
As many of you already know, I started my own business, Brave World Media, a branding, marketing, and communications agency in 2017 and have been chugging along ever since, growing my team, my client roster, and somewhat quietly kicking ass. My goal with starting the company was to impact change in media, both online and off, in a more positive and diverse way. We are outspoken, creative, and brave in our work, our voice, and our stance on everything from the arts to social justice. We’ve been doing this work and influencing change with those who partner with us for some time now, and well, it was time for the next step.
It’s been TWO YEARS since I set out on the path to having my business certified as a Woman-Minority-owned business in New York State and today, it finally happened! (Note: In order to qualify as a woman – and/ or minority-owned certified business, among many other qualifications and criteria, a woman and/or minority needs to hold the majority of the stake in the company. And you will need to prove that is the case in more ways than one.)
On one hand, the system is terribly backlogged. On the other, COVID.
I wanted to share the lessons I learned from this experience for any other entrepreneur out there working through or hoping to work through the certification process.
It helps to have a portfolio of work and reputation established – The application and review process is intentionally not easy. One reason is bureaucracy, another, I learned, is that because so many white/men often try to con the system established to help women and minorities in business by paying women and minorities to act as fronts for a business not owned by either, the level of inquiry and background checks are intense and meant to cast away any doubt that the business is not one’s own.
People looking to apply for certification need to have all their documentation in order and be established as a legitimate business, with all state and federal credentials and a proven growth track record – in other words, the certification is a wonderful opportunity for your business, but your business has to have already proven to merit it by having done the work as an established company.
Don’t try to do it alone – There are plenty of groups out there that will gladly charge you A LOT of money to “support” you and still leave you with plenty to figure out on your own. The process is confusing, tedious, stressful, and frustrating. But, lucky for me I wasn’t alone. Nancy Kirby and the rest of the IncubatorWorks team, a business incubator located in New York’s Southern Tier, have been supporting and helping me as I grow my business for some time now, and this experience was no different. They really held my hand through this process and kept me from giving up – because there were times when I wasn’t sure if it was all worth it. So many businesses rely on one source of support – whether they be books, or conferences, or intuition. I think that all those are great, but if you are fortunate to connect with an incubator and experienced mentors, that it can really help set you up for success. It is a lie that successful businesses and entrepreneurs got to where they got on their own. It’s a fallacy that paints business ownership as attainable to only a select few. Ask for help, and accept it often.
Checking my pride and my patience, again – It’s funny because I have learned that successful entrepreneurship means checking your pride over and over again. I don’t mean allowing yourself to be abused or disrespected, but knowing that there is a time and place for everything. In this experience, I had to control my temper when reviewers told me that it seemed more likely that Brave World Media was my husband’s company rather than my own. His skill set, they believed, just seemed to really be the thing that added value to our company. I suspect they saw his career as a graphic designer to be not only something they understood better but also more worthy of an investment than my soft skills in public and media relations. I didn’t say much at the time, other than to politely disagree – and provide detailed evidence of how my work and leadership in the company is actually what clients seek us out for. I didn’t say anything until now.
Time and place.
In the end, after all that work and all that time, much of which I couldn’t have survived without the incredible support of IncubatorWorks, I can’t express what it feels like to see this in my email (images cropped):
Our “little agency that could” has been working so incredibly hard, and we have a wonderful team of creatives. 2020, with all its challenges, really pushed us creatively and bonded us as a team. Small business ownership is both exciting and scary and the best thing I have ever done. There is so much more to it than making money – or rather, money is good and necessary, but it’s not my motivation and I think that makes me a better leader, more passionate about my work, and way more excited about my company.
It takes a village, and a lot of confidence in your work, your skills, and yourself. Most importantly, the learning never, ever ends. And what you don’t know, leave to those who do. Vulnerability is not weakness, and knowing your limitations is a lot wiser than ignoring them.
To learn more about IncubatorWorks, visit their website (designed by our agency!) or follow them on social @Incubatorworks. They are hosting a 10-week online business course to help entrepreneurs and small businesses launch and move forward, especially after 2020. You can learn more about it here.
To see what Brave World Media is all about, check out our website and follow us on social at @BraveWorldMedia. If you have any questions about small business ownership, or Brave World Media specifically, please contact us through the BWM website, or in the comment section below!