Three African American women business owners are part of a driving force of women of color that has lead to a 258% increase in revenue for African American women owned businesses. Each of these women share their expertise and what has made them successful.
In a recent report titled, “How Women of Color Are Driving Entrepreneurship” published by the Center for American Progress, it was revealed that 30% of all American businesses have a woman at the helm. African American women in particular are a driving force, establishing their enterprises at six times the national average. Between 1997 and 2013, African American women-owned businesses grew by 258%, made 226.8 billion dollars in revenue, and employed 1.4 million people.
Alaia Williams is one such black woman at the helm of her business. She is a business operations strategist, speaker, and community cultivator; she runs a professional organization business and hosts an annual women’s business conference, appropriately named At the Helm: Women in Biz. The conference focuses on what it takes for women to grow and thrive in today’s challenging economy. Williams is one of many African American women adding to the success of black women in business.
Williams is an entrepreneur through and through. “I see myself as a connector, a community builder, a dot connector. I like to create the space for people to come and meet other amazing people who have interesting stories and great experiences…I wouldn’t be where I am now if it wasn’t for my network.” Williams connects business owners with the exact resources – whether that’s another person or new software — they need to optimize their business and life. She has been called the “Small Business Swiss Army Knife” and this couldn’t be truer.
Williams’ success is evident from her wildly successful conferences to her many speaking engagements. She has spoken at the West Hollywood Women’s Leadership Conference, Ladies Who Launch, Charles Schwab, Renegade Women’s Conference, and Raytheon amongst others. She has also been featured in two books, Twitter Power and In Belly of the Fail Whale.
As the creator of The Entrepreneur Connection (an 800 member strong networking group in Los Angeles), Williams knows first-hand that when people form a supportive community, they learn, grow, and develop as individuals, and their businesses in turn acquire exactly what they need to thrive. “When I started my business eight years ago, I got clients in a variety of ways, but what I really wanted was people to refer me,” Williams recalls. “But, I didn’t have a network so who was going to refer me? It was really as the years rolled on, after having a bunch of clients under my belt, and being part of network groups where I’m finally at a place where every client I work with now is someone who has seen me speak at an event, someone who met me at a networking event, or someone who came as a referral… The network I have built and the quality of my networks is my biggest success.”
Another African American business woman at the helm is Natalyn Randle-Matthews, who also knows the power of a supportive community of like-minded individuals. She is the CEO and founder of Black Business Women Rock, an organization she created in 2011 to bring African American women together where they can provide encouragement and support for each other. Natalyn’s goal is to have the women in her community embrace one another and help each other move into a higher level of business through a reciprocal exchange of teaching, learning, networking, and brainstorming.
Her organization is aimed at African American women who are thinking about starting a business, but don’t know how or where to start, those who are in the early stages of their budding business, and even those who already have established, thriving businesses. “I was on the sideline at one point too. I didn’t have a business and I needed resources; I needed to see other women in business to see how it went,” explains Randle-Matthews.
Her desire to start Black Business Women Rock sprouted from her own experience, as she mentioned, as an African American women who wanted to start a business but didn’t have the resources or guidance. She also founded Ease on Down the Road Home Improvement in 2007, helping homeowners renovate their homes in her local area.
Randle-Matthews is certainly a guiding light for African American businesswomen now. Her annual Black Business Women Rock’s conference is being held on November 1st in downtown Los Angeles and will cover topics like how to start your business, being an innovative entrepreneur, financial education, investing in real estate, marketing and more.
More than anything, Randle-Matthews just wants the women in her community to feel supported like she does. “In my circle, I have women that uplift me. We embrace each other, we don’t put each other down, we’re all about moving over and above; we’re moving up a ladder together, no one down,” she says. By starting Black Business Women Rock, it is her hope to get even more black women at the helm.
In a more creative field, a successful African American woman at the helm is celebrity photographer, Kawai Matthews. Matthews’ business, Air Philosophy, specializes in all things visual media, so in addition to photography she also does a lot of videography and graphic design. She has worked with big names like the L.A. Times, Essence Magazine, Grammy Museum, Magic Johnson Foundation and Brookfield, and has even photographed celebrities such as Kanye West, Kerry Washington, Common, Queen Latifah, Dr. Cornel West, and Angela Bassett. She recently did a spread on Taraji P. Henson and Idris Elba which appeared in Rolling Out Magazine.
Matthews knows first-hand the fears African American women experience when entering the business world. “I think as black people in America, we think about race more than anybody. Race and the socio-economic issues connected to it stops so many people from trying, from going after their dreams,” says Matthews. “On a daily basis we have to knock down those mental barriers to take the necessary steps forward. When we have access to people who are doing it, if we have a mentor, or even if we just read an article about someone who made it, it helps to knock those walls down.”
Matthews talks about the battles and the joys of being an entrepreneur.. “A lot of times we get caught up in self-doubt. But it leads us to the big questions: ‘Can I?’ ; ‘Am I good enough?’ ; ‘Will I be able to make money or survive?’ The answer is, ‘Yes!’ This victory over fear is something Randle-Matthews knows intimately as well. She recollects how her Black Business Women Rock conference didn’t happen in 2012 after a successful launch the year prior because “…fear stepped in…I was having conversation with fear and I didn’t have the confidence in 2012.” She was afraid of what people would think of her or what they would say behind her back. Now? “I just do it,” says Randle-Matthews with an air of defiance and pride.
All of these women are luminaries in their fields. They are all running successful businesses and trying to help other African American women conquer their fears and make the leap into starting their own business. As Matthews says, “My greatest success was just taking that first step; that has to be your greatest achievement because that initiated the domino effect. Without that first step, nothing and none of this would be at all.” Their message is clear: You can do it, you can make it, your ideas are good enough – you are good enough.
To connect with these women powerhouses visit:
Alaia Williams at: http://www.alaiawilliams.com/.
Natalyn Randle-Matthews at: http://www.blackbusinesswomenrock.com/.
Kawai Matthews at: http://airphilosophy.com/.