For black business owners, disadvantages are lurking around every corner. Whether it’s lack of access to capital and resources, discrimination from potential investors or refusal of a target audience to support the business, it can be extremely tough to find your bearings in a business world dominated by people who don’t look like you. However, instead of giving into the frustrations, channel your energies into a valuable skill that can change your outlook: network with other black business owners.
In and of itself, networking is crucial because your business contacts can connect you with new customers, investors and even new employees to join your team. But networking with fellow black entrepreneurs can exponentially increase the value of your existing network.
One of the biggest criticisms of startup culture is its lack of diversity. When we look at tech companies like Pinterest, Snapchat and Twitter, they have a wide net of black users interested in their products. But there’s no one with their skin tone working behind the scenes. When you fill your network with other black business owners, you ensure that you gain access to opportunities that may have otherwise been unavailable. You never know who knows each other. Perhaps your new LinkedIn contact has a mentor at Facebook who can recommend your business for collaboration. The possibilities are endless.
Solid Support System
Running a business is hard work, and there are times where it seems there’s no light at the end of the tunnel. When you build a network full of people who share a common thread, you can lean on them for support when you need it most. How do you address the culturally insensitive employee you just brought on board? How do you overcome rejection? How do you indicate the value of your business to a non-black audience? Someone in your network has been there before and can help you leap over the hurdles.
The black community often stresses the importance of buying from black-owned businesses. For our business community to flourish, we must support it financially. When you surround yourself with other black business owners, they aren’t just your peers or your friends; they’re also your customers. You’re working side by side with these people to strategize and make your business successful. When they buy into you and your story, they’re also buying into the value of your product or service.
More than anything, running a business is an ongoing educational process. Sure, you read books and blog posts for new information. You learn from your mistakes. But there’s nothing like learning from others who’ve been there before you. It’s especially poignant when you meet other black people who’ve been where you’re trying to go. You can learn from each other’s journeys. You can share your knowledge with others while expanding your base. For the community to get ahead, we can’t withhold information. Networking allows us to share the knowledge so that everyone can prosper.
Two heads are better than one. Thousands of heads are infinitely more beneficial. Within an organization, one of the greatest values of diversity is creativity. This creativity exists in problem solving, idea generation and even plan execution. If connecting with all these folks of color is so useful for a big company, think of what it can do for you as the owner of a new business. Expanding your network of black entrepreneurs can give you the competitive edge. One of your contacts can proofread your business plan and make suggestions for improvement. Or they can introduce you to a new way of thinking about the problem your business solves. More than new knowledge and more than support, your growing network of black bosses can provide the missing link between an idea and a world-changing global solution. Your network can become the ultimate think tank.
Preparation for the Unexpected
More than anyone, young black business owners understand that no day is guaranteed. Business is unpredictable, and one year of success doesn’t necessarily set the pace for the next one. You must always be prepared for the unexpected. A market crash, a financial collapse, a sweeping industrial shift. When the tide turns against you, it’s your network that could provide a safety net. When you connect with other black entrepreneurs, you’re all bonded by a shared experience and a desire to succeed. If one person goes down, the others in the network won’t let that person fail. When you find yourself in a difficult situation, there may be someone in your professional tribe that can bring you onboard until you recover. Or, they can connect you with resources to get your business back up and running. The true value in your network isn’t just what you can give or even what you can take away. It’s about how that network can propel you forward—and pull you up from the dark depths of business failure.
Networking is about so much more than finding people in your industry or niche. It’s about locking in contacts who relate to your experience on multiple levels. Black power isn’t just in pride; it’s in knowledge and collaboration in business.