J.D. Baker talks with Joanne Davis, Oklahoma City Black Chamber of Commerce executive director, as she outlines several resources Black entrepreneurs can tap into when starting a business.
Joanne Davis serves as the executive director for the Oklahoma City Black Chamber of Commerce. Prior to this role, she worked more than 35 years for the U.S. Air Force and spent nearly a decade as the Director of Small Business for the Air Force Sustainment Center, headquartered at Tinker Air Force Base, focusing on helping small businesses access Air Force contracts and bids.
In other words, she has experience working with and helping businesses succeed.
Davis’ goal in her role at the chamber is to forge relationships that will ensure an avenue to increase business development within the Black-owned business community, help sustain the viability of current businesses and to ensure that these entrepreneurs are aware of opportunities available as this city continues to grow and expand.
As an expert who has worked with small businesses to access government contracts, we asked Mrs. Davis to provide a blueprint – or “Blackprint” – for how to start a successful Black business. Many of these answers are applicable for all small and microbusinesses:
First, the reality is that there is no finite way to success for Black-owned businesses. And here’s why: One, success is dependent upon the industry, and secondly, the events of the economic situation of our country, states and cities play a pivotal impact. And finally, the ever-present shadow of racism inclusive of what is real and what is perceived colors every part of a Black-owned business.
However, the one thing anyone entering into this creative space of entrepreneurship must realize is that preparation is and will be the key to success. The more prepared you are financially and the more educated you are on the ways of business, the more likelihood of staying afloat for more than the average 2-3 years for Black-owned businesses.
While money, and lack thereof, is the main reason for failure, it is really a lack of knowledge of how the systems surrounding business ownership really work. Contemplating moving a dream and a vision into a profit-making business is a long-term relationship that teeters on failure, if you are unaware of the enumerable pitfalls that will arise. This is reality for a small business whether you are Black, Hispanic, Asian, white or any other box that society wants you to choose.
It is scary unless you weaponize yourself with knowledge.
Here’s some tangible ways to increase knowledge to gain access:
- Begin with business classes, and don’t stop after just the ones that say how to register your business.
- Take classes with real information that can arm you with knowledge that moves from the books to methodologies that will help you succeed.
- Check the Metro Tech, community colleges and be ready to take book knowledge to street knowledge. This gives you a peek of the multiple things you must touch on your way to successful business ownership.
- If this is not an optimum choice, start talking with business owners that you know and some you don’t. Most are willing to share their successes and their failures. Let them tell you how they learned by doing and how much that cost them in time and money.
- When structuring your budget (This should be one of your first steps) include the cost of things you have little or no knowledge. It’s called outsourcing of services. You may need to hire a business manager or a marketing or technology expert.
- You should – you must – hire an accountant. Accountants are necessary to keep you on task with the IRS and to help you legally garner appropriate and applicable taxable deductions. Accountants should be your best business friend. This is a key relationship and point in the necessary financial documentation needed to apply for funds/grants, etc.
- Never ever enter into any negotiations without experts and without doing your own necessary research regarding cost of equipment or leases.
- Find a bank you can trust. Where you put your money is where you need to develop a relationship. It is through this financial institution that can help guide you on how to gain capital for your business and how to borrow funds for expensive items related to your business with less interest than what credit cards mandate.