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Doing Business While Black: Many Firms Wonder If Race Really Matters

Doing Business While Black: Many Firms Wonder If Race Really Matters
Entrepreneurship Lessons

AFRICANGLOBE – Truth be told, there advantages and disadvantages to identifying yourself as a Black-owned business. Why? As with anything else, people have different perceptions about what it means to be a Black business.

Of course, if you’re servicing African Americans it could pay to let your potential customers know that you’re Black-owned. Though African Americans only represent 13% of the population in the United States, that’s a whopping 40 million people. According to the Selig Center for Economic Growth, Black consumers spend almost one trillion dollars annually and have more buying power than any other minority group.

For Christine Houston, supporting Black business has been a longstanding tradition. The office administrator supports Black nail salons, beauticians, locticians, and restaurants. For the most part, she says her experiences have been positive. She also recalls having numerous conversations on this issue with her now 30-year-old son, who once tried to jumpstart his car wash business.

“He and his friends from school used to wash cars on Saturdays and Sundays, so at a young age he realized the importance of supporting Black business,” she remembers. The boys visited the car shows to purchase premium cleaning products and developed a substantial following over their two-year-run. Then one day, their corner lot was taken over by another firm and they were unable to secure another location.  “That was an early lesson,” she says. “That was a lesson for him and for me.”

Without the active support of Black consumers, some companies can’t survive. If that’s the case for your particular line of business, then the only way people will know you’re Black-owned is if you tell them through your advertisements or other communication.

But what about the negative stereotypes that haunt Black businesses?  People sometimes think that African American-owned businesses are synonymous with poor customer service, tardiness, higher prices, low quality, and just plain “attitude.” Whether any of these preconceptions are true or not, declaring yourself as a Black business in all of your communication may prevent you from making that important first impression.

So how do you let the right people know that you’re a Black business without alienating other potential customers? Here are some suggestions:

• List yourself in online Black business directories. People who go to these sources are actively looking for Black-owned businesses. Sites such as www.izania.com which has 2,661 listings and 321 categories are free. Others have a fee. In an era of keywords, meta tags and blogging, there are things you can do on your own to increase your visibility. Before paying for a business listing, ensure the site is worth the investment.

• Join African American networking groups. Participation in groups such as the Charlotte Mecklenburg Black Chamber of Commerce (www.cmbcc.org), the National Association of Market Developers (www.namdntl.org), Jack and Jill of America (www.jack-and-jill.org), and the National Urban League (www.nul.org) will connect you to other black professionals who can use your services or make referrals. Just vary your affiliations so you’re networking with different people.

• Be strategic. Tailor your marketing and advertising materials to match your audience’s expectations. If being a Black business owner will work in your favor, promote it but also communicate how your product will uniquely serve that audience and why you can do a better job of servicing Black people. If this approach won’t work, gear your marketing materials accordingly.

Watch the company you keep. Like it or not, you can be guilty by association. If a business or group isn’t upholding high standards, distance yourself.


By: Monique McKenzie

Ms. McKenzie is host of The McKenzie Business Forum talk radio show on Thursdays at 3 p.m. To connect to the show live or hear the archives, go to www.thecharlottepost.com.


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