Building trust is hard for small businesses– especially if you have two of the most deadliest identifiers, being Black and a Woman. Luckily, we’ve navigated this space for a few years and we have some recommendations for building confidence in a rapidly changing climate.
First, we have to talk about the two huge “ism” in the room, which will come as no surprise to you if you are a Black Woman. Even when you consider your closest friends and family, racism and sexism is always at play. In the design word, Black women seem to be at an even larger disadvantage, surprisingly enough. According to Fast Company, there are about 3% of Black people that identify as Designers, while women dominate the profession by 61%. This means that even though women, as a whole, are kicking butt and taking names in the design space, there is a ginormous gap for Black women.
Despite the fact that there are only a fraction of Black women identifying as Professional designers, Black women are currently one of the fastest growing groups of entrepreneurs in the U.S.
“The truth is that Black women in corporate culture work 30% to 40% harder than their white male and female counterparts to get the same results—and that’s if they’re lucky. More often than not (as the research shows), the upward mobility that comes with experience, skill, and hard work is not granted to Black women. The so-called leadership pipeline for Black women takes them exactly nowhere. In fact, it practically buries them alive.” (Wema Hoover, Fast Company)
You may not be running a design agency, like I am, but the statistics in your arena may be just as alarming. The silver lining is that as more and more Black women take our talents to South Beach, we can become the heroes in our own stories. We can leverage the work ethic we’ve built in other White and/or male dominated spaces to build efficient businesses where we can really thrive.
So, when we are sitting across the table with some of the same adversity we faced in Corporate, here’s are some tips to help us show up as organizations worthy of trust:
1. Be Intentional about Training and Mentorship
You will hear time and time again that there is no play book for entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurs share a lot of similar frustrations but each entrepreneurial journey is almost as unique as our own DNA. Because of this, you need to be very clear about understanding your learning style, your desired leadership style and your vision for your business. Taking these steps will allow you to identify mentors who are the best fit for what you hope to accomplish. Many people see someone they admire and pursue them for mentorship without intentionality. You should know your mentor’s successes and failures to determine what you are hoping to get from the relationship.
Understand that even with a mentor, you are still solely responsible for your development. You should be constantly adding new tools to improve your skill sets, which will include books, podcasts, workshops, and community groups.
This is an internal trust building exercise. It allows you to avoid pitfalls that you may not be aware of.
2. Take the time to Build You Business Plan
You may get tired of me saying this, but please take the time to develop a business plan or at the very least a business model canvas. There are some who will say that it’s not necessary to start and while that may be true, it’s almost impossible to scale without one. When you are pitching to investors or trying to raise capital, you will begin to get questions about things that would have been easily answered with a business plan.
And don’t let perfectionism get in the way. Most people think they have to get it right the first time, but in all truthfulness, it is something that will continue to live and breath as your business grows and changes. Even if you don’t finish, take time to work on your business plan bit by bit . This will save you a lot of pain and stress later.
This builds trust because it helps to answer the BIG questions. Nothing kills a conversation faster than the inability to communicate your business with clarity.
3. Build the Systems Early
Great businesses rise and fall on the strength of their systems (and you literally need a system for everything). How do you answer phones? How do you answer emails? What is the process for onboarding and off-boarding? What happens when someone wants a refund?
Much like your business plan, your systems will continue to evolve as you build your business and your team, but it’s smart to think through all that you possibly can on the front end. Also, be sure to test your theories on potential clients using surveys or polls to help gather information (and emails). Later, this is a role for a project manager who can help build flow charts that cover every details of the process.
Ultimately, your systems will show your Clients what to expect and begin to prepare you for the unexpected.
4. Build a Professional Brand and Cohesive Messaging
I know this is typically the first place that people start (because this is the most exciting) but it’s really the bow on all of your powerful thought work. You want to see your idea as real, which is best carried out by your logo and digital footprint. Yet, there’s a whole lot of strategy and research that goes into branding.
Much of the strategy in your business plan and system development will support with messaging, but your brand will require addition research around design and marketing.
Be sure to invest time and resources to develop the best way to market your business to your ideal client. A clear and concise message with an attractive brand builds a level of trust before you even have to open your mouth.
5. Choose Your Clients Wisely
As we consider building trust, we don’t often consider who we choose to work as a part of that. When you’re first starting, you will take anyone willing to work with you, and that’s okay at the beginning. But as you grow, you learn that working with the wrong Client can be very detrimental for your business.
When you’ve done all the work to build your business both internally and externally, you must also consider who you’re working with. “All money isn’t good money”. The wrong Client may choose to work with you, while also not truly believing in your expertise or they may have unbalanced expectations. This is a Client that will typically question everything you do or expect more than what you agreed to provide.
When you work with the right Client, you should both feel fulfilled in working together. It’s a relationship. Even when there are hiccups, the right Client will hopefully still assume the best about you.
Wrong clients have the tendency to emphasize your faults, offer more criticism than praise, and/or they micro manage your expertise. Perfection is a fantasy. You will mess up. Choosing the right Clients will 9 times out of 10, lead to positive reviews and referrals. And that, my friend, is the most impactful trust builder.
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