Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Art Of Black-Owned Business, Part 1: Circumvent Customer Resistance By Having A "Colorless" Business

This essay is contained in my new book. I'm delighted to announce that The Sojourner's Passport site has launched! You can visit it at http://www.sojournerspassport.com/.

Everyone, I can't thank you enough for your ongoing encouragement and support; I truly appreciate it. Your support is what made this possible. And here's a special shout-out to my web designers at Educo Web Design. They're nice people to deal with, and they do outstanding work!

Peace and blessings,
Khadija Nassif

26 comments:

Miss Pinky said...

This post is very timely. I have really been "listening" as you continue to "ring the bell" on the era of good jobs is over. I have been working (and honestly spinning in circles) trying to come up with a side hustle that I can turn into a small business.

While looking at various online ventures, I was ignorantly scoping out "store-front" web designs that ONLY used images of BW. I guess I need to really re-think that.

ActsofFaithBlog said...

NO lamenting at how pathetic this is and other myriad reasons why blacks (specifically AAs) don't prosper. I really do wish I could have figured these things out earlier but I'm still relatively young and will adopt these tactics into my plans. Thank you for sharing this vital information!!

LaJane Galt said...

Excuse my ebonics, but you ain't neva lied.

The sad corollary is the lack of professionalism of some black businesses.

Imam Isa Mateen said...

Wow! I run an Islamic Elementary/high School. Many Black Muslims send their kids to the local Arab school where their kids are suspended for the least infraction and the curriculum is inferior. When their kids get kicked out of the Arab school, the parents run to us and want to complain about our tuition - even though it's lower than the inferior Arab school.!
We teach African History. Parents will complain about that saying we're "racist." But hey have no problem with their child learning Arab History, American History and World History(as long as Africa is not included in the world!)
It is mind boggling! Is their hope for our people?

ak said...

Hi Khadija and thank you very much for this informative post.

It's true what you've said about black people and black lawyers that they seek to hire except for the one exception which was Johnny Cochran when he was alive!

Black people always sought to use Cochran to pull their bums out of the fire, especially any racial harassment fire. I can't see Johnny ever being willing to haggle with black or white clients when it comes to payment arrangements, but as I never knew him or used him then what do I know? LOL

Khadija said...

Pinky,

You said, "While looking at various online ventures, I was ignorantly scoping out "store-front" web designs that ONLY used images of BW. I guess I need to really re-think that."

I wouldn't call it "ignorance." You were acting from a position of INNOCENCE. There's a huge difference between the two.

Take your time, read up, study your options. If you do your research with a non-pressured frame of mind, the right idea will come to you.

Along the way, you might also want to check out the service that's offered by Amazon.com called Webstore by Amazon.
_______________________

Faith,

You're welcome! Better late than never! I keep Colonel Sanders in mind. Apparently, he didn't start KFC until he was already a senior citizen! LOL!

Guurl, I've been shaking my head at the other example of deranged AA consumer behavior that you mentioned in your latest post: Foolish AA women are actually clamoring to buy a relationship advice book by Steve Harvey. A man who apparently cheated on Wife #2 with current Wife #3. AND, they're making a movie of this (allegedly plagiarized) mess! Hmmph.
_________________________

LaJane Galt,

It's funny. My hairdresser (who is the owner of the salon) also recently remarked that I "ain't neva lied." LOL!

You said, "The sad corollary is the lack of professionalism of some black businesses."

That's part of it; but the real deal is that the mainstream AA consumer does NOT care about professionalism or any other such. If they did, they wouldn't be JAM-PACKED in filthy and rude Arab and Korean stores. Here's the simple equation for this situation:

AA/Black self hatred +

AA/Black lack of racial pride +

Integration/Desegregation =

The destruction of AA/Black business.


You see, it feels like segregation to shop with each other. And there's also some crabs in a barrel, envy and hateration mixed into the mix. This was one of the unintended side effects of the civil rights movement---the idea that "shopping with non-Blacks = freedom."

But enough analysis of deranged AA consumer behavior for now. It doesn't matter why they're crazy; we just need to strategize to work around their madness. And flourish despite their foolishness. Let the dead bury the dead.

Khadija said...

Part 2

Imam Isa,

You said, "I run an Islamic Elementary/high School. Many Black Muslims send their kids to the local Arab school where their kids are suspended for the least infraction and the curriculum is inferior. When their kids get kicked out of the Arab school, the parents run to us and want to complain about our tuition - even though it's lower than the inferior Arab school.!
We teach African History. Parents will complain about that saying we're "racist." But hey have no problem with their child learning Arab History, American History and World History(as long as Africa is not included in the world!)
It is mind boggling! Is their hope for our people?"


Well, here are my thoughts about that:

(1) The first part of what you're describing relates to the rule of "Do not believe everything the customer tells you." You see, AAs like YOU and I want "Islamic schools." But what the masses of Sunni Muslim AAs actually want is Arabian schools.

In terms of the NOI, I'm not quite sure whether what their members actually want are "Islamic schools" or "Master Fard Muhammad Ideology schools."

In order to thrive as Black business owners, we have to respond based upon what the consumers ACTUALLY want, and NOT based upon what they say they want.

We have to meet the consumers' wants and not necessarily their needs. I'm going to talk about this during Part 2 of this series.


AA consumers lie and claim that they want more Black-owned businesses. But that's NOT what they actually want.

MOST consumers DON'T want to be involved with a visibly Black-owned business. Especially AA consumers. We have to work around that aversion.

(2) The second part of what you're describing relates to the fact that there's no "us" anymore. Not in the sense that you're using that term. There are AAs like you, me, and the other handful of survivors and thrivers. And then there are the masses of AAs who are "THEY" and "THEM." "They" and "them" are NOT part of "US." There's an ever-widening distinction between the 2 categories of AAs.
____________________

AK,

You're welcome! Thank you for your kind words about the post; I truly appreciate it.

As far as Johnnie Cochran, I always had the impression that AAs only flocked to him AFTER he became a celebrity through the OJ case. And I've heard that's what's left of his firm has a majority of non-Black attorneys trading on his name. Oh well.

Peace, blessings and solidarity.

Karen said...

Khadija,

Thank you for the two book recommendations, they will be added to my reading list as I have had Sun Tzu's book for many years and it has been immensely valuable throughout my professional life and have also applied it to my personal life.

As for the business issue, one of my ideas has me visible but I would be applying it to niche that is not occupied by us.

The other possibility is completely "colourless" and another possiblity with a family of another culture/country would be focusing on a non-AA target market. All of these ideas are in their infancy but I look forward to reading these books plus the tips provided by others thus far to apply to these ideas.

I very much like posts that focus on moving forward, there is no reason to look back, it is already the past.

Tracy said...

Remain faceless or play the game!!

That sticks out in my mind more than anything. When I was in Ad-specialty sales, I made most of my sales over the phone.

My clients would pick out what they wanted, email the designs, email back the contracts and mail in the deposit (yes, you had to have a deposit!).

They only saw me when the product was finished and I delivered it. Surprise, surprise!! But because of my professionalism, I always got repeat business.

Now dealing with Negroes - that is a whole nuther story. I made a good living (still kinda do) selling printwear. Normally, you get a deposit or all what is due up front.

If I had a nickel for everytime a bruvah balked at the deposit, or reminded me that they to go to NeeNee's down the street for less and no deposit, I would literally be rich.

I also talked my sister in law, who has a large salon into doing the headwrap thing. Folks that would pass her by all of a sudden were clamoring for appointments! She also hires a multiethnic staff (my idea) so a more diverse clientelle can be serviced.

Personally, all that I have seen with "black" business here have been the cell phone/scented oil/insense/bagged hair variety, complete with the spraypainted "sign" misspelled with "z" 's. SMH!

Khadija said...

Karen,

You said, "I very much like posts that focus on moving forward, there is no reason to look back, it is already the past."

Part of the reason for moving forward is because I have a mission profile and a deadline for this blog. [This blog is NOT intended to be like Tavis Smiley's yearly talk fest.] There's always the possibility that I'll change my mind and decide to extend the life of the blog. However, for now that is not my plan.

Along the way, I'm mentioning the things that I've already learned as a landlord, and the things I'm still learning as I grow my other side business. Onward and forward!
___________________________

Tracy,

You said, "Remain faceless or play the game!!"

Well, there it is in a nutshell. In fact, I think this phrase will be part of the executive summary post that I'll probably do at the end of this series. Thanks for boiling this blog post down to a quick, easy to remember phrase!

Peace, blessings and solidarity.

Lorie said...

Hi Khadija,

I've been thinking about this for a while. I even refrain from posting my picture on my LinkedIn profile out of concern that prospective customers (or currently, prospective employers) would discriminate against me. I guess I've lost my "innocence." We all know that life isn't fair so we should take stock of things and plan around obstacles. Khadija, I think it is very wise of you to suggest that businesses meet wants (true wants)- not necessarily customer needs. Thank you so much. (Great blog BTW)

Also, (this may be off topic- sorry). Is it appropriate to liken the business environment to black womens' marriage market? Regardless of our quality and past "service", men of our own group, often discriminate. To suit our purposes, we should do what we must to make our "product" as UNIVERSALLY desirable (not just black-centric), and "flawless" as possible! :)

tasha212 said...

Khadija,

Thanks for the book recommendations. Will add them to my wish list on Amazon. LOL! I totally agree with what you said about having a faceless, colorless business. With the internet it is totally possible to do that without much hassle. I also think that people should think about the groups (cultural, professional, etc.) that they are already a part of and look for the needs and wants of that particular group that you can provide with the expertise that you already have. For example, I am a graduate student preparing to become a speech-language pathologist. There are many products and services that SLPs need that are not available. I've come up with an idea for a service that I can provide that NO ONE ELSE is providing. For obvious reasons, I don't want to discuss it in detail. So now, I'm doing research and plan on offering a premium service at a premium price. Also, though my business will start off as a service, I have plans to turn the service into a product that can be automated. Usually, those who aren't speech pathologists or in a closely related field, don't really know much about it. My focus over the next few years is to create and manufacture products that speech pathologists need (that makes their jobs easier). So my advice is to find a niche market that you are already a part of and find a service and/or product that either is not being offered or put a unique spin on a product or service that is offered by someone else.

Peace and solidarity,

Tasha

roslynholcomb said...

I have a friend who owns a car dealership. I won't name names because she purposely maintains her secrecy. Even people who work for her think she's the 'finance manager' at the dealership. Back when we were in college she said that she planned to own a car dealership, she had a plan laid out and everything. She always told me that she would never let anyone know she owned it because black folk wouldn't patronize her, and if they did they'd always be looking for the hook-up. She doesn't let her employees know she's the owner for the same reason.

Recently I was reading a book called Passing Strange, it's about a white man who passes for black to marry a black woman. It's an interesting story, the guy is a racist jerk, but one thing I found fascinating occurred after the he died. The wife is looking for an attorney, and the author mentions, almost as an aside that many black attorneys in NYC at the time (1920s-30s) passed for white if they could. Otherwise blacks wouldn't patronize them. That little nugget of information blew my mind, especially coming from a white author.

Khadija said...

Lorie,

Thank you for your kind words about the blog; I truly appreciate it.

You said, "Also, (this may be off topic- sorry). Is it appropriate to liken the business environment to black womens' marriage market? Regardless of our quality and past "service", men of our own group, often discriminate. To suit our purposes, we should do what we must to make our "product" as UNIVERSALLY desirable (not just black-centric), and "flawless" as possible! :)"

Yes this can be likened to the AA, Black-on-Black relationship market. The masses of AA consumers are making customer decisions based on dysfunctional, toxic thinking and NOT quality or service. The same can be said of the manner in which AA males select women.

The way AA males will marry obese, "trailer park" WW but demand that BW be "flawless" is EXACTLY parallel to the way AA consumers will flock to filthy, rude and dangerous Arab/Korean stores but yet demand that Black-owned businesses look and act like the jewellers at Cartier.
___________________

Tasha,

You said, "I also think that people should think about the groups (cultural, professional, etc.) that they are already a part of and look for the needs and wants of that particular group that you can provide with the expertise that you already have.

...Also, though my business will start off as a service, I have plans to turn the service into a product that can be automated.

...My focus over the next few years is to create and manufacture products that speech pathologists need (that makes their jobs easier). So my advice is to find a niche market that you are already a part of and find a service and/or product that either is not being offered or put a unique spin on a product or service that is offered by someone else."


Tasha, you've hit all the "high" notes in terms of this topic:

1-We can't try to be Walmart. This means FIND A NICHE that we can do an excellent job of servicing their TRUE wants. Which is not necessarily the same thing as what they say they want.

2-AUTOMATION IS ESSENTIAL. You want a business that is eventually "scalable"---that can fill an order for 1,000 "widgets" as easily as an order for 10 widgets. This won't work if you're producing the product and shipping the orders out yourself.

3-What people actually want usually revolves around having: (a) their perceived pleasures fulfilled, and/or (b) their perceived problems solved. This is NOT necessarily the same thing as fulfilling an actual NEED. For example, the hair weave solves the PERCEIVED "problem" of lacking long, straight-textured hair.

4-Do Point #3 in a way that's not already being done; and/or spin it in a way that it's not already being spun.

Peace, blessings and solidarity.

Khadija said...

Roslyn,

You said, "I have a friend who owns a car dealership. I won't name names because she purposely maintains her secrecy. Even people who work for her think she's the 'finance manager' at the dealership. Back when we were in college she said that she planned to own a car dealership, she had a plan laid out and everything. She always told me that she would never let anyone know she owned it because black folk wouldn't patronize her, and if they did they'd always be looking for the hook-up. She doesn't let her employees know she's the owner for the same reason."

You're friend is very savvy.

You said, "The wife is looking for an attorney, and the author mentions, almost as an aside that many black attorneys in NYC at the time (1920s-30s) passed for white if they could. Otherwise blacks wouldn't patronize them. That little nugget of information blew my mind, especially coming from a white author."

AAs' mass mental habits have NOT changed over the decades/centuries. And non-AAs have always been able to see the patterns to what we do---they just don't always comment out loud about these behavior patterns to us.

Peace, blessings and solidarity.

Lorraine said...

Another timely post. I like the "Neva Lied" quote. You have missed one group ---- family. Black families at that. One of my sisters used me for years (I allowed it) mainly letter writing and handling business and administrative matters for her. and when I set up my business, suddenly, my time, work, consulting, etc., was no longer valuable to her. She balked at paying me $1,000.00 of the $150,000 she got as a part of a settlement that I initiated.

Greedy, stingy, disrespectful, hateful and dirty come to mind. Her son needed some help with Spanish, so they got a tutor for him. Yet she called me expecting me to help her son for free. I did it the first time and spent over an hour giving her son help. Since that went over smoothly, she thought she would try it again. I told her to pay me what she was paying the tutor. She actually said: "That's tutoring, I asked you to help him with his homework." SMH. I told her it was tutoring and my time was too valuable to give another second of it to her for free. She said she would call me back. I never heard back regarding Spanish again as she had a hard time giving me one penny for my time. It's just not that valuable to her, yet she complained about how other black people want to scam and use. She really doesn't see that she is doing the same thing so I had to help her realize it in no uncertain terms. I had had it.
Again, SMH.

My brother has his own auto repair business and does very well. I had cousins thinking that he was going to fix their cars for free. When he would not do it, they happily when to white own garages or dealerships and got taken, and overcharged, but they would rather pay them than pay my brother a fair price for his time. He didn't mind helping at all, my brother just didn't appreciate the expectation that he was to give free service for hoopties that needed to be junked anyway. They didn't have cash for clonkers back then. lol

So the family can be included in how we hurt our own businesses.

I also heard a black woman Burger King franchise owner say that "black people need to stop suing for every little thing" I assume this was for trips and falls and a hair in the french fries. Not to diminish anyone seriously hurt, but some in the bc are sue happy and don't consider the hard work it takes to get and keep a franchise. We do this to ourselves.

Karen said...

Khadija,

you said: "Part of the reason for moving forward is because I have a mission profile and a deadline for this blog. [This blog is NOT intended to be like Tavis Smiley's yearly talk fest.] There's always the possibility that I'll change my mind and decide to extend the life of the blog. However, for now that is not my plan."

Then I look forward to future posts however long it lasts and will contribute where I can.

ak said...

Khadija:

That's part of it; but the real deal is that the mainstream AA consumer does NOT care about professionalism or any other such. If they did, they wouldn't be JAM-PACKED in filthy and rude Arab and Korean stores. Here's the simple equation for this situation:

AA/Black self hatred +

AA/Black lack of racial pride +

Integration/Desegregation =

The destruction of AA/Black business.

You see, it feels like segregation to shop with each other. And there's also some crabs in a barrel, envy and hateration mixed into the mix. This was one of the unintended side effects of the civil rights movement---the idea that "shopping with non-Blacks = freedom."

But enough analysis of deranged AA consumer behavior for now. It doesn't matter why they're crazy; we just need to strategize to work around their madness. And flourish despite their foolishness. Let the dead bury the dead.



I don't want to sound like I'm looking back, but I just can't understand why black people don't want to patronize black businesses that give good customer service? Even if they charge a higher rate for their products or services, if their attitudes are good, then I'm there! A shop just has to be reasonably clean, even more so if they sell food, but it doesn't have to look like Cartier's.

I recoil more from giving any rude non-blacks my hard earned money more than anything, which is why if I ever visited Paris I wouldn't shop there, if I can avoid it!

But now personally I feel that if black people don't want to act courteous, professional, and pleasant to all of their customers, including their black customers, then they need to quite the customer service business, because they just look like a let down.

Khadija said...

Lorraine,

You said, "So the family can be included in how we hurt our own businesses."

Oh, yeah. Biological relatives can be among the deadliest opposition to one's aspirations.
_________________________

Karen,

You said, "Then I look forward to future posts however long it lasts and will contribute where I can."

Thank you!
__________________________

AK,

Let the dead bury the dead.

Peace, blessings and solidarity.

Aisha said...

One of the exceptions to this seems to be the Black immigrant community. For example, West Africans will patronize West African businesses, Caribbeans will support other Caribbeans, etc. I'm not sure if this is out of some sense of loyalty to their own kind, or if it's because these businesses fill a void that others don't. Perhaps it's a combination. I'm trying to figure out what can be learned from them.

I guess this goes back to the importance of having a niche, offering something no one else does. I am wondering what niche markets AA women naturally have an advantage in... I'm pretty sure this was discussed before.

Sorry for any rambling, just trying to gather my thoughts.

Khadija said...

Aisha,

Unless I specifically state otherwise, I'm always referring to AAs. This blog discusses issues as they pertain to African-Americans. That's why I sprinkle the term "African-American" throughout my posts. When it gets cumbersome, then I say "Black." But I'm always talking about us.

I had hoped to make that clear at the very beginning of the earlier comment that I quoted when I said, "Speaking in reference to my own ethnic group only, the reality is that AAs don't and, for the most part, WON'T support a business if we know that it is Black-owned."(emphasis added).

Other Black ethnic groups generally do MUCH better than AAs in terms of supporting each other economically. However, all is not rosy with these other people or within their own countries. Many of the same patterns of buying from others applies to them as well.

However, whatever's going on with these other types of Black folks is not my priority. My priority is all about what AA Sojourners are doing. And the strategies that we can use in our own context to survive and thrive.

I look forward to hearing any and all ideas that come to you about all of this.

Peace, blessings and solidarity.

Aisha said...

Yeah, I figured my observation might be somewhat off-topic. I was hoping to look at these groups for a clue as to how AA businesses can help themselves. But their situation is different, so I guess it wouldn't apply. So much for cross-cultural solutions, lol.

I think you've pretty much covered it: be colorless or hide that the business is Black owned. I can't think of anything else to add at the moment. Thanks for this great topic by the way.

Beverly said...

This is a tough one for me. Sometimes in a sole-proprietor business especially a service business it can be "impossible" or at least difficult to conceal your identity. It's a lot easier if you have others working on you behalf. While recognizing this issue, I did consciously choose to reveal my identity by having my photo on my website. I'm sure that several people have declined to work with me because of it; but since I'm a sole-proprietor, it hasn't affected my business' money because I can't grow beyond a certain point anyway because the business is not scalable. Also, as a writer/creative worker, I don't know if it makes as much of a difference as it would for an accountant, attorney etc. I'm not sure; but it is something I think about. What's your advice on this issue for creative workers such as writers and visual artists?

Khadija said...

Beverly,

You said, "Also, as a writer/creative worker, I don't know if it makes as much of a difference as it would for an accountant, attorney etc. I'm not sure; but it is something I think about. What's your advice on this issue for creative workers such as writers and visual artists?"

Hmmm...I don't have any firm thoughts about that because I haven't entered the entertainment biz---yet. Here's my guesstimate about that particular angle:

It appears to me that the dynamics are somewhat different for entertainment products as opposed to every other sort of product. I'll talk about this in a future installment, but I divide businesses into categories in terms of what product they're selling:

1-food;
2-clothing;
3-shelter;
4-transportation;
5-money (financial services);
6-sex;
7-emotional comfort/security (online dating services, therapy, etc.);
8-entertainment;
9-services (including professional services);
10-information marketing--selling information about how to get one of the above items.

I put most (purely) creative endeavors into the entertainment biz category. The dynamics appear to be different for entertainment relative to all other categories of business. For certain types of entertainment products, the artist's person and appearance IS literally part of their product---such as for a singer in the modern, video era. So, I would guess that the dynamics are probably different for what you're doing, if you're a visual artist.

Although, there is still some overlap with the principle of "colorless" business. I've read of several female authors that felt the need to make their writing careers "genderless."

There are more than a few WW fiction writers who only used their first initials with their last names in order to conceal the fact that they were women from their prospective readers. I think that the Harry Potter author initially fit into this category. Apparently, men won't buy fiction written by women, even when it's in a genre that they like.

Peace, blessings and solidarity.

g-e-m2001 said...

This is an interesting topic because I came to similar conclusions about Black bloggers who want to make it "BIG." I was teaching a beginner blogger boot camp at Blogging While Brown and the class was full of micropreneurs thinking that they were going to be the next million dollar blogger. Almost all of their blogs had the word "Black" in the name. I said fine, but if you want to make millions, you need to add a "general interest" blog to your portfolio. By that' I meant, if you're writing about politics, there is nothing to keep you from starting a mirror site that isn't race specific. If you're starting a Black bridal site, chances are many of the topic you cover affect both Black and White brides so just created a mirror site and extract all mentions of race. Use icons and images that are not race-specific. Information is information. They all looked at me as if I had grown an extra head. I looked at them as if they were going to stay toiling away for $30 a quarter from Google Adsense.

I stumbled on to this phenomenon by starting Michelle Obama Watch. It ended up being a general interest blog, even though I didn't intend for it to be that way and the level of access and interest doesn't even compare.

Khadija said...

g-e-m2001/Gina,

You said, "I was teaching a beginner blogger boot camp at Blogging While Brown and the class was full of micropreneurs thinking that they were going to be the next million dollar blogger. Almost all of their blogs had the word "Black" in the name. I said fine, but if you want to make millions, you need to add a "general interest" blog to your portfolio. By that' I meant, if you're writing about politics, there is nothing to keep you from starting a mirror site that isn't race specific.

...Use icons and images that are not race-specific. Information is information. They all looked at me as if I had grown an extra head.

...I stumbled on to this phenomenon by starting Michelle Obama Watch. It ended up being a general interest blog, even though I didn't intend for it to be that way and the level of access and interest doesn't even compare."


Exactly. There is NO comparison between the money that's available to a non-Black business and the money that's available to a visibly Black-owned business. There's an entire business universe separating the two situations.

The resistance that you encountered is due to 2 things:

1-AAs' general lack of critical thinking skills. If these folks simply counted the number of visibly Black-owned businesses that THEY personally patronize on a regular basis, then that ALONE would tell them something significant about their prospects as a visibly Black-owned business.

2-This Fantasy Island-type thinking is another price we pay for the many false narratives that AAs tell each other. This particular false narrative is the "We have overcome" narrative. No, we haven't. Not in the ways that really matter. In all the things that matter, AAs are a TOTALLY DEPENDENT, and therefore VULNERABLE people.

Peace, blessings and solidarity.