When I founded my business three years ago, like any other business owner, I was extremely proud. I had started a business with the hopes of not only publishing my own works, but the works of other authors. The only criteria was that the works of the other authors would have to have merit. They had to be able to tell an interesting story and hopefully, nestled within the pages of their work, they would have a message that would enrich someones life in one way or another. As a journalist, it is my job to research whatever topic that I am undertaking to ensure that I am delivering credible news or a fair review for any book that I may have read. After all, this is what someone that is in my position should be doing.
As I make my way through the literary industry and then look at some other African American owned and operated businesses, I fear that there there may be something that is lacking within our economic circles…something that may prevent us from becoming the viable force that is within our grasp. Though we have every reason to be proud of our accomplishments, some of us may not place the value on our fellow business owners or providers of service that is needed to grow our economic circle thus indirectly growing our businesses respectively.
Some African American business owners may subscribe to the ideology that simply because they have made the necessary sacrifices to start a business that may empower themselves and their families, they may not feel the need to adhere to business protocol which may include basic skill sets such as communication, networking and most importantly, mutual respect of fellow business owners and providers of service. Some may feel that they have paid their dues and because of this, they are free to make up the rules as they see fit to survive in the market that they have built their business.
I am sure that many of you have heard that you shouldn’t do business with family or friends because if something goes wrong, the personal relationship will deteriorate as quickly as the business dealing. One of the reasons for this is that some people who do business with friends or family will play the “family or friend” card when the payment of the services provided are due. We may not place the full value on the services provided because we have an intimate relationship outside of the professional relationship with the person who is providing the services. As a result, we may not place the appropriate value on their time or efforts, or even worse, we value them because we truly can see the benefit of our business relationship, but will diminish them if they do not do what we want them to do within the time frame that we want or need them to do it. Sometimes, we will say that “since we are friends/family” they should be understanding and not charge me or my business the full fee, especially if I cannot afford to pay it, or they should be accommodating if I am running extremely late and don’t bother to call them to advise accordingly.
Sometimes, we forget things such as “business etiquette” when conducting business with our own. We use slang when slang isn’t warranted or needed. We assume that since the person we are conducting business is of the same race as we are, that they understand that we may not have the money for the services that they are providing and that they should be understanding if we don’t pay them when we said we would. In short, we don’t always place the value on the services being provided because the person is of the same race as we are and thus, they should know the struggles that a new African American business owner encounters.
This is not reflective of all African American owned and operated businesses, but many of us fall into this trap on a daily basis. We may demand to be treated with the respect of a business owner, but yet, we don’t treat our fellow proprietors of business with the same respect.
Here’s an example: A woman advertises that she provides a service where she designs book covers for authors. Her rate for a cover is $100. On her website, she has several book covers that she has designed in the past. She is emailed questions by a perspective client and the exchange goes something like this:
Client: I see that you design book covers and your website looks good. Do you have further examples of your work and do you have references that would accommodate those examples?
Business Owner: The examples of my work are on my website and anyone that has done business with me was happy with my work.
Client: I see. And how would I remit payment to you and when is payment due?
Business Owner: Paypal me your payment in advance and the turn around time is two – three business days.
Client: And what happens if I’m not happy with the work you’ve provided?
Business Owner: We’ll talk about it then.
Client: Do I have the opportunity to submit some of my own artwork to help in the process?
Business Owner: Yeah. And the price would still be $100.00. And I don’t do refunds.
You would think that this simple exchange would be deemed acceptable because the business owner may feel as if she is being direct, to the point and leaving nothing for misinterpretation. But if you look carefully at the dialogue, the potential clients questions were never clearly answered and payment was asked for in advance which is a clear red flag that the business owner may have had bad experiences with payment in the past for the services that she provided. And assuming that this is the case, the business owner brought her previous experiences with her to the potential new client. While being direct could be deemed as outlining the parameters for a successful business deal, her demeanor could be off-putting. The client may indeed take her business elsewhere for a variety of reasons. Maybe the client didn’t feel comfortable in paying someone that she never conducted business with before in advance. Maybe the client didn’t feel comfortable with not having her question addressed regarding references. Or maybe the client didn’t like the fact that there wasn’t an option for her to receive a refund in the event that she wasn’t satisfied with the services that would be rendered to her.
Sometimes, small business owners may want to re-invent the wheel. What I mean by this is that they may want to create their own rules regarding how they not only run their business, but how they interact with potential clients, vendors and constituents. Some business owners may legitimately think that they are capable of founding a business without doing all of the necessary research needed to sustain it. We may offer what they believe to be top notch services and products without realizing that they in fact, really aren’t. Some business owners may offer a good product but questionable services.
I’ve seen it time and time again…so many times that famous comedians make a joke about it. We have the capacity to form successful businesses but we are missing one key element that will help make our businesses excel and thrive. We do not place the same amount of importance on our colleagues as we do ourselves. In fact, sometimes we may even behave as if we are the only ones that have paid the price for forming a business without realizing that others have done the same. We demand the respect of being a business owner, but many times, we aren’t willing to give it. We don’t value the time, products or services of our colleagues as much as we do our own. We may even dismiss them when they fail to give us what we want when we want it.
And that’s a shame.
Because there are many, many brilliant men and women who have started their businesses and work hard to make them grow. We have the capacity to network and grow what we have created if we just do a few things to ensure our success. We need to understand and respect anyone that we interact with. We should treat each and every potential client as if they are going to be our last and give our best each and every time. We should be consistent in how we do business. We need to place the same amount of value on their time as we do our own. If a business deal goes sour, we learn from the mistakes made and move forward. That’s how we learn. That’s how we grow.
I say this because I have witnessed it, experienced it and continue to learn from it. In order for our businesses to survive, we need to learn our industries and instill in ourselves common business courtesy while exercising what we all need…sensible business etiquette.
We can succeed. We have the skills to do it. We’ve mastered the hard part. We’ve learned to believe that we can do it. Now we need to learn the smaller parts which are equally just as important. We have to learn to respect, trust and deliver the best to one another.
This is not to say that all African American owned and operated businesses have to learn this lesson, but there are many businesses that do. 2015 should be a year of promise. Let’s see if we can increase and grow our network so that we can all walk in the land of prosperity.
~ J.L. Whitehead