How You Can Cash in on the Buy-Black Movement
New e-commerce tools help small businesses make big profits as online sales boom. Sisters earning $1,000 to $6,000 a month show you how it’s done.
It seems everyone is buying Black these days. Thanks to the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, financial institutions such as Bank of America and PNC are investing millions in Black entrepreneurs. This past holiday season, more than 20 percent of Generation Z shoppers said they planned to patronize Black-owned businesses and 12 percent planned to shop brands that publicly support the BLM movement. And Oprah featured only Black businesses on her highly anticipated “Most Favorite Things” list in 2020.
For sisterpreneurs, the heightened interest represents a golden opportunity, and if you’ve been thinking of selling something online, the pandemic has given you a homebound and captive audience. For some entrepreneurs, such as Philadelphia-based Sisters From AARP reader Angela Tyler, selling products online has helped them weather the pandemic downturn.
Tyler, 56, a hairstylist for 30 years, lost her entire customer base with the exception of 10 clients during the pandemic. She had created a couple of hair products over the years but never marketed them, so once her styling business dried up, she built a website at NaturesHairFood.com to sell them. “Being online has done wonders for my business as it has driven people to buy my product,” she says.
If you have something to sell, all you need is a blueprint to follow. These three online entrepreneurs share their secrets to success.
Nakia Ramsey, 46
Day job: Executive assistant
Side hustle: Selling homemade candles at MarieMaurice.com
How much she’s earned in a month: $1,000
Nakia Ramsey is a self-described candle junkie so she decided to learn to make candles herself. Once she achieved that feat, the Atlanta resident tried her hand at selling them online and launched Marie Maurice Candle Company.
While she was adept at making candles, running an online business was a different story. She chose Shopify.com to set up her website because it comes with easily customizable templates for selling products online. “Shopify made creating a website so easy,” she says. She particularly appreciated the fact that her customers could subscribe from her site to an email list and she could have Shopify send thank you messages to customers automatically.
Not only did she have to learn how to market herself on social media, but she had to become familiar with such technical skills as staging her photos online. “I went on YouTube and I found out you've got to set your iPhone camera a certain way to take these pictures so that they're clear. You need to download certain apps like Adobe Lightroom to make your pictures look a certain way,” she says. “Captions are important, hashtags are important. All of this stuff you have to think about in order to make the right impression online.”
Keys to her success
She puts in the time. After working her day job from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., it’s not unusual for Ramsey to work on her e-commerce business from 7:00 p.m. to midnight. If she isn’t consistent, she pays the price. “This past month, I wasn't putting as much energy into my Instagram or my social media presence, and I haven’t gotten any sales at all. What you put into it is what you'll get out of it.”
She asked other entrepreneurs for advice. When Ramsey was in the early stages of launching her business, she emailed another online entrepreneur whose work she admired. “I reached out to her and just asked her about her business and she gave tips,” she says. Those tips helped Ramsey move more quickly through the learning curve.
Leslie Woodward, 48
Day job: Chef
Side hustle: Selling custom nut milk at Edenesque.com
How much she’s earned in a month: $4,000-$6,000
Based in Kingston, New York, Leslie Woodward has always been interested in nutrition, and about six years ago she started making custom juice cleanses on the side to support those with various health ailments. Eventually, she started creating nut milks that her company Edenesque describes as “clean, simple and made with ingredients you can pronounce.”
Once she figured out the logistics around selecting bottles, creating labels and having consumers test her nut milks, the next step was figuring out how to create an online presence to support her efforts.
One of the most important things she did was research online marketplaces that might be a good fit for her product. She decided on Doorstep Market (https://doorstep.market), a multivendor shopping site that features locally made goods from artisans and growers in several regions of the country. “It was a good fit because it’s for artisanal and handcrafted products,” she says. ShopMainstreet and AHAlife provide similar services.
With an online marketplace, Woodward could benefit from the site’s audience and its marketing efforts along with her own. She is exploring other marketplaces, which typically take a commission or small percentage of sales. Customers can also order products directly from her website.
With a goal of growing her hustle into a full-time business, Woodward is driven by her desire to bring clean and healthy options to communities of color. “This is my mission, this is my purpose,” she says.
Keys to her success:
She found her unique audience. There are plenty of online marketplaces, ranging from Amazon to eBay. To identify the perfect fit, you must “first identify who your market is and what you want to be,” Woodward says. She was clear on her business’s unique selling proposition: “We have a mission. We have clean ingredients. We support local farmers. We procure most of our items locally as much as we can," she says. Doorstep Market attracts an audience that cares about those same things.
She built up a social media following. Woodward spends a lot of time raising awareness of her nut milks on Instagram. “You can use your hashtag and really narrow your market,” she says. “Brand awareness and being out in public are very important because those people tell other people.”
Iquo B. Essien, 39
Day job: Writer, director, business consultant
Side hustle: Online courses at CrowdfundDream.com
How much she’s earned in a month: At least $3,000
After New York-based writer and consultant Iquo B. Essien lost a long-term contract as a marketing manager and brand developer in 2018, she decided that she wanted to work more directly with artists and create a stream of income that didn’t require her to chase invoices. The idea she came up with — monetize what she already knew.
A few years earlier, Essien had created a short film and raised $15,000 in four weeks to produce it. Since then, friends and colleagues were always asking her for advice about how to fundraise for or market their own projects. “It would almost turn into this ‘pick your brain session,’ where I felt like I was giving them all this insight and expertise I developed over a decade, essentially for free,” Essien says. By creating a course that taught artists and entrepreneurs how to tell their story, market their work and raise money for themselves, she would be able to convert all that free advice into paying customers.
She learned by watching webinars given by other entrepreneurs who had created courses. She took four months to write and edit a 115-page workbook and other materials that customers would get when they downloaded her course, Crowdfund Your Dream. She also wrote a curriculum that she would teach students via regular sessions on Zoom.
Since then, she has created additional courses and mini-courses, some of which are hosted on the course platform MemberVault. Other platforms include Teachable, Udemy and Thinkific.
Keys to her success:
She created a sales funnel. In order to attract customers, Essien offered a free webinar that taught artists and entrepreneurs some basics on fundraising and marketing. Recognizing the value of her insights and ready to learn more, customers were willing to spend money on her course.
She tapped her current network. Essien looked to her current affiliations and associations to find customers. For example, as a Stanford alumnus, she partnered with the Stanford National Black Alumni Association to market her expertise — and her course. Since she is a dancer, she marketed her course to others who attend the dance studio she was affiliated with. “We’re already a member of so many different communities I was like, let me just lean into the communities that I’m in to help get the word out about my course.”