by Executive Editor Timantha Norman
Black female entrepreneurship has had a meteoric rise nationally, statewide, and locally in recent years. According to a 2018 study around the state of women-owned businesses featured in Forbes, “while the number of women-owned businesses grew an impressive 58% from 2007 to 2018, the number of firms owned by black women grew by a stunning 164%, nearly three times that rate” and “Black women are the only racial or ethnic group with more business ownership than their male peers”.
I spoke with local entrepreneur Charity Marcus about her professional journey, her thoughts on the challenges and advantages of being a black female entrepreneur, and her advice for those aspiring to go into business for themselves.
Norman: Could you tell me about your professional background before you became an entrepreneur?
Marcus: I was working for the City of Bixby in a variety of roles. I did customer service for our water department, acted as a Front-Desk Receptionist part-time, and as an Administrative Assistant for our City Manager.
Norman: What was the main catalyst that led you into going into business for yourself?
Marcus: I just realized that I couldn’t do the typical 9-5 thing, having to ask to go to Chamber meetings, losing hours to go, needing to be more freed up to pick my daughter up from school and gymnastics practice, really being more in control of my time. So I quit and started working part-time again as a Substitute Teacher for awhile but wanted to find something else to do. However, in the meantime, I started volunteering on political campaigns and realized how fun it was and I found out that it was an actual job and that people could be paid for being Campaign Managers and Consultants and all of that. I decided that that was what I wanted to do. That’s how I got into Avenu Consulting because I could finally have that flexibility and do what I loved. The PR [Public Relations] firm came in because I knew I couldn’t help candidates year-round and figured during those down times I could do that. I didn’t initially enjoying doing PR but I grew to enjoy it.
Norman: What are some of the unique challenges and advantages of being a young, black female entrepreneur?
Marcus: Of course, always being the only one in the room [laughter]. And not just being the only black person but the only black female entrepreneur in the room. Yeah, there may be some other black faces in the room but it’s usually never more black women. It’s usually more black men whenever there are more of us in the room. And also business sales, meaning that people can sometimes think that you’re not capable. We have all of the stereotypes, such as being the “hostile, angry black woman”. Then, of course, I don’t look that old so there’s assumptions made there, “Is she capable of doing the work?”, and so on. Those were the two biggest obstacles for me. It’s actually funny because the one thing that’s your biggest obstacle is also your biggest advantage. Being a black woman is an advantage because if you can subcontract out, then you have your minority contract certifications, your woman-owned contract certifications with the Small Business Association at the federal level. That definitely puts you at an advantage because a lot of times when companies are looking to do something, sometimes they do have to fulfill certain requirements when it comes to minority groups, underserved communities, or underserved businesses in general. That can actually be an advantage. I have seriously had someone simply want to hire me to do community engagement for one hour for a meeting just because I have a minority certification and then they can add it into their contracting system. Also, right now with this whole D & I shift and people really starting to recognize we need to do better with diversity and inclusion, now they’re looking for ways to connect into minority communities.
Norman: What do you feel our state and local governments could do to better support black entrepreneurship?
Marcus: Statewide, I wish there was some way for us to have the set-asides, specifically for minorities. With affirmative action being gone at a state level now, that restricts the City from being able to specifically say we’re going to set these contracts aside for minority businesses. Our city can’t do that on its own. Change really has to come from the state level. The city can do some work-arounds, like designating things by zip code. However, that doesn’t work if there’s black-owned businesses that aren’t in those zip codes. You’re often out of luck in that case. It’s not that effective. For instance, I’m a black-owned business and my business is not in the 74127 zip code. Therefore, if money is set aside for black-owned businesses or minority-owned businesses and you don’t live in certain zip codes, you can’t be included in that. I mean, generally speaking, it is a decent loophole because the majority of black people that own businesses might have those businesses based in North Tulsa. But, for the few that aren’t in North Tulsa, then it doesn’t work. And the same thing applies to the Hispanic community. They make the assumption that most Hispanics live in certain zip codes. For the ones that don’t have their businesses in those zip codes, then that kind of defeats the purpose for them as well. I’m not going to argue against it because it’s going to at least help someone but it can’t help us all. At the state level, some kind of legislation aiding in that needs to happen. It may not necessarily be affirmative action again but it needs to be something where cities and the state can designate specific dollars to minority-owned businesses just like the federal government does. We’re actually working on that right now with the Minority Business Council.
Norman: What advice would you give to an aspiring black female entrepreneur?
Marcus: First off, do your research. Research, research, research your industry, your business, and what it is you want to do. Then, get out and about. Go to everything. Go to as much stuff as possible. Go to things that you wouldn’t normally go to. Just get out there and start networking and getting to know people. That’s something we don’t do. We kind of stay in our little circles and then wonder why we can’t get business. It’s because your circle may not necessarily be your actual market. You need to be able to get out there and meet other people. You can’t get mentors, you can’t get the resources like you really need or the advice that you really need without getting outside of your comfort zone, outside of your circle, and connect with people who don’t look like you, that don’t have the same beliefs as you. You have to connect with those people. Also, you’ve gotta get over the personal politics. At the end of the day, business is business. There are some things you can assign your values to and say “No, this is where I draw the line”. But, for the most part, some things you’ll just have to get over and get your business done. Saying you’re not going to accept a contract from someone because they voted for Trump, that may not be the best thing. You really have to stop and think about that. Are you willing to really pass up a contract because they voted for Trump? Now, if they’re out here spewing actual hate speech, calling people N-words and saying “I hate so and so”, then, yes, that is a thing. But you’ve really got to pick your battles wisely and know if it’s really worth it, on both fronts. Is taking money from a certain person actually worth it or is not taking money from this person actually worth it? Lastly, use current policies to your advantage. You may not like tax codes but if you’re a business, Trump’s tax codes are great for business owners right now. Learn how to really use those policies to your advantage until they change to the way in which you’d like them to be.
Photo credit: Cory Young