Creating a brand that’s simple, memorable, and reflective of your business is essential for every small business owner. It helps make both a strong first impression and a lasting impression. But how can Black business owners grow their business into a brand? This session explores the key elements of a successful brand strategy and how to create a unique brand that resonates with your target audience.
Kadecia Ber: We have an amazing line-up here for you to discuss branding, something important to every business. So I love to invite my fellow panelists up to the virtual stage.
Today we’re going to talk about creating a brand that’s simple, memorable, and reflective of your business. So I think everyone knows that one of the keys to a successful business is building a memorable brand. But where do you start? Today, I’m excited to speak with three leaders who have navigated this course and are here to share their journeys. So let’s get right into it with some introductions.
So for everyone here, I’d love for you to introduce yourselves and tell the audience a bit about the business and what you do. So, Mahisha, why don’t you get us started?
Mahisha Dellinger: Absolutely. Hi, my name is Mahisha Dellinger. I am the founder and creator of CURLS Beauty Brands, your favorite natural haircare brand that’s available in every major retail outlet you can imagine. One of the first pioneering brands who opened up this space, women that were embrace their natural hair. And I’m a mother of four as well. Five if you count my husband, and just here and happy to help, each and every one of you here today.
Kadecia Ber: I love that. I love natural hair. Thank you.
Mahisha Dellinger: Love.
Kadecia Ber: Thank you for all your work in the space and just the success at really driving that industry. Zanade, I would love for you to tell the people what you do.
Zanade Mann: Sure. Hey everyone, my name is Zanade. This is my favorite time of the year. I love this summit. I am the founder of the Black Women’s Business Collective. We are dedicated to the health, wealth, and happiness of Black women entrepreneurs. I’m also a dedicated marketing and communications professional, who has created the Power of Presence Workshop, which blends personal branding using digital tools. And now AI, so we’ll include that as well. I’m so happy to be here. I have a wealth of knowledge in terms of your personal brand, and how you can use that in conjunction with what Mahisha will be sharing as well. So I’m very excited about being here. Thank you.
Kadecia Ber: Thank you, Zanade, an expert in the space. And Chris, why don’t you introduce yourself?
Chris Goode: Hello everybody. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention, I am honored to be on this call with three beautiful, outstanding, phenomenal Black women. I’m honored to share space. My name is Chris Goode. I’m from Kansas City, Missouri. I own Ruby Jean’s Juicery, named after my late grandmother. We sell fresh juice, smoothies, healthy food, and we’re now moving from a brick and mortar business into wholesale, namely in 20 Whole Foods markets.
Mahisha Dellinger: Nice.
Kadecia Ber: Yeah, that is so, so exciting. So Chris, let me start with you. When I look at that Yelp page for Ruby Jean’s on Troost Avenue, one of the first things I noticed were the bright colors. I’m sure if I was in Kansas City and I could walk into your location, I would see that same thing. But the branding is really distinct. It has a vibe, from the decor to the label on the juice bottles. Can you talk about how you created that brand identity?
Chris Goode: Absolutely. And so I feel like there’s life in fruits and vegetables. There’s life in fresh juice and smoothies. It’s longevity that we’re after when we partake in these delicious items that we carry. And as a consumer, what I noticed is there was this, and I don’t know if it was in conjunction with the boom of HGTV shows, but the juice bars that I would walk into across the country, they were very like shabby chic, and whites and grays and very muted. And for me, a little bit boring.
And so, I wanted our spaces to reflect that life that’s in the fruits and vegetables, that’s in the juice. And so that vibrancy that you get when you drink a fresh juice, I want you to get it when you walk into our doors, when you pick up one of our cold pressed juice bottles. And so, color is really big for us. One of our slogans is, Drinking Color. Obviously, as Black people, we are bold. We take chances with color and I didn’t want to shy away from that. I want people to embrace our culture, but also their own vibrance through our brand.
Kadecia Ber: I love that. I love the HGTV call out. I love my grays, I love my neutrals, but when you’re talking about juice, it is not gray. It is not neutral. And you definitely brought that into the branding, which makes total sense.
Zanade, I know you work with a lot of business owners on their digital marketing and their brand awareness. But even before you get to the stage, what do you see business owners most often misunderstand or maybe overlook when it comes to the branding?
Zanade Mann: Yeah. Thank you for that question. I would have to say, and I’ve heard this many times, that your network is your net worth, and it really is important. So when it comes to any branding for any business, the first thing I say, whether you think you’re a thought leader or a influencer, whatever it is, that you have to network to get out there. You can post online all you want. We may get mistaken sometimes or influenced by the influencers who are getting paid these large budgets. But what I would say is, that you really need to dive into your network and the people within your network, different industries.
And that’s one thing that I see a lot of them overlook. What they want is, the first thing when they come to my agency is, “I want a million followers in a week.” Those are the type of requests that we get sometime and it’s just like, “But no one knows who you are. They don’t even know you’re open for business. So what are we talking about here?” So it’s really first, being known about yourself, your product, and your service, but that also you have to hone in on your network. So that’s definitely the first thing. Or tap into it, and I know people that have massive networks and they’re just like, “Oh yeah, I know so-and-so, or I know a celebrity.” And it’s just like, “You’re not asking them for any, like nothing?” So yes, definitely tap in your network.
Kadecia Ber: So look around and figure out how to get started there with the people around you, huh?
Zanade Mann: That’s right.
Kadecia Ber: That totally makes sense. And Mahisha, I know you’ve had a long journey from first starting CURLS, to having all the major retailers knocking at your door to carry your product. We’re talking target to CVS, to Walgreens. So through that journey, what stayed consistent with your branding? And also, what maybe changed along the way as you were defining your brand identity?
Mahisha Dellinger: Well, starting out in my kitchen and my garage, really grassroots by the bootstrap kind of marketing budget and branding budget, it was really, as Chris said, kind of neutral. It didn’t represent the brand’s personality that it grew into. And it didn’t represent my personality, which is vibrant. The products are … Curly hair is fun, it’s free, it’s us, it’s all the things energy, Black girl magic and everything, and then some in a bottle. So a neutral package, neutral logo, neutral conversation, text and copy didn’t match our brand. Who we are, who we’re targeting, who we’re talking to.
So now you see today where we evolved, where you see that bright yellow bottle on the shelf with that big blue logo. And you see copy that’s talking to you, you see us engaging with you like your girlfriend next door. Shifting gears was part of the thing that we did, probably like year two or three, but definitely in vibrancy, as Chris said. Super vibrant, super accessible, absolutely in your face, and definitely representative of our culture.
Kadecia Ber: I’m curious, because we brought this idea of color up and vibrancy and neutrals, do you think there’s a pressure to kind of be bland or kind of run-of-the-mill? Did you ever get advice, or when you looked around and you were deciding on your branding, were you like, “I’m going to be different than that?”
Mahisha Dellinger: Well, two things, twofold. Whenever you start selling your product on a shelf, and before you go and put your product on that shelf, go look and see what the landscape looks like. If you have a sea of black and white bottles, are you going to add another black and white bottle to that shelf and expect to stand out? Or do you elevate and shift and change things, so you can be a forerunner? So always look at your competition, but more importantly, what is your brand’s personality?
So being pressured, I don’t think I got pressure to do anything, but really I had to think about what are we conveying, what’s the personality? And it certainly isn’t a serious computer chip, like I came from Intel, right? No, Intel is very, very blue, which is light, but very much subdued. This is a vibrant brand. It represents the company, it represents my personality, the brand’s personality, our people. And it also, yellow represents joy. You want to think of, associate joy with your hair and not, “Oh, this is womp womp. My hair’s horrible. I forgot how to fix it.” No, this is joyous occasion.
Kadecia Ber: I love that. I love that. Any thoughts on brand personality, Chris or Zanade? I saw you both agreeing there.
Chris Goode: Yeah, I mean for us, my late grandmother, Ruby Jean, she died at 61 from type two diabetes. And her essence is something that we carry forward literally, with her face at the helm of our brand. And so our brand identity is extremely strong and it does represent that differentiation that Mahisha was referencing for us, because there is no other cold pressed juice product on the market globally that has a face to it. And so for us, that created an opportunity that was just natural to us. It was organic to us, but also created a differentiation in coolers, where you’re not going to see any other faces. And if you do, you’re certainly not going to see their Black faces representing a healthy product earnestly.
So yeah, I think that for us, has always been a natural thing from the start. People told me like, “Hey, you love your grandma, but I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know if you should do that.” And I’m like, “Well, we going to have to figure it out and see, because she’s our why. And she’s going to stand front and center, and no matter if we in a fluent neighborhood, whether we in the hood, it does not matter. She’s why we exist. And so, we put her forward.”
Kadecia Ber: Chris said, “I’m getting a grandma tattoo, I’m going all in.”
Chris Goode: I actually do have her tattoo right here.
Kadecia Ber: I didn’t know that, but I knew that. I love that so much. Oh, Zanade, do you want to jump in?
Zanade Mann: So, I mean just to piggyback off of both of what I’m hearing is that you definitely … now, I will be honest. When I first started, I didn’t think, “Oh, I needed a brand kit. I needed brand colors.” But now when all of you who are listening, you have this opportunity to hear what we’re all saying about brand colors, authenticity of your brand, right? Maybe colors aren’t for you. Maybe you like that neutral, maybe it fits your target market, but you have to actually dive in and do that. That was one of the mistakes I didn’t do when I first started, but then I had to go back and fix it up.
So what I will say at this moment, a lot of you have opportunities. I mean, Canva is free. I’m not trying to give free promo, but what I’m saying is, you can go in there and they got brand kits right there. So if you don’t know the elements, get it together and think about those things. And that’s the piece that I can add, that if you can just get those solidified, you can fix it, refine all that stuff as you go on, and get more information and, or more help. So definitely, decide what is your brand, what is your color, what is your theme, who are you honoring? What is your why? And once you have that, with everything else you’re hearing, will be very helpful in getting started.
Kadecia Ber: Great. I want to come back to Mahisha and I know, Zanade, you said, “What is your why?” And I know you’re out there doing things that are really getting at the, what is your why, as you focus on helping Black women who want to become entrepreneurs. I think I heard you say that, you like to help them make their side hustle, their main hustle. Can you share a bit about what advice you give most to women who want to be entrepreneurs, or maybe what common challenges you see them overcome, in that transition from a side hustle to a main hustle?
Mahisha Dellinger: I mentor a lot of people and through my show on OWN, I engaged a lot of Black women. And before the show on OWN, I engaged with even more Black female entrepreneurs. And the commonality that I saw across the board, nine times out of 10, was a lack of having a solid business and, or marketing plan. And my point is that is key. It sounds very, very intimidating initially to get out the gate, if you haven’t studied business in school, undergrad or grad, or otherwise. But without a plan, you are planning to fail. You have to make sure you plan your success and that’s your roadmap to it. And that’s one thing I always suggest to whoever I speak to. It sounds like a very heavy burden, but it’s worth the time. And it’s something you can get free at, freeclass@score. Score.org offers free classes in all the different major campuses, all over the US, as well as SBA and National Urban League. There’s so many places that you can go. I highly suggest that, number one.
Number two, we tend to try to go it alone with other cultures. They come together and help each other out in a very systemic way. I was talking to my nail tech who started as a nail tech, has five salons now. And I said, “Well,” she’s so young, “How did you start it?” “Well, we have a pool of money that our community puts together and whenever someone has a solid business plan, they can pull out of that, and pay back into it. And then the next person can benefit from it.” So that would be lovely. I wish there was something like that in our community. I’m saying, since we don’t have that today, find someone that will invest in you, because going it alone will definitely slow down your process. And also, you can hit a lot of road blocks, you can make a lot of mistakes, waste a lot of money. No one has time to waste coins, doing it without someone that can help. So that’s another thing.
Also, make sure that when you launch your business, beyond having something that is a great idea to you, that you do your due diligence. Most businesses fail by year five, right? Not to be Debbie Downer, but if we know that the statistics are against us, we have to make sure that we know what we need to know, before we launch out into this business. So do your due diligence, know your competition backwards and forwards. Know your product and service, make sure you know your unique proposition against your competition. And also make sure that it’s a viable business, that it’s actually one needed, not just a great idea in your mind, but something that’s needed in the market. There are a few things I usually say. I can go on and on about this topic, but those are a few of the top things I always usually start with, whenever I’m mentoring someone.
Kadecia Ber: Well, I love that, because it’s about making that transition and leveling up, and getting that business plan in place and doing your market research. And making sure, you’re really ready to take things to the next level, which makes total sense.
Mahisha Dellinger: Oh, can I say one more thing? I have to add one more thing.
Kadecia Ber: Of course.
Mahisha Dellinger: I was speaking on a panel and I was cringing in my seat. It was 99% other and it was maybe 2% African-American. My panelist, co-panelists said, “When you find your passion, your mission, your purpose, quit your day job day one, and go after it.” Okay, so that’s easy for you because you can fall back on maybe parents or family or other things, or get a job like that. I do not suggest that when you … I’m all into believing in yourself, investing in you and going after your passion, and your purpose and your dreams, but do it with strategic purpose and intention. So keep a day job as long as you can, so you can feed your money back into your business that you make from the business. And every dime that you make from your profession goes into your home, because it definitely takes a while to grow a business. And I always suggest that.
Kadecia Ber: I love that. I think a lot of people think entrepreneurs just go out there and take risk, but these are well-researched, calculated risk, and having a backup plan is sometimes the wisest way to go out and take that risk. That makes sense, because you don’t want to fall flat and have nothing to fall back on.
Mahisha Dellinger: Right.
Kadecia Ber: I want to move over to you, Chris, because when we talk about scaling and growing, and having a plan, I know Ruby Jean’s is in Whole Foods. The first Black-owned business in Whole Foods, so congratulations. I would love to hear what was that journey like, and what do you think was your biggest branding lesson, to make that transition and make that kind of leap?
Chris Goode: Yeah, I mean, to be honest, when I got the email, and so to be specific, we’re the first ever brick and mortar Black-owned business to exist in the Whole Foods, in their history. There are tons of Black-owned products and we’re proud about that. But at the same time, we want that to be a door open, a room entered where so many more to come. When I got the email from Whole Foods saying, “Hey, we like what you’re doing, we want to talk about partnership,” I stopped everything. I called my mama, I said, “You ain’t going to believe this.” So that was my first step.
But what I’ve recognized in working with Whole Foods, dealing with these huge companies, they have so many silos and so many departments that you have to channel ideas through. So where I’m a creative at heart and I’m like, “Oh, I got an idea. We’re going to do this thing. We’re going to put this picture up, and run this special at one of our stores.” You can’t do that at Whole Foods. And so it allowed me to see what it feels like to grow a brand with constraints.
And so, there’s a huge opportunity partnering with the Whole Foods market to scale a business, but you have to learn how to paint inside of their lines, while very much still being ourselves. And so I hope that answers the question, but it’s been a journey. We started as a physical store in Whole Foods, and now in September we’ll go into 20 Whole Foods, and Lord willing, we’ll scale from there. But our brand is, the identity of it, I refuse for it to ever be left behind. It could communicate to a much larger audience if I just put Ruby Jean’s, eliminated the face. But that eliminates why we do it. And so whether it’s Whole Foods, whether it’s an airport, I don’t really care. I want to make sure our purpose, our true identity is celebrated. And even if it’s not understood, it is still front and center.
Kadecia Ber: Love that. Staying true to the brand. Zanade, I know you have a lot of experience helping business owners build their brand online. So whereas Chris has done this brick and mortar, and is taking it into retailer, there’s a lot of business owners and entrepreneurs trying to do this online. Can you share some advice on how people should think about creating that digital brand?
Zanade Mann: Yeah, that is a very broad question, but I will do my best to answer it. No, seriously, there’s so many different directions you can go in. When we say digital marketing, we’re talking about marketing in a whole, right? It’s marketing, whether it’s online or off. There’s different ways you go about it. But I would definitely say first, and I had mentioned this when we were pre-gaming this summit, it’s very important to get all of those assets together that we’ve mentioned. All of us mentioned that, like your brands, all of that stuff, you got to get that together. The other thing that I usually do with my clients is have, reclaim all of their social media profiles. We talk about what’s authentic to them. That can be a mission, that can be vision, whatever it is. A product, a service, a thought leader. I represent many thought leaders.
What is it? What is the thing? What’s your special? What’s so special about you? And I tend to say, I do SWOT analysis. I love SWOT analysis. I know for those in the business world, this is usually for a product or a service, but even for a personal brand, it’s important to do a SWOT analysis. And for those who don’t know, you’re going to do a deep analysis on your strengths, your weaknesses, the opportunities that are out there, and whatever threats are lying around. And you’re either going to solve for it, hire for it, whatever it is that you need to do. And that speaks to what Mahisha said about that planning and really just diving in, whether it’s through score, whether it’s through … and I wanted to add this part in. It’s very important to get into networks, communities, any groups. They can be micro groups, they could be major groups, National Urban League. Any of these groups, just get in because there are people.
The younger folk may say, “It’s the old guard and oh, we don’t want to listen. We do things our own way.” But you are missing out on so much wisdom. Even by listening to this call, I’m over here, I want to jot things down, but I’m trying to be super professional, look straight in the camera. But I really want to like, this is awesome what they’re saying. So at any level of your entry into branding yourself, you need to really listen to those who have done it. You are not the first person with a hair product. You are not the first person with a health and wellness business. There are people who have literally gone through it, have already invested the money on how to do this. And that speaks to watching your competition, and just seeing where you can best align yourself and differentiate yourself in any way online.
And then again, I must say, because people get overwhelmed with, there’s threads, there’s this, there’s that. What platforms work for you? The question is, where are your target market? Where are they? Where are they? Are they still on Facebook? You don’t like to use Facebook, but they’re all there in these groups of millions of people. Well, get your butt in there. You got to figure it out that way, where they are. And again, that’s the business plan. You got to, I know I’m saying the question is branding. How do you start with digital marketing? It’s all the same. How do you start with marketing your brand? It’s the same thing. You have to understand who you’re selling to, what are their needs, how you’re going to best service them.
And if something doesn’t seem viable, you might have to speak to a mentor or somebody, and just kind of question that. Get out of your own head, because your head is either going to tell you yes or no. And I mean sometimes you just got to get out of there and listen to someone else who may say, “I’m not too sure,” and then decide. And then you can go on there and do your Reels and your TikToks and all that stuff, and decide how you can best align your brand to your business.
Kadecia Ber: I love that. A lot of business owners and especially, thinking about our small business owners are just like, “I don’t have the time,” right? You’re hustling, you’re trying to run this business, to sit down and then put all this together. I know, Zanade, you have experience with working with so many different people who are probably in this space. What kind of advice do you give to someone when they feel like, “I don’t have the time,” or, “I don’t have the expertise?” How do you start to make branding a priority?
Zanade Mann: Yes, first of all, so I can’t name any of the larger businesses I’m working with right now, but they hire influencers. And one thing that, who can? I mean, they’re paying these people like 40, $50,000 to hold a product and say something. And for the smaller businesses that just starting out, you don’t have that capacity right now. So again, I’m going to say get out of your head of what you’re seeing online, because they’re being paid well to post five times a day and you may not have that capacity. So what I like to do, and I have one client right now who’s super busy, high in a Fortune 500 company and she never has time to do anything. So I see she messaged me at four o’clock in the morning. I’m like, “This is the time that works for her.” Find the time that works for you.
And, if for whatever reason you’re like, “I’m working a nine to five, I’m doing my business five to nine. I have my kids.” All the things that we all have, and I know the story and the journey, and the lived experiences. You have to have this dedicated time. What I’ll do is if I need to record 10 videos, I’m going to dedicate two hours on a Saturday if I could, to just record all the content that I can. And then I pass it off to someone on the team to say, “Hey, cut it up, trim it, do what you got to do. I need copy,” whatever. That’s just literally how you have to do it, if you’re super busy, until you’re able to.
If you are a solopreneur, because I know there are many on the line, you have to follow that, even if it’s an hour. “I’m taking an hour a week to either engage with people who are on my social media, to either create content.” But you really do, because other than that, I don’t have a magic answer for you. You either have to do it or you don’t. And find a time or that window, if it is 9:00 PM at night, set up your lights, your ring, whatever it is, and just start recording, and then you can work backwards that way.
Mahisha Dellinger: May I add something?
Kadecia Ber: Of course.
Mahisha Dellinger: For those that don’t have time that are startups and small businesses, I always recommend this. No matter what city you’re in, go to a large university, to their school of business and get an intern. You can get a free intern. And the school of business usually in your senior year, you are required to do some really live work with a business in your community. And you can get someone, they get that for credit. So you can get a really live thriving, amazing creative marketing assistant, PR assistant, someone else that you can pull in that can help you. And I’ve had a few, and I had an amazing one, I mean a few. But the one, Marina, she stood out. She was a phenomenal, she has her own business now, her own marketing firm now. She was phenomenal. Stellar. Got her from UNT, so definitely do that. It doesn’t cost you anything. Just go. School starts soon. So go to a school of business in your city and get you an intern.
Kadecia Ber: I love it. That’s the mentor in you. You said, find that student, help advance their career and get the help you need. I love that. I love that. Mahisha, one thing you talked about in our prep call is people always love talking about the glory and the success, and I’m sure people look at where you are and say, “Oh, well it was easy for her. She just went out and did it, and now she’s got this big company, and millionaire and all these things.” But I think the reality is, most entrepreneurs and people who really go out and do business have to deal with a lot of failure. And I would love to hear from you, and even Chris, on your journey. What does that look like? The ratio of successes to failures, and how you kind of pick yourself up and continue moving on, and building your business from there.
Mahisha Dellinger: Would you like me to start?
Kadecia Ber: Yeah, go ahead.
Mahisha Dellinger: Well, failure looks like pitching a thousand different buyers and getting that final one. Yes, that launched your career. That was my situation. Having products be successful in the stores for years, on years, on years. And then launching a collection, doesn’t resonate, and you lose $10 million. It’s you going out and miss an opportunity to make an impact, because you are choosing to do something else in your career. It happens in many ways. And for me, I had to realize, that $10 million lesson, which failures are lessons, brought me back to what I need to remember, is to do business the way that I’ve continued to do business before, that was success. Which meant, don’t go to market with a new collection before going on dotcom first for at least a year, build up the demand for that new collection, then go to retail. I skipped through the process to make the buyers happy that really wanted new, new, new from CURLS, and didn’t do it the way I normally would do with things. And that cost us that huge sticker cost, that price.
So that was a lesson. That was one expensive lesson, but failure isn’t final. It’s a lesson and take what you can from it. And that’s what it looks like to me. Picking myself up also out of that and realizing what I need to learn, implementing it, and then moving on.
Kadecia Ber: I love how it’s not a failure, it’s a lesson, no matter how much it costs.
Mahisha Dellinger: Hard lesson.
Zanade Mann: Tough one, totally.
Mahisha Dellinger: One that just jarred me like, that was not good. Not okay.
Kadecia Ber: I love that.
Chris Goode: For me, because I’m a man of faith. I don’t even think I’m sitting on this call without God’s presence in this process. And so, my faith has, has been forged even more sharply over these eight years in business because you hit some immense highs. We won an Emmy, first juice bar to ever win an Emmy. Oh my God, that’s great. Well, this location, that’s the first ever healthy business on the East side of Kansas City, and it’s home for me. And it’s a food desert, and it’s well-intentioned, and digs our hands into the soil every single day, has been broken into five times. And so you have these drastic highs and lows. And for me, every time I encounter a big win, I say, “God, I trust you.” And I hit a major stumbling block, I say, “God, I trust you.” And that’s for me.
But I’ve learned to keep my moods fluid, keep them steady because there are some crazy losses. My first ever lawsuit, I didn’t know if I was going to make it out of it. It was one of the most stressful things that I could have ever imagined going through, and it didn’t make sense. And it ended up going in my favor, but still, I had to go through it. And starting a business, I did not have all the plans mapped out. I’m be honest with you. I built a plane while I was flying it, and that comes with a lot of like, “Okay, you got to kind of go back and figure this out, because you forgot to put your whole left wing on.” And so it’s things like that.
I’ve always taken them as learning lessons, but it’s a chance to grow my capacity. It’s something I pray for. It’s a chance to deepen my faith. Is something that I’m constantly focused on, because what small business has taught me, especially the method of building the plane while flying it, it’s taught me that we are so much more capable than we give ourselves credit for. We have so much more capacity than we give ourselves credit for. A ton of the things that we worry about, they’re not real. We just got to keep moving forward. And so, that’s kind of my approach to it, it’s just from a position of faith. Whether it’s good, whether it’s bad, keep going.
Kadecia Ber: I love that, Chris. I know when we were speaking earlier, you talked about the pride you have as a Black entrepreneur, but also that you really make a conscious effort not to pigeonhole your business or your success. Could you share more about that with the group and what that means to you?
Chris Goode: Absolutely. So I’m a proud Black man. I’m proud to have this unique journey. I’m proud to have this inherent struggle in my journey. I’m proud that my grandmother’s beautiful Black face is the center of everything that we do, but I don’t have to explain that to you. You know it because you see it. You know it because you feel it. I don’t have to walk around with a flag and say, “Hey, Black owned business here, come support us. We’re Black owned,” and fall into these trends of Black support.
I want us to be very well-intentioned and create tangible change in our community, here and move that beyond. And I keep my heart focused on that. How can I create more awareness of healthier lifestyles in a compassionate, graceful way, by telling this juxtaposition of a story, my grandmother’s story, that’s many of our stories. Certainly Black and brown, but also white, and do it in a way that still keeps our arms open to everybody, celebrates who we are.
But we don’t want to be the best Black-owned juice bar, the best Black-owned business, or have the best Black-owned cold pressed juice or this and that. We want to be the best. We want to be the most well-intentioned, the most tangible impact makers that there are. Not the best Black, tangible impact makers that there are. I think that it is kind of a trick and it’s very topical. This is a phase that we’re in, I believe, as a society where, hey, there’s a lot of guilt moving around and it can be lucrative to tap into that guilt. But I also believe that it’s shortsighted. It doesn’t really get us to where we’re truly trying to go. And for me, that’s making us a healthier people and more conscious people through the truth of my family.
Kadecia Ber: Zanade, I saw some snaps there, and I felt like I need to bring out the fingers too. When you’re thinking kind of about the same question, being a Black business but not being pigeonholed as a Black business, not having any qualifiers, just being a successful business, how do you think about that with the brands you work with?
Zanade Mann: Well, it goes both ways. Some people, some companies come to me and they are proud and Black, and they want the world to know they’re proud and Black and they want that everywhere. And then I have some businesses where they’re just like … I think of, I’m trying to give, and not that the founder, who I can’t remember his name right now, but the founder didn’t say that. But when I found out that, I believe the founder of Calendly is an African man, if I’m correct, I have to double check that. But I believe so. And when I found out, I was like, “There was no branding anywhere or anything that would let me know that this was an African owned, Black-owned type of business.” And I feel like maybe it was done on purpose or whatever the case may be. So it really depends. And again, that speaks back to what’s so authentic to you.
I had a lot of pushback when I first started the Black Women’s Business Collective. It wasn’t my main business. It came up out of necessity. I’m a Black woman entrepreneur. I felt like we’re struggling right now, and I can mix my response, but I did want to say something about failure as well. When COVID hit, that’s when failure really hit my marketing business. No one was … They froze all my contracts. Every government contract I had, they froze it, and that’s my livelihood. It was just like, “I don’t know what’s going on. I can’t,” and they didn’t even care. People were not honoring their contracts. They were just like, “We’re just going to have to freeze it.” So it’s like, “I’m not in default of it, but we’re just going to freeze it right now.” I lost out on a lot for the first year and a half, and that kind of birthed this idea of the Black Women’s Business Collective.
However, I think it really depends on what is your thing. So in one way, with the Black Women’s Business Collective, I get pigeonholed a lot, especially when we’re looking for funding because it’s just like, “Oh, you only support Black-owned businesses?” And it’s just like, it says the Black Women’s Business Collective, this is what it’s for. We welcome in allies, allies and allies, and that’s all great, but it’s for them. However, on the flip side is like, I’m not saying that this is only a Black owned business and you need to support this woman because X, Y, Z. What we’re saying is, is that there’s a need there and we have to get whatever resources or whatever connections that we need, in order for us to thrive. And education. There’s a lot of stuff that have been said on this panel, and I’m sure there are some people that’s like, “What are they talking about?” And hopefully, you’re writing it down.
So it’s like, “Okay, market plans, do this, do that.” That does not have a race, a color, or anything attached to it. We all need to, it’s society. So it depends on what is authentic to you. And if you feel like, I’ve had people pitch me and they’re just like, “I’m Black and woman owned,” and it’s like, “Okay, that’s cool. You welcome. It’s all good.” So it really depends. And as Chris said, we are in this trend, whatever’s going on, and it’s like one thing happens, it’s like we got to go and support Black owned businesses. So there’s an opportunity to benefit financially from that if you do it right. But other than that, I totally agree. We are business owners and we have the highest spending power. So you’re not helping just Black owned businesses. What, are you crazy? You see the numbers, we have impact. So it really just depends, and you’d have to decide that for yourself and your brand.
Kadecia Ber: Yeah, it makes me think, Black business is business. And, our keynote speaker, J.J. Johnson, talking about agriculture in this country and the success, the economic success really being built on the backs of Black folks. And so for us to continue to thrive, it really just goes back to the roots of what we’ve been able to build and contribute economically anyway.
Mahisha, I know you mentor, you work with Black women. When people are first thinking about building their brand, what do you think they should prioritize? There’s a lot of noise out there. We were just talking about some of the noise that’s out there. But when we think about someone really coming to you and coming to the space and saying, “I want to build my brand.” Once they kind of had that business plan in place, what do you talk about prioritizing to help them take to the next level? And what are some things that maybe are just noise, that you don’t need to worry about as much? Oh, you’re on mute. Come on off mute for us.
Mahisha Dellinger: Oh, am I?
Kadecia Ber: There you go.
Mahisha Dellinger: There we go. Okay. So I think everything has its place in hierarchy and time, as far as what you worry about. But initially out the gate, you mentioned the business plan, because where are you going to start before you start there? After that, and you have your solid plan, you need to know your customer. So what do you want people to think of you, when they take your product or use your service? That is your brand. It’s not what you say it is, although we say that this is what it is. I’m telling you that my brand is curly hair products, but what does the customer say about me when I’m not around? That’s my true brand. So building that connectivity is important. Doing that with authenticity is important. Finding a way to connect to her. For me, the brand is, we are surfacing women of color and their families, embrace their natural hair with our organic products.
But guess what the other side of that brand people know, is that the founder and the founder’s DNA, thus the brand’s DNA, is about helping Black women with their businesses. And so, what do they say when they think of CURLS? “Amazing products, knee-deep in the Black community. So she’s not only selling to me, but she’s also coming and benefiting my soul.” And Black women are the fastest growing entrepreneur segment in all entrepreneurs, right? We’re up 300%, but only 4% get it to a million dollar mark because of the lack of information, resource access, tools, et cetera, funding. So if I know that’s something that’s near and dear to my people, my women, and a lot of us have side hustles because of our corporate structure issues, then I want to also touch her and touch her in a way that’s beneficial.
So, I’m saying all that to say, your brand is more than just what you’re selling. Your brand is who you are to your consumer, and what else you offer to your consumer of value to her. So she’s going to not only rock beautiful hair when she has curls, but guess what? She’s also learned how to create a side hustle that may become her main hustle, and help be financially independent. So think about all of those other ways that you can impact your customer and be someone that they, a brand or service person, personality that they cannot live without.
Kadecia Ber: I love that. A brand that they cannot live without. And I think when we think of our hair product, that is very, very true. I love it.
We have a few more minutes. I would love to do just a quick round-robin with all of you, because I think there’s been so many good nuggets of advice. I know, Zanade wasn’t writing them down, but I was writing them down. From having a branding kit, having your business plan, knowing what your specialty is, building community and not going it alone, and recognizing that failure is part of the journey. And failure is a lesson. I would love to hear from each of you, maybe starting with you, Chris. What’s that piece of advice you would want to leave someone with, who’s on that journey right now to building their brand?
Chris Goode: For me, everything that we do is centered in passion. It’s steeped in community, it’s steeped in the actual change. Those things that you can’t see when you get to the shelf per se, but exist in every bottle. The integrity of the brand, the integrity of the people that work in the brand, day in and day out.
And I wouldn’t be able to build a business that I’m not passionate about. And so, my biggest piece of advice is figure out passion first. Align with passion and purpose, and that energy that you pour into passion, it will naturally dictate what you do from a brand perspective. Because if it’s centered in the right place, if your heart is postured appropriately, then your brand is going to follow it. Your heart’s not going to be over here, and then your brand is up here. They’re going to be in the same flow.
Kadecia Ber: Love that. Zanade, what piece of advice would you offer?
Zanade Mann: Yeah, thank you for that question. You have to remain consistent. And as they told me during my internship long ago, to diversify your portfolio, I’m going to tell you to diversify your network. So if your industry is health and wellness, then you can also go and network with someone in construction or whatever. You never know. The point is, you never know who someone else knows and can open that door for you. So stay consistent and open up those networks. And if you don’t have one, start it. Never leave a room without introducing yourself twice, even a Zoom room. So I invite you all to connect with me after this. Thank you so much.
Kadecia Ber: That is how it’s done. And Mahisha, take us home.
Mahisha Dellinger: Oh, Chris took my words. Purpose and passion and perseverance are all needed. You need to operate, and your purpose and the passion. But remember to persevere, because this journey is not one that’s easy or for the faint at heart when you’re an entrepreneur. Is it beneficial? Is it rewarding? Can you create generational wealth? Absolutely. Well, not without strikes, and issues and concerns, and lessons and failures. So make sure you’re operating in those two, and persevere through. As long as you’re planning and have your plan and your purpose in place, then you are golden.
Kadecia Ber: Beautiful words from the wise. Thank you all so much for joining, speaking to the journey, talking about how you built your businesses and branding. Really, just appreciate all the wisdom. And if you are out there in the audience, take those notes. I am pretty sure you will want to come back to them.