Is ‘Buying Black’ Hurting Us? Author Angela Jones On Why Black Business Owners Should Break Through The Black Ceiling
The term “glass ceiling” is often used to describe the obstacles many minorities and women face when climbing the corporate ladder, despite their high qualifications and experience. Is there such a thing as a “Black ceiling” that many minority business owners face that hinder their ability to grow their businesses? The US Census Bureau 2007 Survey of Business Owners reported Blacks owned 1.9 million nonfarm US businesses, but only accounted for 7.1 percent of total US nonfarm businesses and 0.5 percent of total US business receipts that year. (Note: 2014 Survey results will be released later this year.)
We spoke with author and entrepreneur Angela Jones, author of the book Breaking Through The Black Ceiling, to discuss her thoughts on Black entrepreneurship, diversification in business, and why Blacks need to start thinking more strategically about their long-term business plans. The mantra behind “buying Black” may be what’s hurting the Black economy. In her words, “As altruistic as the [concept] may be, money is green and diversity makes dollars.”
MadameNoire: What were you trying to accomplish by writing Breaking Through The Black Ceiling?
Angela Jones: I wanted to change the mindset of Black business owners to embrace diversity, provide better customer service, leverage technology and understand business is meant to make a profit. How you go into it will determine how successful you are or are not. Being able to adapt to the business environment is essential for your business plans. Just because you’re Black doesn’t mean others will buy from you when you go into business. You can’t have that expectation, because that is not the reality.
MN: Though you focus on Black people most of your chapters can be generalized to other populations. Some people might say that makes your book not as strong. Was that on purpose?
AJ: We are a global economy. Even though I wrote the book and want African Americans to read and learn from it, anyone who has a business might still benefit. I can’t say be diverse, participate in a global economy but not have areas of the book that wouldn’t apply to every business owner regardless of race. I’d be a hypocrite.
MN: Why is building diverse relationships within the Black community so important for the future of the Black economy?
AJ: Part of it comes from having the mindset of competition. A lot of times people think, “If I don’t have it, I don’t want others to have it.” We don’t have to be that way. Black business owners can sit back and pray that Black people will buy or they can create an environment that people want to buy regardless of race. If the product is made for a different ethnicity, then target it for all and make your money. Blacks are also concerned about where they are going to sell. You have to find people who need what you have.
There are other situations where business owners start out by making products in their home, then their business grows. Next thing you know they are bought by a larger company and are making millions of dollars like Lisa Price… When you’ve got mouthpieces worth billions of dollars telling people how awesome your products are, that is great. She was smart.
… A lot of companies file for bankruptcy. Guess what! Get over it. It doesn’t mean they are broke. It just meant that they had to make some change and liquefy for cash. Now she’s able to say, “Look what I did.” Her legacy is that of a Madame CJ Walker. She will go down into history for that. Some people critique her for selling to a predominantly white-owned company. So what? Why not?
MN: A lot of business owners may be afraid to diversify their product offering. Do you think Black entrepreneurs get caught up in wanting to only offer products that “please” the Black consumer?
AJ: I once saw a Black business owner in the service industry on Facebook complaining about how all of his customers are White from Ohio. I didn’t understand what the problem was. What was the issue? The only thing he could say was that he wanted Black people to buy from and support him. Your consumer exists… Why do you care what color they are if they are buying from you?
When you have the opportunity to open yourself up to another person that doesn’t look like you, do it. There’s a feeling of obligation to the Black community where we feel that we can’t pursue other avenues because we feel like we’re selling out. No, you’re selling your product. Selling out is allowing yourself to go out of business because of your Black pride and only wanting a consumer who looks like you. We can’t feel like our businesses are our cemeteries.
Lisa Price is smart because she had an exit plan strategy. Black business owners don’t think about what will happen to their businesses one day. What are you going to do when you reach that $1 billion dollar mark? They think their businesses are going to go on forever but are not planning how that is going to happen. Carol’s Daughter will go on forever because it was bought out by a larger cosmetics company that has been around forever and will keep it in their portfolio. Lisa, if she wants to, can continue making products or she can start another business.
There’s so many opportunities. Having the ability to adapt is a very strong character trait in a person. When one door closes, they find another door to walk through. Many of us in the Black community think that when one door closes, it’s over. For instance, Mark Cuban sold Yahoo for billions of dollars and went and bought a basketball team. Two completely different things… Too many of us are holding on to multi-billion dollar businesses that are failing in our hands because we don’t want to let go or fear diversification and partnership.
MN: At the same time, do you think there is some type of obligation Black business owners should have to the Black community?
AJ: I think the obligation is to give excellent customer service and to be an example to others behind us who also are considering becoming entrepreneurs or business owners. Give back to the community in ways that matter. Ways that matter and how you give back are going to be determined by how successful you are. You can mentor, volunteer your time, or support a nonprofit. Being philanthropic in some shape or form with the money that you do make is just as important as making the money.
MN: How do you see your book helping to open up the conversation on the idea of the “Black ceiling?”
AJ: I’ve already started working with one of the Black chambers here in Michigan to put together programming for entrepreneurs and small businesses. I am also going to develop workshops and webinars based on the content of the book and am working on a followup book called Estrogen Economy which is about the female buying power.