Amber Williams of Washington, D.C., branding consultancy Punkyflair rejects the idea that black women business owners must choose between authenticity and profitability.
As a black female entrepreneur herself, she knows how easy it is to be “hard on yourself.” She adds, “There’s a deeply ingrained fear, as minority players in the big world of entrepreneurship,” that being yourself means sacrificing customers.
But by telling true stories that put customers front-and-center, Williams says members of this community can be genuine and still “build a multi-million dollar empire.”
[Related: Amber Williams’ Storytelling Strategy Spells Success for a Branding Business and Its Clients.]
Here are her two biggest pieces of branding advice for black female entrepreneurs:
1. Be Yourself
“First of all, the most important thing is to be you,” she says.
Over the years, Williams has seen women literally erase themselves from the narratives of their own businesses. Many remove their faces or names from email signatures and websites for fear of alienating customers who aren’t black. One of her prospective clients even pretended to be a white man, she says.
So she has made a habit of asking business owners: “Would you rather be you and make a decent amount of money, or not be yourself and make a lot of money? What makes you more comfortable looking in the mirror?” Few choose the latter.
Whatever story a black woman chooses to tell with her brand, finding honest common ground with customers is key, Williams says. That real, shared connection — whether based on being a woman, shared problems or mutual passions — can then become the focal point of a successful branding campaign.
[Related: Branding a Business When Race Intrudes]
And if your customers are primarily other black women, “celebrate that unity,” she advises. “Sell that competitive advantage.” You’ll be tapping into the driving force behind the black community’s $1.2 trillion in spending power, she says.
For those worried about alienating members of other communities by broadcasting their identity, she says that “just because you target one group of people, doesn’t mean others won’t buy.” After all, the majority of high-end fashion advertisements feature white models — nearly 80 percent, according to a 2016 study — yet people of color still buy from luxury retailers.
2. Remember That You’re More Than a Trend
“We see a lot of ads out right now, particularly in the beauty industry, celebrating black women,” and it’s a positive sign of societal progress, Williams says. But, she adds, the shift is more than a fad to be capitalized upon.
“Do not view yourself as a trend,” she advises fellow black women. Instead, she says, black female entrepreneurs ought to think of themselves “as a force to be reckoned with, who will make an impact in the business world.”
U.S. Census data, after all, indicates that America will be a “minority white” nation by 2045 — which means more market potential for businesses serving people of color, not to mention more entrepreneurs of color. So, Williams urges, “take pride in who you are — a critical part of the entrepreneurial ecosystem in America, and the world.”
[Related: More from The Story Exchange on female entrepreneurs of color.]