Shayla Coleman Sankolo

Shayla Coleman always wanted to own her own business, and as her hobby making natural oils for her hair and face became more sophisticated she knew she’d found her business idea. Today the Silver Spring, Maryland-based entrepreneur runs Sankolo, clean beauty products that are formulated from plants and free of any artificial ingredients. As an introvert Coleman has found social media and marketing intimidating but is continuing to find the avenues that work for her while getting to know her audience.

Coleman’s story, as told to The Story Exchange 1,000+ Stories Project:

What was your reason for starting your business?

I’ve always been interested in plant-based beauty and herbal remedies. Because of that, I started creating my own natural beauty products as a hobby. I created a four ingredient, all-natural night oil for my face and was amazed by the results after only a couple weeks of regular use. That’s when I knew I could turn my hobby into a clean beauty business and share my formulations with women who are looking for effective, clean beauty products. I’ve also have always seen myself as a future business owner and after working for other people since the age of 15, I wanted to venture into ownership and chart my own course.

How do you define success?

My definition of success is living a life that you’re proud of and enjoy. Also, actively working towards big dreams and goals, and throughout that journey challenging one’s self and taking calculated risks.

Tell us about your biggest success to date

Making consistent sales is my biggest success to date. It’s hard to get traction when you’re first starting out, but having a sense of consistency when it comes to making sales lets me know I’m on the right track, even though there’s still so much more to do.

What is your top challenge and how have you addressed it?

Sales and marketing have been particularly challenging for me. First off, I’m an introvert so throwing myself into the sales and social media spotlight has been difficult. I’ve addressed this by being more intentional in where and how I market, and because of that, I have found a sweet spot in marketing and running successful ads on Pinterest, which has been great for my business.

Have you experienced any significant personal situations that have affected your business decisions?

A month after I launched Sankolo in October of 2020, I found out I had a life-threatening ectopic pregnancy. I subsequently needed to have surgery in November to remove the fetus from one of my fallopian tubes to avoid a fallopian tube rupture. That experience was mentally, emotionally, and physically painful, and because of that, I decided to pause Sankolo in order to allow myself to heal. Sankolo is rooted in self-care and that served as a reminder for me, then and now, to take care of myself and prioritize my overall wellness despite how busy things get or what’s on my to-do list. I moved forward from that experience with the understanding that I want Sankolo to be a success, but I also need to be whole and present in order to make that happen.

What is your biggest tip for other startup entrepreneurs?

My biggest tip is to start and revise as you go. Early on, I was focused on everything being perfect. I had a definitive plan for how I wanted to market my brand, how I wanted things to look creatively, and so much more. I quickly learned that just because you plan something doesn’t mean it will be effective or result in sales. It’s important to try different things and truly get to know your audience through trial and error.

How do you find inspiration on your darkest days?

I find a lot of inspiration in my customers. I’m so happy to share the products I love with others and to know that when someone buys a Sankolo product, that’s one less toxic product they’re putting on their skin or in their hair. I’m also constantly inspired by the beauty and remedies of nature. Nature is the place that soothes and balances me, but it’s also my Sankolo playground, and even a simple walk in the park can spark a creative idea for a new product.

Who is your most important role model?

I admire Mahisha Dellinger, CEO of CURLS. Her personal story, work ethic, and business sense have inspired me during my journey.

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