I was at the lowest point of my life in 1983. After I had worked my wayup to vice president of Colorado’s largest bank, my manager calledme into his office. Avoiding eye contact and reading from notes he hadscratched on the back of an envelope, he told me I was fired. I was thehighest- ranking black woman in the entire bank, and the word was I hadpushed too hard, talked too much, and rubbed too many of my whitecolleagues “the wrong way.”
That night, as I cried myself to sleep, I wondered, at age fifty- two,what I was going to do with the rest of my life.
Like many women, I had bumped hard against the glass ceiling. Mypersonality was too big for the confines of corporate America. But in thecold light of day, I also had to admit that I had grown as tired of working“for the man” as he had with me. The very traits that had irked mycolleagues— being a pushy, assertive, independent thinker, fast on my feet, with a tendency to stir things up— were the qualities of which I wasmost proud. And I soon learned that these were the very traits that makea successful entrepreneur. These gifts had been passed down from myown mother, a dynamic self- starter who had run several businesses out ofour home on the south side of Chicago in the thirties, forties, and fifties.
So I brushed back those bitter tears, and by the following year I hadregrouped and launched what was to become one of the country’sbest-known independent specialty bookstores. Even though I had neversold a book in my life, my store, Hue-Man, became a small-business successstory.
My entrepreneurial flame burned bright, but in 2000, after nearlytwo decades in the business, I was burnt out. I had served as the firstblack person on the board of the American Booksellers Associationand had become a major player in the publishing industry. I was theAfrican-American go-to girl for agents and editors and had hosted someof the hottest black authors, including James Baldwin, Toni Morrison,Alice Walker, Terry McMillan, E. Lynn Harris, Maya Angelou, WalterMosley, and Colin Powell. But I was tired. So I sold the store in Denver;I planned to move to New York to be close to my daughters and grandchildren,and coast into retirement.
But before I could book that Caribbean cruise, entrepreneurshipagain came calling. I was presented with the opportunity to open a bookstorein the rapidly changing hot and happening neighborhood of Harlem.So I got my second wind and opened another Hue-Man Bookstore.It boasted four thousand square feet of floor space and a café, and thisbigger and better New York City Hue-Man became the world’s largestAfrican- American bookstore. The Harlem store enjoyed the same brandrecognition but on an even larger scale, and became a mandatory stopfor an author’s New York book tour. In 2003, Hillary Clinton chose ourbookstore to host a signing for her book Living History.
One year later came my crowning achievement. Hue-Man wasselected as one of only two stores in the country to mount an in-storeevent on the release day of President Bill Clinton’s memoir, My Life. Onthat warm June evening, the store was mobbed and the signing was coveredby local, national, and international media news outlets, includingCNN, Access Hollywood, and Entertainment Tonight. At the end of the day,I had orchestrated the successful signing of 2,119 books.
The Clinton signing marked the complete realization of my vision,to create a million- dollar small business. Now it was time to retire forreal, and pursue a new challenge: to teach other women to realize theirown entrepreneurial dreams. I now work as a business coach with avariety of clients, including realtors, restaurateurs, retailers, real estatedevelopers, a veterinary hospital, art galleries, and a media productioncompany. I also conduct workshops titled “First Steps to Starting YourBusiness” around the country to educate, support, and inspire entrepreneursat all stages of business ownership. It is this urge to give back anduse the knowledge that I have acquired that’s been my inspiration to writeDown to Business.
Running a business is full of highs and lows, and somewhere betweenthe fantasies and the ideal— and Cinderellaesque drudgery— lies thereality. The difference between succeeding, breaking even, or beingbroke is how rigorously you’ve planned for your prosperity.
Down to Business will draw on numerous sources and existing informationthat is available but to date has not been compiled and made moreuser- friendly. I’ll take you step by step through the entrepreneurial strategiesneeded to realize your dream and help you avoid some of the missteps that other entrepreneurs and I have made along the way. This book is fullof stories of real women, not so different from you whose examples andinformation can inspire and pave the way to your success. According toJoy Ott, national spokesperson for Wells Fargo Women’s Business ServiceProgram, “ women-owned firms are growing and increasing their employmentfaster than the general market. These firms are driving growth in theAmerican workplace while generating revenues at a similar rate to all firms.This is a powerful statement about the fastest- growing segment of Americansmall business owners.” Women own everything from couture boutiquesto veterinary offi ces, wine stores, radio stations, health spas, and adagencies. We catch the entrepreneurial bug more often but tend to be small,struggle with undercapitalization, realize low revenues, and often employonly ourselves, all of which can hinder potential growth. We often haveless personal wealth and lack the contacts to help overcome the hurdles toget the business off the ground. For these reasons, having a good businessplan is imperative for creating a successful future.
The businesses I have selected to discuss in this book were not chosenby chance. As you will see, many of them are in Harlem, which isa hot and vital community in the midst of shifting demographics. I hada remarkable opportunity to have access to a group of amazing femaleentrepreneurs in a place that was an incubator for entrepreneurship. Thisvital community was a microcosm of what was happening in cities, suburbs,and small towns all over the country. This is where I live, am entertained,and shop, so these are dynamic women from my community withwhom I have done business. Because I know them and they know me, Iwas able to sit and talk intimately about their businesses. They were allsmall businesses and had revenues of less than $1 million and some withless than $100,000. But I also talk about businesses in other parts of the country. Regardless of the location, each one is a success for having takenthe plunge and followed their dream.
Down to Business tackles issues and asks questions to help you withpreemptive problem solving that will get your business started and maintainedon a solid footing.
My purpose in writing this book is fourfold:
Above all, I want to give you the opportunity to benefit from the yearsI have spent figuring out the steps in starting and maintaining a successful business. You should never stop dreaming and working toward makingyour dream a reality.
This book is for you and thousands of other women like you who wantto know where to begin. I hope you can identify with the female entrepreneursin the book, see yourself as a success, and someday let me hearyour story.