Let's Talk Zen

 Definition of Terms

UNICORN: From mythical horses to sexual acts to metaphors for unrequited love, this term is defined in many ways.  When I use the term “unicorn” I am almost always referring to any WoC in a white male-dominated space.

WoC: Woman of color.

Why Am I Writing This?

Fellow Unicorns and Unicorn enthusiasts,  in the spirit of #BlackGirlMagic,it’s no surprise that the fastest growing demographic to become entrepreneurs is BLACK WOMEN.  Yes, I’m serious. According to Fortune Magazine, the number of women entrepreneurs increased 74% from 1997-2015. The number of African-American women entrepreneurs has increased 322%. We are out here killing it. Madame CJ Walker would be PROUD. My goal is for us to have a manifesto of sorts in order to support the sustainment of this entrepreneurial phenomenon.
Now with that said, most of these items could apply to anyone so feel free to share. It’s not a “cousins only” affair lol.

Although I’m still a work in progress, I am in that number. In addition to a day job, school, and freelance writing, I clearly have masochistic tendencies am also an entrepreneur. I am the creator of Zen in a Jar. This is not easy.

Although I LOVE what I do, I’m still figuring out how to get my sh*t together. I have many lessons I’ve learned the hard way- that I’ll share with you over the next 4000 words or so.

This is long as hell, but totally worth the read, I promise.
Here goes…

  1. LOOK IN THE MIRROR, NOT OUT OF THE WINDOW.
    You need to be self-aware. It may be harsh and uncomfortable, but you will not succeed if you don’t know yourself, your communication style, and your responses to conflict. You can take a series of personality tests like this one. Be clear on your core values and your values system and most importantly, ensure that you can clearly communicate them.
    (Photo Credit: Armani via Daily Mail UK)
  2. DEVELOP YOUR LEADERSHIP STYLE.
    Read books such as Tribal Leadership, The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team, Becoming a Resonant Leader(my fave)  to understand organizational cultures and where your leadership style fits in.
    (Photo Credit: ABC)
  3. YOU’VE GOT TO LIVE FOR THIS.
    Assess your motivation and ensure that you are intrinsically motivated to take this on. If this is not your passion, it will be obvious pretty much immediately.The woman in the picture above is one of the hardest working and dedicated entrepreneurs I know. She wears her story with pride and she is dedicated to her clients. Her passion is clear and her referrals are growing exponentially.So ask yourself a few things:
    Is this a good product?
    Like seriously, does this product or service bring value to the world?
    Are you just trying to make a quick buck?
    Do you really want this?
    Or do you just want the Instagram account with fancy pictures, lots of followers, and likes?
    There is a difference. It reveals itself. This is NOT for the faint of heart.
    (Photo credit: The Good Thick)
  4. BE ARI GOLD…OR ARI GOLD-ADJACENT
    I cannot stress this enough. I do not have a business degree. I don’t like numbers. I just like to create. Unfortunately, you cannot win by just focusing on your craft. You MUST have a business plan, track your costs per unit, inventory, everything. It’s just the way it is. Treat this business plan like a living document and update it as needed. There are many resources available like this one , this one, and this one. You can also acquire assistance from Fiverr (more on that later).(Photo credit: HBO via Funnelholic)
  5. KEEP YOUR NOSE CLEAN.If you have a day job, PLEASE ensure that you understand the rules and regulations at your job regarding side hustles. Be inflexible about people purchasing products or services from you through the appropriate channels. The sale is NOT worth the embarrassment and ultimate inconvenience of being terminated from your primary gig. If you didn’t need that job, you would’ve left already so ensure that you respect the rules and stay out of trouble.The primary job is not the platform to print marketing materials nor solicit business. If someone approaches you about it, meet with them AFTER your tour of duty and off the grounds of your facility. If someone wants you to do their makeup and they ask you on your organization’s email, DO NOT respond to the email. Reach out to them after hours and provide your style seat link. Not worth it. It’s okay to be proud of your product or service but this is not the type of attention you want.
    BONUS CYA: If you are posting ads on social media throughout the day, ensure that you are not doing this during your tour of duty. If you use HootSuite, some other scheduling tool, or hired a social media manager, BE SURE THAT YOU CAN PROVE IT.
  6. USE YOUR RESOURCES.
    Outsource the tasks that you can. Yes, you may have a web design degree, BUT if you’re making bracelets, you cannot give 100% to web design. Take advantage of resources on sites like Fiverr. I don’t work for Fiverr but I do swear by them — especially for social media strategy, web design, editing, and logo design. Everything is $5 to start! Can’t go wrong there.
    Recommendation: Read the reviews of the resource BEFORE engaging them. Ask questions and read their requirements BEFORE you place the order.
    (Photo credit: ABC via TV Rukus)
  7. GET A #BUSINESSBESTIE

    I’d elaborate on this, but I’ve actually stumbled upon a few good articles that describe it here and here. I have several #BusinessBesties. Check them out here, here, and here!
    (Photo credit: TIDAL via Hitflix)
  8. GET A MENTOR.Not a person to imitate, but a mentor who can guide you. If there is no one in your real life to mentor you, you still have a few options. Reach out to other entrepreneurs via networking events, social media communities, etc. The other option, which is my personal preference as an introvert, is to listen to podcasts. Luckily, Empire Life Magazine has compiled the “5 Podcasts Every Black Entrepreneurial Woman Should Be Listening to.”
    (Photo Credit: I LOVEOLDSCHOOLMUSIC.COM)
  9. YOU NEED THE KEATING FIVE (OR AT LEAST LAUREL AND MICHAELA)

    You MUST Learn to Delegate. Seriously, you don’t see Annalyse Keating being shy about handing out tasks. Here’s a personal example of why I’m stressing this:
    I had a meltdown over the holiday season because I met my sales goals but sacrificed sleep, family, and school.
    My therapist enlightened me with the following:
    “The CEO of Corn Flakes is not on the floor mixing up corn meal, putting the corn flakes in the boxes, driving the boxes to the grocery stores, nor stocking the shelves with cereal. The CEO communicates their vision and empowers the employees to carry out that vision.”This piece is key and very much my own struggle. The first step to resolving this is taking an honest look at what you can afford to trust with someone else. Then, after you assess your communication style (see Items #1–2), hire staff or interns and properly train them. Sharpen your emotional intelligence enough to hire trustworthy people who respect your vision and begin to let them manage specific tasks.BONUS: You will not regret trying out 17 Hats . It was recommended to me by one of my #BusinessBesties. So you know I trust it immediately. It basically runs your business for you — imagine if you had about 3 clones of yourself to handle things like invoicing, communications, inventory, appointments, and more. It’s Project Management on steroids.
    (Photo credit: ABC via Melty.com)

  10. THINGS OF VALUE COST MONEY.
    PAY for the services you need. Professionals will cost money; consider it an investment in your business. Be wary of anything that’s easy. Do not look for “freebies.” You don’t want to skimp on things like branding, photography of your products, web design, ingredients, etc. Cutting corners can cripple an up-and-coming entrepreneur the moment this is exposed, especially considering the way negativity goes viral on social media.
    (Photo credit: ABC via Giphy)
  11. DO YOUR HOMEWORK.
    Research your customers. Research your potential customers. Research your competition. Conduct market research to support your business decisions. Research the laws in your state about your small businesses. I use the word research a lot, can you tell I’m in school?Think outside of the box. For example, I make skin care products. When I had my first customer share their allergies with me, I immediately realized that, although I list my ingredients, allergies had not crossed my mind as something to consider. I closed my shop for about a week or two and did extensive research on allergies and the safest, most universally acceptable base oils with moisturizing benefits.
  12. CHECK YOUR EGO.Accept the possibility of failure. That’s how you learn. Personally, I don’t trust any entrepreneur who swears they’ve never failed at anything. There’s a lot of risk in entrepreneurship. Don’t get too down on yourself if you make a mistake, don’t reach a goal, or an idea falls flat.
    Try to find the lesson in the experience and keep going. In the spirit of transparency, here’s a recent experience that I had:My online and face-to-face sales are stellar. I don’t even have to advertise that much to maintain consistent sales . However, I recently branched out to hospital gift shop sales and could not move the product. I found it odd, but it was a learning experience. I learned that my shop displays needed to exist work. They should be just as engaging as my online marketing and face-to-face presentations.
    (Photo credit: Imgur)
  13. GET INTO UNIVERSAL APPEAL.
    Expand your scope-WITHOUT losing your soul. Develop your vision and frame in a way that is as inclusive as possible and don’t alienate potential customers. Carol’s Daughter has mastered this.
    (Photo credit: Carol’s Daughter viaHSN)
  14. KEEP YOUR COOL.

     

    • Don’t criticize your customers passive-aggressively on social media.
      It’s not a good look. Take a deep breath, go for a walk, have some wine. Whatever you do, don’t vent online. Talk to your Business Bestie. For example, I am Facebook friends with a few fellow entrepreneurs. Sometimes I see them vent about a customer with a special circumstance like bad feet, thin edges, tardiness, declined credit cards, Personally, I always feel like I’d rather not patronize their businesses because I’d prefer the anonymity of being with a stranger and feeling I may not be fodder for a social media feed.
    • Don’t vent about other businesses via social media.
      For example, if someone is imitating your ideas and marketing strategies, don’t vent online about it.
    • Don’t argue with unhappy customers on social media.
      Although it can be tempting, remember that whatever you say online lives forever. It’s important to remain accommodating and respectful with ANYTHING you put in writing It’s tempting to go HAM, but to a potential customer or investor, it looks like you are unable to control your emotions.

    (Photo credit: TV Re-cappers Delight)

  15. BUILD A BRAINTRUST.
    Engage other successful entrepreneurs or up-and-coming entrepreneurs that you respect, and meet with them perhaps quarterly to discuss ideas, possibilities for cross-promotion, and partnerships. Sometimes, you also need someone credible to bounce ideas off of. Hold each other accountable. Take turns hosting the event and offer light food and beverages. Not too much of the hard stuff so that you can remain focused. Unless they’re serving mimosas.
    (Photo credit: Apple Music via People)
  16. PROTECT YOUR REPUTATION.
    Friendship takes a back seat when it comes to business. Tagging each other on social media and such is nice BUT you have to be aware of who you align yourself with and the impact it can have on your brand. Perception is everything. Be sure you publicly align yourself with entities that share or enhance your personal vision. I won’t elaborate here, but if you’re interested, I speak about the characteristics I look for when partnering other businesses in Empire Life Magazine.
    Simply put, if you don’t have your sh*t together, I’ll still come to your birthday party, but I will not promote your brand to my customers. It doesn’t mean I don’t love you.
    (Photo credit: The YBF)
  17. TAKE OFF YOUR SENSITIVE SHIRT.

    You should constantly look to improve. No one is perfect. Not all feedback is bad. Have a receptive attitude toward criticism. Seriously, we are very close to our products and services. Plainly stated, we won’t always know when things suck. You also must understand that everything isn’t for everyone and that is totally okay. People approach me all the time about how much they don’t like certain scents like coconut/ lavender/citrus/whatever…or something is too greasy…or not greasy enough. I just trust my process and keep it moving in most cases.
    Key Takeaways:A. It is okay for people to not like your product or service. There are apparently over 7 billion people in the world at least according to Google. If one person doesn’t like what you offer, chances are you’ll find a thousand will unless you suck.

    B. It is okay for people to support your business and other businesses as well. You can use Miss Jessie’s on Tuesdays and Carol’s Daughter on Wednesdays. No one is going to die.C. It is not supposed to be personal. Some people truly are just trying to help you graduate to the next level. It will be on YOU to sift through the tone or the “sting” and get value from the information. Respect and receive unsolicited advice with a grain of salt. Sometimes people offer advice based on what THEY would do or never got a chance to do and not necessarily what works best for you.

     

    D. Some people are just *ssholes. They’ll say negative things because it triggers something within them that makes them feel insecure. People will slander you online or behind your back just because sometimes.  We must remember that when we speak negatively about others, especially unprovoked, it says more about us than the person we’re shading. Don’t worry about the shade.

    E. Solicit feedback frequently. For solicited feedback, I recommend surveys via apps like SurveyMonkeyand conducting focus groups that offer incentives for participation. Make sure your customers feel comfortable sharing with you. Don’t go on the defense.
    (Photo Credit: Celebuzz)

  18. CUSTOMER SERVICE IS KEY.I once read that TRUST = Credibility + Behavior. It’s important to build trust between yourself and your customer base. If you mess up an order, make it right. Apologize, send an incentive in the form of discount codes, upgrades, or free samples. A hand-written note is always a nice touch. This maintains the trust in the customer relationship and believe me, trust is what you want. Respect the power that your customer holds. A happy customer will sing your praises everywhere they go and an unhappy one will do the same with criticism. Guess which one has the most severe impact?
    (Photo Credit: Sales Junction)
  19. CHARGE WHAT YOU’RE WORTH.
    Do NOT lower prices because you want people to buy your product. I strongly recommend skipping the family discounts. Instead, offer incentives for loyalty or something along those lines. You will NOT see much profit if you’re offering discounts to everyone. BELIEVE ME.
    (Photo credit: The Jasmine Brand)
  20. ALWAYS PUT YOUR BEST FOOT FORWARD.
    Once you’ve perfected your craft, the next step is PRESENTATION. I recommend having your logo designed by a professional (see Fiverr). Afterward, begin to brand yourself. VISTAPRINT is a godsend-so is AVERY if you have the patience to learn it. There is almost ALWAYS a discount code any given day for both platforms. Make sure you have business cards, flyers, a website, a banner, and other accessories with a consistent theme based on your branding.One caveat: Steer clear of Vistaprint templates because there is a significant chance that someone else is using that same aesthetic.
    (Photo credit: Suits & Sequins, Erika Layne Photography)
  21. SOCIAL MEDIA ISN’T REAL.Let’s face it, we’re not going to have “Kylie Jenner numbers” on social media immediately. Don’t measure yourself against other businesses’ likes and followers. Many people buy followers. Instead of focusing on the smoke and mirrors, shift your focus to your own quality and continue to employ the steps above to maintain the integrity of your product or service.BONUS: While controlling your levels of social media envy is important, I want to offer another gem. Do NOT present yourself to be something you’re not online. If you’re living a fabulous life, it will show itself and you’re normally too busy to worry about convincing us. Feigning fabulosity and sales is a big no-no and comes off quite contrived. It’s more obvious than you’d think. BE AUTHENTIC on and offline.
    (Photo Credit: Crushable)
  22. YOU NEED LEGAL PROTECTION. LIKE, SERIOUSLY.
    I have the luxury of knowing a few “legal eagles” and law students. I strongly recommend having someone on your team to go over legal documents and provide you with unbiased information about contracts, business partnerships, liabilities, etc. This is a MUST. If this representation/support seems costly, consider the luxury of peace of mind. It would be even worse to be locked into a bad business deal and bleeding money for no reason.
  23. FIND YOUR LOCAL IYANLA.

    Or a “Human Engineer” if you will. I work with Carl Thomas of Life by Design and he basically acts as a therapist and business manager by holding me accountable and pulling out my best. He has a ZERO-TOLERANCE policy for self-limiting beliefs and that’s what you need. We discuss the good, the bad, & the ugly. Life Coaches are here to help you grow and live your best life. As smart as I consider myself to be, I STRUGGLE with getting out of my own way. I depend on these types of resources to keep me sane AND grounded AF.BONUS: Adama Hamadi has a special message for you: Live Deliciously.
  24. TREAT YO’SELF.I’m still working through this one, BUT hear me out. You will not survive if you do not carve out time to take care of yourself. The Super Woman Syndrome is overrated can lead to an unfulfilled life. Here’s a few recommendations:

     

    • Schedule monthly or bi-weekly spa days
    • Workout as much as you can. If you’re anything like me, there aren’t enough hours in the day. Explore virtual training options like this 5am Cardio Session. You don’t even have to leave your house!
    • Meditate daily
    • Write in a journal
    • Call your Grandma
    • Set boundaries on your work day (like setting a hard stop at 8pm)
    • Get rest
    • Don’t beat yourself up if you have to cancel on people-anyone who truly loves and supports you will understand. And if they don’t, remember that when you get rich. Basically, I implore you to place your peace of mind and rest FIRST.(Photo credit:  Zen in a Jar)
  25. SLAY.
    And I mean this in the most FEMINIST-friendly way possible. You have to keep yourself up because you are representing your brand 24/7. Depending on your industry, there are no days off. I recommend keeping a makeup artist on retainer and having a few backups for when you attend events or know that you will be heavily photographed. The MUA and model pictured above is my sister @AngelaLolita and she does makeup in the DMV area.The other incentive to keep yourself up is because although you’re busy being super woman, your significant other still needs something engaging to look at. He’s not going to tell you that because he knows better  you work hard. I am TRULY working on this.
    BONUS: Although we have that whole “black don’t crack” thing going for us, it is very important that we take care of our skin. Get yourself a skin care appointment with a professional asap. I go to B Derm Esthetics in Maryland.

     

    (Photo credit: The Photo Chase & Frosty’s Photography)

  26. YOU DO NOT HAVE TO ATTEND EVERY PARTY YOU’RE INVITED TO.
    Be selective about your participation. There will always be vendor opportunities. I used to jump on every opportunity that presented itself to me, but I soon realized that some were more trouble than they were worth and others, I had simply outgrown. Because my marketing strategy is working for me, I don’t feel the need to pay an exorbitant vendor fee for the “possibility of sales” and “guaranteed exposure.”

     

    Surprisingly, exposure does not pay anyone’s bills.

    There’s also the possibility of attaching your brand to a “janky” event and you can’t undo that. So basically, give it some thought before jumping in and participating.

    Scenario #1: I’d accept a $450 vendor fee for the New Orleans Natural Hair Expo. Yes, the fee is nothing to sneeze at BUT it offers all the bells and whistles a serious vendor would appreciate such as social media recognition on their world wide platforms, presentation materials such as a waste basket and 6 ft table, etc) . An additional consideration would be the level of traffic that arrives INTERESTED in BUYING things.

    The timing and location here are key- it’s the international black women’s convention New Orleans during the Essence Festival! Based on what you sell, you could make this money back asap. The expected traffic is 700+ people. Every fancy and fancy-adjacent auntie and her line sisters will be there and ready to SPEND. If you had a kick*ss $5 item, you’d recoup the vendor fee by selling your $5 item to 90 out of 700 people. You’re welcome. Of course there are other expenses but you see where I’m going with this. In my industry, the benefits exceed concerns about the cost.

    Scenario #2: Your auntie’s friend’s cousin is having a church bazaar with a vendor fee of $200. You have to bring your own table and materials, there’s a wealth of industries present meaning no particular focus, no metrics on previous attendance and they require product donations for door prizes. I may not opt for that. More than likely, I would benefit from donating a sample set to be raffled off with business cards and remaining focused on my online sales. With the sample set consisting of product I’ve already got at home, this requires minimal effort and auntie isn’t offended.

    The more I grow as an entrepreneur, the easier it has become to politely decline. As you grow, you’ll soon realize that YOU ARE THE PARTY. The events will start coming to YOU for free (OR at least a small fee of a dish contribution or bottle of wine). Believe me. When I am invited to vend at an event and am not charged a vendor fee, I gift the host/hostess with a product valued at $50 or more AND bring small gifts (see Gateway Drug) for the other vendors with my business card attached. This fosters positive business relationships and ensures the host/hostess speak highly of you to their networks and ultimately invite you again.

    Before accepting a vendor fee ask the following:
    a. What is the customer demographic?
    b. How many attendees are expected?
    c. How many tickets have sold so far?
    d. Will the event planners include your logo on their promotional materials?
    e. What materials are provided to the vendors?
    f. How many members of your team are allowed to assist?
    g. Who are the other businesses? It’s important to know whether or not you’re 1 of 15 businesses selling shea butter for example.

     

  27. YOU NEED A GATEWAY DRUG.Seriously, if your item is on the pricey side, consider offering a version of it at an accessible price. My shea buttah is luxurious and relatively expensive so I hear. Understanding that most people can’t prioritize a $25 shea butter purchase on a regular basis, I offer a smaller version for $5-8. I am constantly selling out of them. This is an easy purchase decision and the item fits in the customer’s purse or pocket.I got this idea from my mentor in my f*cking head DvF.I always admired her style and her wrap dresses. However, I could not afford to regularly wear her $250-400 wrap dresses BUT I could totally afford her iphone cases, shoes and other accessories. I still felt connected to the brand and once I got my money up, I remained loyal to the brand and began to purchase dresses. I’m not saying I’m anywhere close to DvF but you see where I’m going with this. The iphone case was the gateway drug for me, just as the $5 shea butter is the gateway drug for Zen in a Jar customers.
    (Photo cred: Pinterest)
  28. GET IN #FORMATION.SUPPORT YOUR FELLOW ENTREPRENEURS. There’s a WIDE variety of entrepreneurial efforts within our community. Here are a few of my personal faves:
    Amyang FashunAngela LolitaMUA
    B Derm EstheticsCity RepublikCream & Icing
    DIVA Treats
    DC Lady29
    Erika Layne Photography
    Habitually FlyI’m Simply DTurning NaturalModern CosmoMoore Abstracts by JessicaM Shonell PhotographyNubian SkinSapodilla Skin CareShear JoySuits & SequinsTBS Facility Services GroupTees in the TrapThe Good ThickWired CyclingVine Me UpZen in a Jar

     

    BONUS: Although I am tuition poor AF, I like to treat myself to a gift from the #BlackGirlMagic community. It’s a way for me to support the movement and add value to my life because who doesn’t love presents???Also, many entrepreneurs allow you to customize your orders and you can easily establish a  “signature gift.” For example, one of my fave signature gifts is a custom wine glass. I buy mine from @DCLady29 & @CreamandIcing, checkout their work on IG:
    (Photo credit: @DCLady29)


    (Photo credit: @CreamandIcing)

    Please add your faves in the comments!ConclusionOkay, I know this was long, but I wanted to ensure I shared every possible thing I could think of that I wish someone told me years ago.

    So what do you think? Did I nail it? Did I miss anything? This is a living document that is constantly growing. I’d love your input because in the spirit of #FORMATION, we’re all in this TOGETHER!

    GO FORTH AND CONQUER, UNICORNS!


Nikki Zen