Lisa PC: Greetings LaShanda! Thank you for talking with us today. We’re so happy to have you with us because we know how busy you are. You know, there are times in our lives and in our work that we cross paths with people who truly amaze us. You are one of those people. We’re in awe of your business savvy, your technical expertise, and of course of your commitment to promoting Black women in business. You probably have the most visible presence online in this work and have created, to me, one of the most valuable and easily accessible set of resources for entrepreneurial Black women anywhere.
Those of us who know you know that you manage a number of online venues including Black Business Women Online (BBWO), Black Girl Click, Urban Chic Boutiques, and the list goes on. Each is committed to promoting Black business, particularly ‘sistapreneurs’ and to provide affordable advertising options. You recently launched a new blog, SistaSense, where readers can get even more invaluable business tips and advice. How do you manage each of these interconnected yet unique projects, and what prompted you to create each one?
LaShanda: Well, it all started with my little eZine, 8 years ago, Multiple Shades of You Online. At the time I felt there was a lack of positive sites for Black Girls, so I decided to create an ezine for young girls of color. As I evolve, so does the msoy network. A few years back, when looking for quality Black Search Engines and only finding a few, I decided to create my own – the Search Urban Directory. When I got pregnant and found there weren’t enough supportive spaces for mocha moms, I started the Black Moms Club. When I got serious about being an entrepreneur and connecting with other successful women, I started Black Business Women Online. And the list goes on. Multiple Shades of You Online is like a digital reflection of my own evolution as a person and as I someone whose passion is to create positive change with the Black Community by building strong Black Networks Online. Because all my websites are built on the msoy foundation with interconnected content and topics, its easy for me to mange them. Every week I try to focus on improving a specific site while regularly checking the others to stay connected to viewers.
Lisa PC: LaShanda, not only do you have tremendous creative talent in graphic and web design and have created what I believe to be some of the most aesthetically pleasing sites online for women and persons of color; but you are a virtual storehouse of information on online business development and marketing. What is your background and how did you accumulate your vast knowledge base?
LaShanda: Having worked on websites, specifically msoy for over 8 years I’ve acquired a great deal of information. I’ve been in love with web technology since I was a teenager and that love was translated into studying computers both in the classroom and on my own. For years I actually worked in education as a counselor, while building websites on the side. Reading and researching the latest web technology helped me build my own sites until one day I realized how much information I had acquired. At that point I started writing more about internet marketing; finding new ways to share my insight with others. Having turned my knowledge into learning tools for others, I now consider myself an information entrepreneur with respect to web marketing and design.
Lisa PC: One of the things you and I know is true is that Black women like us are incredibly enterprising and creative. We truly embrace capitalism, or the concept of free enterprise, and are working double and triple time to carve out opportunities for ourselves. What do you think is driving this desire and zeal for entrepreneurship and self-determination among sisters?
LaShanda: I think this drive comes from a maternal instinct to give birth to something new, to define and create our own success stories. Just like our white counter parts, we want to be apart of the American Dream, but not just to create lucrative businesses. We want to redefine the meaning of Blackness, reclaim our independence so we can devote more time to our families and less time on 9 to 5 jobs. I feel like myself, and so many other Black Women are eagerly embracing the gifts that God has given us so that we can bless the world as He sees fit.
Lisa PC: Yes, and we know that most sisters have always been in the position of having to work, having to provide, having to be breadwinners. But we’re more determined than ever to move beyond survival and necessity to true financial and creative independence, and to thrive as women and business owners. What do have to say about this? Why is this so important for us moving forward?
LaShanda: I am evolving in business, because black women are evolving in America. Speaking on women like Oprah Winfrey and Tyra Banks, you can see the amazing creativity that Black Women have that mainstream media can’t even touch. As Black People we are naturally trendsetters; we know how to translate our struggles into universal truths spanning all artistic genres and touching all races. Having lived on the outskirts of society for so long, we see things as many can not, and have visions that many have yet to comprehend. Why do you think Obama is so amazing? Because he doesn’t just speak it, he feels it, he understands it, he’s live it and therefore knows how to articulate it in a genuine way that people can identify with and appreciate. We have a spiritual vision, an understanding that we can now claim and transform into reality. We are learning how to tap into streams of income. We are learning, especially through the web, how to redefine ourselves and develop our own forms of media. We are ready to claim our independence because its not just what we want, it is the direction of the future. More and more we are growing tired of the images mass media is showing us or not showing us. We are tired of struggling and we’ve moved far enough out of periods like the crack era and into periods of more blacks in college, corporations, and entrepreneurship to be in a space where we can not only think about how to better ourselves, but have the funds to do so.
Lisa PC: Absolutely! I couldn't agree with you more and there are droves of sisters like you and me who are, as you said translating and transforming our experiences and our visions, into successful businesses that make an impact. LaShanda, in your many detailed articles and blog entries that offer invaluable and very detailed information, you talk a lot about finding one’s niche and capitalizing on this for business success. I think it’s safe to say that you’ve mastered this art in your own business. Enterprising minds want to know, how does one do this? How have you done it?
LaShanda: Though I can not speak for everyone, I can say that for those of us with a passion, it’s hard to hide it. I knew I loved business as a little girl making trinkets and selling it to friends. I knew I loved computers the minute I touched a keyboard. Granted, we may not be able to articulate that passion or even know what to do with it at first, but it is there for each of us to tap into. Whether you have someone in your life constantly telling you about something your are good at, or an interest that is the very definition of who you are, that is something you need to find within yourself. I found it because no matter what I did in life, I always ended up back at my niche. When people said they loved something I did, I figured out how to do it better. I learned how to turn my skills into income. I figured out how to gain financially and spiritually by giving skillfully to others in a unique and genuine way. Embrace who you are, learn how others are successful in your niche, and believe that you can be successful too.
Lisa PC: LaShanda, your comment brings me to the question every reader wants me to ask. You’ve found creative ways to make money while doing the things you feel passionately about. And we all understand that making money is the ultimate goal of being in business, and if we can make money doing what we love, that’s every entrepreneur’s dream come true! But not every business is making money. What do you say to the sister reading this who has started her business, pursuing her passion and feeling good about that, but whose not seeing the financial reward manifested yet? What things should she be thinking about?
LaShanda: If your business is online the first thing you need to think about is your online presence. You are optimizing your website for search engines? What is your website traffic? How many viewers do you get monthly? Having an understanding of your online presence is the best way to start, because you can’t make money online if no one is visiting your site.
Then you need to think about what marketing strategies you are using. How are you taking of advantage of social media tools like blogging or social networks like BBWO? You need to develop a stronger web presence, and that comes from putting yourself out there, being known. Click by click, I still manually send out emails and post links or articles everywhere about what I do. But I am always sure to post things that are interesting, helpful, genuine, quality. Advertising effectively requires you to work on building real connections with readers. Building genuine relationships with people online works better than sending out mass emails every time.
You also need to figure out how much you want to make and how much you need to make to meet your families’ basic needs. These are things that I talk about on my new podclass series workandwebwomen.com. If you are starting out with no investments or grants, make sure you have a savings set aside. Before I transitioned to working at home, I set aside a pool of money to take care of the bills so that I could focus on building my websites. You have to build a strong net presence before you can make money. The money comes after putting in the work, which is why you need to either have a savings or additional streams of income when you are just starting. On workandwebwomen.com, I also talk about how I pay my rent with Google Adsense. Again, finding ways to supplement your income can help you maintain financially during slow periods and when you are starting up.
Lisa PC: OK readers, are you taking notes! Seriously! Get out your pen and paper!
LaShanda: Most importantly, I have found what has worked for me is building my own pool of online viewers to market to. Through social media sites like MySpace or on the Black Business Women Network, I have been able to showcase my services to people I know will be interested in them. You have to build your own marketing circle. You need to learn how to create a buzz for yourself on web spaces that relate to your target audience, and stay connected with your customers. In doing so I have been able to convert readers into affiliates and customers; many of whom then refer their friends to me as new clients.
Lisa PC: Many women contact me for business advice. I assure them that I am learning as they are which is one of the reasons why SisterSpeak Online is here---to INFORM, inspire, and EMPOWER women to MOVE and ACT with new knowledge and skills to pursue and achieve what they want. One of the big questions I get is how to secure funding for a start-up whether it's for-profit or non-profit. There’s so much information out there from the small business administration, about angel investors, business plan contests and so on. What insight can you offer readers on this?
LaShanda: I am all about two things, research and asking questions. Trial and error experience and connecting with more seasoned entrepreneurs on Black Business Women Online, has helped me learn about different ways to find grants or invest in your own business. What has personally worked for me is what I detailed in my previous response. Setting aside a savings to help me maintain while building my business on a limited budget; you need to know how much you need to survive and how much you actually need to invest in your business. Some businesses require no startup money, some require less than $100 while others require over $1000. You need to know how much is required to start your type of business, how much you need to meet your personal financial needs, and where you can cut corners to get the best results at prices you can afford.
Lisa PC: We also know that many sister-ventures are self-funded for many reasons, at least initially. We are in many cases working a day job and doing our ‘side hustle’ in the evenings and on weekends, and the day job is financing the side gig in hopes that it replaces the day job. Others pull resources from assets like a home or investment earnings to get started. Some are in a position to secure bank loans or small business loans, though credit can in some cases be an issue. Others get family help or are fortunate enough to obtain investors. What have you seen as the primary means by which Black women you come into contact with are funding their businesses, and how can we expand these avenues?
LaShanda: I find many Black Women in business have worked in the corporate world for a few years and turned a portion of their income into investment capital. In so many cases women are actively creating savings accounts that they can later use to build their businesses. With the help of grant writers or through personal research, a few are also taking advantage of grants or programs that help women entrepreneurs start businesses. The web is such a great space to find free information; you really just have to invest the time to find tools or investors for your business.
Lisa PC: LaShanda, we know that networking is a big part of business success. It’s who you know, WHO KNOWS YOU, and how well you can access and offer information and resources. How are Black women unique, you think, in our reliance on networking in business and how important is networking to our success?
LaShanda: Networking is essential! I think Black Women need to network because we can do better with help than by ourselves. Moreover, we can make more money if we invest in supporting each other not simply financially, but through collaborations, bartering, and cross promotional exchanges. Best of all, networking is free to do and accessible to everyone.
Lisa PC: Ok, let’s switch gears for a moment—and we’ll have to have you back again to continue this discussion. Now LaShanda, most of the women who benefit from the extensive resources you’ve created know who you are by name but you really remain pretty low-key and in the background of your many sites. Tell us more about ‘LaShanda Henry’? Who is she, what does she care about, and what does her typical day entail?
LaShanda: Well the low-key me is really who I am. More of a typer than a talker, my day is spent with my son, his father, and our growing collection of computers. In between watching Dora with my son, and being a mom I’m updating websites, monitoring networks, and responding to emails. And together, my significant other helps me build the business and market online. In the last few weeks, this schedule has expanded to include participating in online interviews and having more offline conversations with fellow entrepreneurs. Talking to other business women has opened my eyes to the impact my networks are having on others and how much I can learn from working with other successful web women. And that’s my day in a nutshell; I live a simple and quiet life in NC patiently waiting for bigger and better things to come.
Lisa PC: Besides your internet empire, and I don't think I'm overstating that, what other activities are you engaged in?
LaShanda: I am a self-published author. In addition to writing eBooks I’ve written A Better Today Brings A Brighter Tomorrow, an educational resource guide for Black Parents and students interested in youth programs, after school activities, college planning, etc. And I create the Lil’ Bits series of African American Children’s Books.
Lisa PC: Wow, all in a day's work, right (smile), which leads to my next question. How you balance business and your personal life—which I know is blurry for the mompreneur/sistapreneur! I know that I am on the internet for more hours than I’d like to admit some days, and it appears that the same applies to you (smile). I get your emails at unusual hours of the morning which tells me you’re up and doing what a sista has to do! In the midst of that, how do you care for LaShanda, the mom, wife, and individual—and tend to the needs of your family?
LaShanda: Having a strong life partner or support system is essential. I’m breastfeeding and running errands in between my endless hours on the computer and my son’s father picks up the slack by cooking and cleaning when my hands are full. We have set up a schedule that works for us. We take the time to play with our son or watch cartoons with him. Then I take over when his dad takes time to do his thing and he does the same for me so that I have time to do my thing. At the end of the day, we still manage to find the time to eat dinner together or plan a family outing.
Lisa PC: Wow, and I thought I was the only one breastfeeding while furiously typing my next feature, arranging my next interview, or finalizing an ad sale! But that's another interview--the adventures of the Work At Home Mom! LaShanda, what can we expect next from 'LaShanda Henry'? We know you must be brewing up more fabulous projects in your magic pot?
LaShanda: Well my latest project is WorkandWebWomen.com, a new podClass series to help other online entrepreneurs learn how to better work the web. I’m learning how to podcast, hence the new project. As I evolve so do my sites, so you can always expect something bigger and better from me in the future.
Lisa PC: And you can trust we'll be watching, listening and learning! Last question, I promise (LOL)…what words of wisdom can you offer to other women who want to bring their business aspirations to life as you have?
LaShanda: Don’t wish for things to happen, believe in them and they will become real. Last year I started doing that, and this year I am making more money. Every time I start a sentence with “I hope” or “If this happens”, I quickly change that sentence to “When this happens.” You have to think positive, be practical, and stay proactive. If you stick to creating and actualizing realistic goals, anything is possible.
Lisa PC: LaShanda, thank you so much for talking with us and PROMISE that you’ll come back again to share more! Expect to hear from a number of our readers who I am sure are excited and anxious to be in touch with you!
There you have is SisterSpeak Online readers…the amazing LaShanda Henry. We tip our hat to you LaShanda for your many contributions to promoting and supporting Black women in business for your incredible creativity and insight.
Readers, visit LaShanda online at http://ilhenry.com/sistasense/ or any one of her many sites that we shared with you today to learn more about the many resources she provides that can help you today!