Tired of working your regular 9 to 5? Ready to become your own boss? As of 2015, the U.S. was home to more than 25 million entrepreneurs. But make no mistake: the road to entrepreneurship is a winding, labyrinth of a path full of unexpected twists and turns. According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, only 20% of businesses make it past their first year.
Businesswoman and CEO/Founder of Founders of Color, Kelly Burton Ph.D. has become a serial entrepreneur in her own right and is now helping young entrepreneurs succeed in their own businesses. Her organization, known as the fastest-growing community of minority entrepreneurs in the nation, has a key mission to help Black and Latinx-owned companies scale in profit and business.
We spoke with Burton to find out what it really takes to launch, build and maintain a successful business.
ESSENCE: Tell us about ‘Founders Of Color?’
Burton: I’m the CEO of Founders of Color and a serial entrepreneur. Founders of Color is the fastest growing community of minority entrepreneurs in the nation. Our sole mission is to help Black and Latinx-owned businesses to scale. We have about 4,000 entrepreneurs across the country on our platform today. You can learn more at www.foundersofcolor.com.
ESSENCE: For those looking to step into the world of entrepreneurship, what advice do you have to determine whether or not someone is ready?
Burton: Starting a business is a highly personal matter and depends on any number of factors including what you need to earn in order to survive, whose relying on you to care for them, how much discomfort and uncertainty you are willing to sustain and whether or not you have a plan for success.
ESSENCE: What are the first steps needed to launch a business?
Burton: First, do an assessment of your lifestyle to determine what you need to generate in income and benefits, in order to survive on your own. Second, complete a one-page business canvas. You can find a template online. Third, make a list of people (think: clients/customers) who will purchase your goods or services out the gate.
ESSENCE: What are three personality traits every business owner should have?
Burton: Risk-taking—Entrepreneurship is highly risky. Like any risky endeavor, there is potential for great gain, but also great loss and you have to be able to manage the risk if you are to be successful.
Resilience—Entrepreneurship requires grit and resilience. If you’re going to last as an entrepreneur, you’ve got to be tough and have real staying power to persevere through the hard times.
Capability—You’ve got to be capable. Entrepreneurship is competition and in order to win, you’ve first got to be good at your craft or the execution associated with getting your idea out to the world. Otherwise, chances are you won’t win.
ESSENCE: Can anyone be an entrepreneur?
Burton: No, it’s not for everyone. If you are risk-averse, then entrepreneurship is not for you. We often romanticize entrepreneurship, but it’s not for the faint of heart. The average Black female-owned business generates about $12,000 per year. It’s no fairy tale. Any small business owner who is being honest will tell you it’s harder than they ever imagined. But it can also be incredibly rewarding. Despite the difficulty of the journey, it’s one of the few paths that can deliver you true economic freedom.
ESSENCE: As a person of color, do you think it’s a different experience launching a business than our counterparts?
Burton: As a person of color, the biggest hurdle in the beginning is lack of access to startup capital which means most of our businesses end up being bootstrapped. Aside from that, starting a small business is largely procedural. Growing it is another story because that’s about accessing markets and customers and your ability to do that varies depending on your experience, background and access to resources.
ESSENCE: What would your advice be to first-time minority business owners?
Burton: Embrace the practice of “working on your business and not just in your business.” Don’t get caught up in the minutiae of running your business because that is where entrepreneurs get stuck and that is what keeps them from growing. Think about your business as a business from the start and not just a job that you’ve created for yourself. Educate yourself. Invest in your business as often as you can and commit to always learning.