“This isn’t going to last. . . . “
That was the retort I received from a friend after mentioning the new-found interest in Black-owned businesses during the summer of 2020. That year, traffic to apps for businesses and research guides in support of the Black community increased, hashtags were created and shared broadly, and searches for Black-owned businesses were up over 12,000% compared with the year prior, among other awareness efforts.
While I outwardly remained optimistic about the support Black-owned companies were receiving, I couldn’t help but to think about the countless times consumers and businesses sought to support underrepresented business owners, especially following a distressing turn of events.
I recognized a pattern. Incredible volumes of interest at the onset of major news that impacts underrepresented groups, followed by a decrease of interest in the weeks that follow. Mentions wane, traffic to websites and brick and mortar locations stall, and highlighting Black-owned businesses becomes a task buried in everyday news.
Despite having seen this pattern of activity before, I was hopeful that the passions and feelings that emerged following the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and so many others and the subsequent social upheaval and protests demanding change, action, equality, and justice would result in a sustained and impactful change within the community, among consumers and businesses.
While we were in the midst of a pandemic and approaching a historic presidential election, the wave of emerging interest in Black-owned businesses driven by audiences around the world felt different.
There was an opportunity for increased exposure and for introductions of products and services to new customers around the world. Such exposure seemed pivotal for so many companies that were struggling to survive following the onset of the pandemic. During that summer, with the growing interest, Black-owned companies experienced spikes in business.
Yet, the most recent statistics on how Black-owned businesses have since fared are handing me the same story once more. Yet again, support for such companies slowed in the months following the surge. Even now, according to a recent Meta report, Black-owned businesses are facing a lack of demand, funding, and other pandemic-related challenges, with 51% of Black-owned businesses reporting declining sales.
So, how can Black-owned businesses emerge from the quicksand of consumer and media fatigue? Black business owners can take multiple steps to drive continued growth and success.
Make it your business to understand your customer
While interest from wider populations may come and go, your core audience is the one that is committed to seeing you survive and thrive. You have something they want, need, and love. It’s important to understand what other audiences find appealing about your brand, but remember, your everyday customers keep the lights on. Invest in understanding their likes and where there is room for improvement. Involve them, when possible, in the development of the next iterations and evolutions of your products and business. Let them have a real stake in driving your success.
The customer is always right
This mantra still rings true for many businesses today. Every customer is just as important as the next. And, in an environment where everyone has the opportunity to comment on their experience in real time, each customer should feel like a VIP. A poor customer service experience can result in the loss of customers, brand loyalty, and even sales. Business owners should evaluate and enhance their customer service efforts to ensure they are providing a top-quality experience to further engage their existing customer pool, entice new customers, and keep customers coming back.
Commit to your employees
At a time when businesses large and small are struggling to retain and attract employees, it is critical to have a grasp on your business needs and how they ladder up to the needs of your employees. There must be synergy between the two to foster the best workplace culture. Evaluate whether the roles and responsibilities of your employees are in line with both your business objectives and their ultimate goals. Alignment can cultivate those who could be your biggest and most loyal brand ambassadors—ready to amplify and drive awareness of your business.
Be evergreen–your business is not a trend
Cultural and societal shifts, moments in time, holidays and occasions will remain. Opportunities to amplify awareness of your company may come during these times, but be sure it isn’t the only introduction to your business. Build and maintain lasting relationships with customers, vendors, partners, manufacturers, investors, and more, starting from day one, and everyday thereafter.
There is nothing more important than staying true to what inspires you. You started your business in an effort to bring that inspiration to a target audience. Remember your purpose and make sure the decisions you make to develop, grow and evolve your business are rooted in that inspiration.
Black business owners are an integral part of the ecosystem. As such, interest in Black-owned companies cannot be a trend, instead it should and can be a permanent shift in perception and engagement that can ultimately help to increase market share, visibility, and success–permanently.
Lisa Williams, PhD, is the founder and CEO of The World of Entertainment, Publishing and Inspiration™ (The World of Epi), a multicultural toy manufacturing and design firm.