This August marks the 18th annual Black Business Month. For 31 days, business owners and patrons alike have the opportunity to recognize and support Black business owners across the United States.
The movement finds its roots in 2004 when engineering entrepreneur Frederick E. Jordan found himself reflecting on the many challenges he’d faced as a Black business owner. Jordan partnered with John William Templeton, President and Executive Director of eAccess Corp, and for the last 18 years, they’ve sought to galvanize local communities and amplify Black voices.
Though the road to full economic equality remains under construction, power still lies in local communities. Many small business owners are concerned with their bottom line and the fundamental question: How can I contribute to my local community?
As part of our mission at Invoice2go, a Bill.com company, to create a global and inclusive community, we want to highlight the contributions of Black business owners. Black Business Month presents a key opportunity for you and your business to make an impact. Here’s how to get involved.
The why behind National Black Business Month
Despite our nation’s significant strides in racial equality, Black business owners still face substantial challenges. If you’re a business owner, you’re already well aware of the hurdles you have to clear to start, grow, and run a small business.
Black entrepreneurs have to clear these same hurdles while carrying the added burdens associated with racial inequality. Black business owners struggle to gain financial support, receive equitable wages, and find meaningful employment within their local communities.
For Jordan and Templeton, these issues were not abstract or merely political – they were deeply personal. They believed that the community could have a hand in supporting businesses run by people of color. So Black Business Month became a vehicle by which the whole nation could promote economic freedom for the Black community.
Historically, this has meant networking across local communities and reaching out to local community leaders, venture capitalists, and representatives from local governments. Today, it means that small business owners can join a growing movement to uplift their Black neighbors and their businesses.
A closer look at some important statistics
Recent survey data from the Pew Research Center reveals that more than half of Americans (56%) believe that Black Americans face a significant disadvantage due to their skin color.
These concerns aren’t unfounded. According to The Economic State of Black America in 2020, Black families earn a median income of just $17,000. Conversely, white families earn a median income of $171,000, roughly 10 times their Black neighbors.
The report details other significant metrics of disparity, including higher rates of employment and incarceration among the Black community.
Today, there are 124,551 Black-owned businesses in the United States, according to census data. But many of these businesses struggle to keep their doors open. CNBC reports that eight out of ten Black-owned companies will fail during their first eighteen months.
COVID restrictions have only magnified the challenges faced by minority communities. By some estimates, Black business ownership declined by 40% between February and April of 2020.
Things weren’t much better before the pandemic. The Federal Reserve Bank of New York reports that 58% of Black-owned businesses were in a state of distress before the nationwide quarantine.
This lack of financial safety net has only been exacerbated by a year of lockdowns and safety protocols. But now that restrictions are continuing to lift, this year’s Black Business Month could be more important than ever.
How can I support Black Business Month?
Communities of color need our help. As a small business owner, you’re in a unique position to celebrate and support the contributions of Black business owners in your community. Here are seven ways that you and your business can show support.
Use Black business directories
Black-owned businesses typically make themselves known. Online directories such as WeBuyBlack and Black Business Green Book can help you locate Black-owned companies in your area. Some guides may also direct you to Black-owned eCommerce sites so that you can expand your reach across the U.S.
If you have Black friends in the business community, you might suggest that they advertise themselves through these directories to increase their exposure.
Shop at local small businesses
Where do you get your supplies? Consider shifting to a local approach if you’re getting your office or retail supplies from a big-box store. Find a Black-owned supply business in your area and commit to supporting their business while supplying your own.
Don’t be afraid to get creative. If there’s a Black-owned restaurant in your area, conduct staff lunches in their dining space or inquire about catering options. Does the restaurant offer gift certificates? Reward your employees with lunch or dinner from a local, Black-owned restaurant.
Make space for those in your community
Everyone loves the spotlight, and for small business owners, publicity can be financially vital. But what if you could magnify the voices of Black-owned businesses in your community?
If a reporter asks for a quote, direct them to a Black entrepreneur instead. Share positive reviews of Black-owned businesses in your area to increase visibility. Speak positively about these businesses when you’re networking with other community leaders.
Above all, be a voice to a community that continues to face historic and financial challenges.
Follow relevant hashtags
Sometimes, following the crowd is a good thing. Look for social media hashtags such as:
While exploring these hashtags, you may even discover other unique hashtags to your local community or city. You could consider using a few of these hashtags on your company’s social media pages, too, to raise awareness and elevate your Black neighbors.
Partner with Black-owned businesses
Consider partnering with a Black-owned business to work on a unique project together or offer some sort of promotion.
For instance, you and a partner business might jointly promote a local charity organization. You can also partner to provide special offers.
If a customer shops at a Black-owned business, for example, you might offer them a modest discount on their next purchase in your store. These sorts of partnerships can increase the visibility of neighboring businesses and can promote a healthier community-wide business climate.
Hold your vendors accountable
Unfortunately, not all vendors are inclusive. Should you discover that a vendor or supporting organization fails to honor the contributions of Black business owners in your community, speak up. Hold them accountable and express your willingness to sever ties with businesses, vendors, and any other organization that falls short of the ideals of inclusion and honor.
You may even make other business owners aware of which vendors have acted unscrupulously so that your shared allyship can have an impact on your Black friends and neighbors.
And because your friends might be looking for recommendations, make sure to mention the name of your new repair shop, assisting their business through word-of-mouth support.
What are other ways I can support Black-owned businesses?
Black entrepreneurs thrive in a community of allies. As a small business owner, you can support other Black business owners at the level of your own business. Still, there’s value in looking beyond your own storefront to community-wide solutions.
Sometimes, whole neighborhoods have succeeded in effecting local change, as you’ll see in the following real-world examples.
- Check out Official Black Wall Street
The above directories specifically relate to food services, but what about other industries? Official Black Wall Street connects to Black businesses of any stripe, forming a broader network of entrepreneurs and companies representing varied services and niche markets. This can also help customers seeking to support Black pharmacies, doctors, boutiques, and a whole host of other businesses staffed and owned by people of color.
Again, consider suggesting that your Black business friends take advantage of this and other online services. At a minimum, it could expand their network and help them find vendors, suppliers, or other business allies.
- Consider making the 15 Percent Pledge
Following the murder of George Floyd, 15 Percent Pledge began challenging large retailers to devote at least 15% of their retail space to Black-owned businesses. According to CNBC, the project has enjoyed considerable momentum and currently has 25 retail partners nationwide.
This might be something to consider for your business, as well. As a small business owner, you might not be the immediate demographic for the 15 Percent Pledge. However, you might still support Black-owned businesses by stocking items manufactured by Black entrepreneurs.
You might even consider using signage to communicate that these brands or items are produced by Black innovators, which can encourage your customers to support these brands—and your store, by extension.
- Enjoy Black Food Fridays
The COVID pandemic has hit Black communities particularly hard. KJ Kearney is a writer and activist from Charleston, South Carolina, who quickly noticed that public quarantines significantly impacted Black-owned restaurants in his community.
Raising support through social media was a start, but for Kearney, it wasn’t enough. Using Instagram as a platform, Kearney began “Black Food Fridays,” which raised awareness for Black restaurant owners in his area and nationwide.
Since then, Black Food Fridays has morphed from a social media movement to a fully-developed business. Black Food Fridays helps connect people to Black-owned restaurants across the United States, relying on fact-sharing through TikTok, a mailing list, and more.
As a business owner, you can encourage others to check out the website for themselves and find ways to support Black restaurants now that pandemic restrictions are increasingly easing. Black Business Month may be a perfect time to do so, with more businesses using this niche directory to promote their goods and services.
- Download EatOkra
EatOkra provides a similar service to Black Food Fridays, only this directory of Black-owned restaurants comes in the form of an app for your smartphone or tablet.
EatOkra has been in operation since 2016. To date, it provides a directory to restaurants and food trucks in over 20 U.S. cities.
This August, download the app. If your city is represented by this directory, then take advantage of these restaurants during Black Business Month. Better yet, make this August a jumping-off point and develop a habit of frequenting these eateries all year round. Tell your friends and help spread the word about the Black-owned restaurants in your area.
Putting the “Unum” back in our “Pluribus”
Every dollar that passes through the hands of today’s business owners bears a phrase that should long be remembered: “E Pluribus Unum.” If your Latin is a little rusty, it means “from the many, one.”
The United States has long been understood as a land rich in diversity yet unified around a core set of principles. These principles include our commitment to equality, virtue, and the freedom to pursue our dreams.
As we survey the American landscape—both historically and in the present—we find that, as a nation, we have never fully lived up to those principles. But as a community, we have the power to grow and to change. Black Business Month represents an opportunity for you, your business, and your community, to bring the “Unum” back to our “Pluribus.” While hate and division seem to be grabbing the biggest headlines, your voice could be the one that sparks a movement throughout your local neighborhood.
How are you getting involved in National Black Business Month? Share your response in our Freelance Forum community and get more tips for small business success.