UNION COUNTY, NC – Owning a small business is no easy feat, even in the best of times. With the struggles of the past year over COVID, many small businesses were forced to close. In celebration of Black History Month, I interviewed several successful black-owned small businesses from a variety of business backgrounds. I asked them what their hardest struggles and greatest achievements were and what their advice would be to up and coming generations of would-be business owners.
Yorda Kidane is the owner of Digital Tax Advisory, an outsource company providing accounting, proactive tax planning, IRS Problem Solving, tax preparation services, and business consulting/coaching, located in Waxhaw. Digital Tax Advisory handles day-to-day accounting and tax needs for small businesses so that they can better focus on running their company. They offer service bundles at fixed monthly prices to save you money. For Ms. Kidane, business is in her DNA. She has a passion for helping small businesses to be financially fit. “When running a small business, knowing your finances is key,” said Kidane. She loves being an entrepreneur and has learned her exemplary business practices from her parents and brother, all of whom are entrepreneurs.
For Ms. Kidane, the biggest obstacle facing her when starting a small business was two-fold. First, it is hard to juggle being a mother and the owner of a small business. Both are full-time jobs. But Ms. Kidane does her best to excel at both, valuing both her family and her customers alike. “The challenge is balancing,” Ms. Kidane remarked. The second obstacle was that she started her current business after moving to Waxhaw in 2018. She didn’t know anybody in North Carolina, which made things difficult. She solved the problem though, by joining the Union County Chamber of Commerce. With their help, she succeeded in getting in touch with the community and finding ways to network within her field.
Ms. Kidane’s proudest achievement as the owner of Digital Tax Advisory comes in two parts as well. First, she did her research and invested in technology prior to the pandemic, so her business was already set up to work with taxes digitally. This made the transition during COVID to working strictly from home an easier problem to manage. She didn’t miss a beat when the pandemic hit and was able to help her clients through the unusual tax season. Ms. Kidane’s other proud achievement was working in partnership with South Piedmont Community College on their Pandemic Counseling Grant. She was able to meet with a number of small businesses that may not have been able to otherwise afford outside services and help them organize and restructure their finances. According to Ms. Kidane, “My first passion is helping small businesses.” Her remarkable resume as a business owner and entrepreneur, starting back in the early 2000s, adds value to the services she provides.
When asked for her advice to up and coming small business owners, she urges those considering the leap to entrepreneurship to invest in having outsourced help. “When owning a small business, we want to do everything ourselves, just to keep costs down, but all business owners need to know their finances in order to succeed,” she advised. It is important to seek help from other individuals in areas that are not your strong points. “As small businesses, we are a community. We need to reach out to one another and learn from those who have had similar experiences. Don’t be afraid to reach out…we’ve all been there.”
Digital Tax Advisory can be reached via phone at (704) 659-3109 and via the web at digitaltaxadvisory.com.
Alisha Allen DeBerry
Ms. DeBerry is a successful broker with Coldwell Banker Realty Brokerage in Charlotte. She has a dynamic personality and is focused on getting the best for her clients. In her prior work with ABA Enterprises, Ms. DeBerry encountered many people who were looking for homeownership. She took the next natural step and got her license as a real estate broker to help people find homes that worked with their budgets. For Ms. DeBerry, the hardest obstacle she faces as a broker is the lack of affordable housing in the area. Many people want to buy a home, but their debt to income ratio can disqualify them for home purchasing. She adds that we are in a seller’s market, so inventory is low and demand is high. It is currently very difficult to help people find homes that are within their budget range. She works tirelessly for her clients in a real estate climate that is an uphill battle for buyers.
Owning a small business takes heart and can rock you to your core at times. Ms. DeBerry is proof. Her greatest achievement is her personal growth. “We don’t arrive overnight,” she remarked, adding that you have to nurture and build your mindset and cultivate relationships, which will lead to more possible growth. You have to take the good with the bad and learn from each teaching moment. Those are the moments where growth takes place, and you have to keep growing and changing to meet the needs of your business and clients. Her advice to those who are up and coming is to work toward inclusion and fairness in diversity. Education plays a role in creating atmospheres and environments. It is important to take those lessons of inclusion and make sure that everyone has a place at the table. She adds that it is important to be your own leader: “We need more leaders that embrace diversity. Inclusion creates better environments.”
Ms. DeBerry can be reached via phone at (704) 606-7051 or (704) 547-8490, or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
Ms. Jackson owns D-Jack’s Administrative Services in Union County. D-Jack’s Administrative Services is a business-to-business service that helps business leaders with back-end and day-to-day operational needs. Her services allow business leaders to focus on their business goals while she focuses on the tasks behind the scenes, such as business development, customer relations, and marketing. Ms. Jackson worked in management for 17 years before venturing on her own. Her goal is to help all businesses succeed.
Owning small business tests your faith in yourself, and that was no different for Ms. Jackson. She said that her greatest struggle was believing in herself, believing that she had something of value to offer the world. She took that leap of faith during one of the most difficult years we have faced as a country, 2020. Her proudest achievement is starting her business, despite the effects of COVID. From March until May of 2020 she worked at fine-tuning the concept and launched D-Jack’s Administrative Services in May. She works at being the best she can be and meets each day with positivity.
Ms. Jackson’s advice for up and coming generations of small business owners is to keep looking forward. “Stay on the path that you set your mind to,” she says. “Don’t get distracted by the negativity, keep your focus and everything will work out in the end.”
Ms. Jackson and D-Jack’s Administrative Services can be reached at https://www.djacksadminservices.com/ or via phone at (704) 318-6020.
Ms. Smith is the owner of The Cupcake Queen, located at 201 W South Main Street in downtown Waxhaw. Ms. Smith opened this Waxhaw location four years ago this March. It has been a labor of love and remembrance. The inspiration behind The Cupcake Queen is Ms. Smith’s mother, who passed in 2011. Her mom was a prolific baker in the family, and Ms. Smith picked up where her mother left off. The Cupcake Queen is a continuance of her mother’s legacy of reaching people and comforting them through baked goods. The Cupcake Queen offers a variety of cupcakes, cakes, and other delicious baked goods that are made from scratch with no artificial ingredients or flavors. They also take custom orders.
For Ms. Smith, her biggest obstacle in getting started was that other business owners were reluctant to share information. It may have been that they were afraid of competition, but Ms. Smith found it difficult to collaborate with other small business owners in her field on the basic things, like policies and procedures. That didn’t stop her though. She did her own research and found the information she needed. She adds that another difficulty was learning to let go. She learned that she couldn’t control every aspect of her business and had to allow some aspects to be run by the individuals she hired. It’s difficult trusting your business in someone else’s hands, but she realized it was for the best and let her workers help her have the time to do her job.
Ms. Smith’s proudest accomplishment is the expansion of and recognition of her brand. “To have brand recognition, repeat customers, and glowing customer reviews are such a blessing,” she remarked. Baking is a tough business, and the fact that she was able to stay open and even thrive during the COVID pandemic is all due to the support of her customers and the community at large. People went out of their way to support The Cupcake Queen, and she couldn’t be more grateful, adding that “it has been a joy beyond our expectations to have a business in Waxhaw.”
Her advice to the up and coming business owners? Believe in yourself. “Know what you want, stay focused, and your dream will happen with hard work and dedication,” says Smith. “Know that there is a beginning, a middle, and an end. Show up every day and keep your focus and things will begin to happen.”
Ms. Smith and The Cupcake Queen can be reached via phone at (704) 256-1292 and on the web at yourcupcakequeen.com.
Michael and Cissy White
Michael and Cissy White own Mr. Refurbisher Automobile Detailing, a mobile car detailing service celebrating its 10th anniversary this year. Mr. Refurbisher has a fleet of vans and a mobile unit with a trailer which they use to service cars and driveways and pressure wash houses and decks. They perform car washes, luxury washes, wash and wax, and deep clean the interior of cars. They also perform full details and do specialty work, such as paint touch-ups. Mr. Refurbisher also offers a Level 2 disinfectant clean for COVID. Michael White began his career working for Lexus before branching out on his own. He loves his work and the relationships he has with his customers. “It’s not just about cleaning the cars, it’s about the conversations with the customers too,” Mr. White explains. Due to his strong relationships with his clients, Mr. White has many repeat and long time customers.
The greatest obstacle the Whites have faced as a small business is hiring reliable workers. “It has been a real trial,” Mr. and Mrs. White remarked. Mr. Refurbisher is currently looking to hire responsible and reliable detailers. You can apply on their website, listed below. Their proudest achievement is staying in business and maintaining their client base. Despite the ups and downs, and especially COVID, they have been happy to secure several City of Charlotte contracts as well as construction company contracts and a contract with CarMax.
Their advice to up and comping small business owners is to always stay focused on your dream. “Never give up,” said the Whites. “Starting a business is hard, there are lots of obstacles, keep your focus, keep your drive, and you’ll get there.”
Mr. Refurbisher can be reached at mrrefurbisher.com or via phone at (704) 222-1009.
Mr. Seale, the owner of Pelican’s Snoballs, a national chain, located at 120 E Sunset Drive in Monroe, started its first season in 2016. Pelicans sell snoballs, which are delicious ice-shaving treats with syrup flavorings. They come in a variety of fruity and candy flavors like strawberry, cherry, and cotton candy. Pelican’s Snoballs is a welcome treat on a warm summer day!
When asked what his greatest obstacle was in getting his small business off the ground, Mr. Seale said “the unexpected.” COVID was a huge challenge for Mr. Seale; he had to close one of his Pelican’s Snoballs locations due to it being an inside-only venue. Then there are the unexpected problems with hiring reliable workers, and other small day-to-day struggles that small businesses face.
His greatest success, though, is his level of engagement with the community of Monroe. “It’s humbling to start a business,” says Seale. It’s the faces of his customers, the praise they get for their product, the great reviews, and meeting people and getting to know their families that are priceless. “It’s through connections that you make lasting relationships,” Mr. Seale remarked.
Mr. Seale has some advice for up and coming business owners: be memorable. “Work ethic is very importing, taking care of your family and community is important,” says Seale. “When you’re interacting with the workforce, be memorable; stand out in some way. Be someone people remember positively. Your reputation proceeds you. Always be sure to put your best foot forward, pay attention to detail, and care about what you do.”
Pelican’s Snoballs can be reached via Facebook at “Pelican’s Snoballs Monroe”, via phone at (704) 920-9696, and via the web at pelicanssnoballs.com.
Frederick Allen and Tony Autry
Monroe Mortuary Services, owned and founded by Tony Levander Autry, is located at 704 Walkup Ave. in Monroe. Monroe Mortuary Services is proud to be one of the only young African-American owned mortuary services in the area. They serve all communities and individuals in the state of North Carolina. Mr. Autry had a fascination with funeral services as a child, having had his mother drive him to funerals all over his hometown area. After attaining his mortuary license and degree, he worked as a forensic technician and a histology technician before working with the Medical Examiner’s office for Mecklenberg County. He took a leap of faith seven years ago and opened his own mortuary services business, Monroe Mortuary Services. Thanks in part to his office manager Frederick Allen’s talents with marketing and graphic design that save the company money, Monroe Mortuary Services can work with all individuals, including the bereaved on a budget.
According to Frederick Allen, the location has been their biggest obstacle. The majority of their death calls come from other counties such as Anson, Mecklenburg, and Greensboro. Only about 10% of their calls come from Union County. Allen remarked that people don’t realize they (Monroe Mortuary Services) can serve all counties and that you don’t have to settle for high-priced nearby funeral homes. “If you call, we will serve you,” is part of the company motto.
Monroe Mortuary Services’ proudest moment is when they broke the barrier, becoming the first young African-American owned business, as most funeral homes had been owned by older individuals. They are proud to support diversity and serve all communities.
Allen’s advice for up and coming business owners is to do your market research. “Study the demographics and be sure that the area you chose can support your venture,” he says. “Most businesses need up to five years to become established. Don’t give up when things get rough!”
Monroe Mortuary Services can be reached via phone at (704) 900-3811 and on the web at monroemortuary.com.
Chef Henry James
Henry James owns Chef Henry Catering out of Matthews. He has been in business for over 50 years and loves what he does. His career began in Trinidad and Tobago. After moving to the Charlotte area 25 years ago, he worked in the industry and started his own catering business in 2004, serving counties as far as Gastonia, Salisbury, and Rock Hill. Chef Henry loves cooking for family and his clients and has been working with food all of his life. Chef Henry Catering has served meals for the Charlotte City Council, Charlotte Police, The Salvation Army, and many, many weddings. Weddings are Chef Henry’s passion, and he has successfully served up to four weddings in one day!
Chef Henry notes that finance has been one of the biggest obstacles in owning a small business. Due to funding issues, he has had to scale his business back in the past, but he doesn’t let that get him down. Chef Henry’s Catering is a hugely successful enterprise with reliable employees and superior attention to detail. His food is extraordinary and his customers rave about his cooking. Chef Henry’s proudest accomplishment occurred back in Trinidad and Tobago were in 1971, he served meals to then Prime Minister Trudeaus while Trudeaus was taking a second honeymoon to the island.
Chef Henry’s advice to up and coming business owners is to stick with it. “Passion is a must!” he says. “You must be committed to your work…times get rough. If you stay with it, keep your passion and your commitment, success will come!”
Chef Henry Catering can be reached via phone at (704) 491-4948. or on the web at chefhenry.org.
Michelle Smith owns Michelle’s Hair Products and Beauty Supplies, a beauty supply store located at 1851 Dickerson Boulevard in Monroe. Michelle sells a wide variety of hair extensions, ponytails, and wigs in addition to make-up, hair bows, beads, and eyelashes. Her supplies are top-quality and purchased with the customer in mind. Michelle loves hair and loves to experiment with styles and make-up trends. She took classes at South Piedmont Community College to better prepare herself for small business ownership and opened her doors on September 5, 2020.
Michelle states that finances are the hardest part of owning a small business. She and her husband, Floyd Sakpedeh, work full time to support their growing business because business loans were hard to get. Her husband rallied behind her, even working two shifts to keep the business going. Michelle works at her store after working a full-time job during the day. It’s a labor of love, though, and her customers appreciate it. Her proudest moment was purchasing her products and setting the store up. Being able to carry name-brand top-quality products is a huge achievement. She wants the best for her customers and works hard to make that dream a reality.
Ms. Smith’s advice to up and coming business owners is to start with a business plan. “Know your goals and know what you want to achieve,” she says. “There will be setbacks and sacrifices, but it’s all worth it in the end.”
Michelle’s Hair Products and Beauty Supplies can be reached via phone at (980) 313-8950 and via the web at michellehairandbeauty.com.
Claudette Jacobs is a woman who wears many hats. She owns Echo Nail Spa, located at 2300 W. Roosevelt Boulevard, Suite F, in Monroe; Sun Valley Salon Suites, located at 6601 Old Monroe Road in Indian Trail; and is a real estate agent licensed in both North and South Carolina. Ms. Jacobs worked in corporate America for many years until she decided she wanted to branch out and pursue her own success. She had her cosmetology license and wanted to have a service that served a need to others. She opened her salon, Echo Nail Spa, in Monroe to rave reviews. The salon is one of the few African-American owned full-service salons that offers nail services, facials, waxing, and massage. After experiencing the trials and tribulations of starting her own small business, Ms. Jacobs wanted to find a way to help others get started. She purchased Sun Valley Salon Suites where she provides reasonable rates for individuals to rent salon space to start their own business. It’s her way of giving back to the community that has supported her so well.
The greatest obstacle that Ms. Jacobs faced in starting her business was financing. She had no prior small business experience, which meant she didn’t qualify for many of the standard loans. Ms. Jacobs persisted, though, and was able to achieve her dream. Her proudest accomplishment is the opportunities she provides up and coming small business owners through her Sun Valley Salon Suites. To see the individuals who rent there become successful is one of her greatest rewards.
Ms. Jacobs’ advice to up and coming small business owners is to believe in yourself. “Believe in what you want to do,” she says. “You may fail at times, but with perseverance, you will succeed.”
Kamella Emmanuel is the owner of Keep Evolving Consulting, located in the Marvin/Waxhaw area, where she is a life and executive coach that specializes in diversity and inclusion strategies. She aims to help people learn how they can evolve with different perspectives. Ms. Emmanuel has a global perspective to her services, having been a diplomat for 12 years in four different countries. She works diligently to bridge the gap between individuals to enable them to learn from one another through open dialogue, fostering inclusion, and making uncomfortable conversations more comfortable. Her motto is “significance over success,” as she aims to empower people to achieve their potential by being authentic in the workplace.
The biggest obstacle in her line of work was being able to get out and find enough networking opportunities. She also had to recognize that she couldn’t juggle everything herself and that it is important to delegate work in areas where you struggle so that you can focus on the things that you are strong at. Her proudest accomplishment to date was speaking to physicians and scientists, a group she hadn’t tapped into yet, and helping them with their difficult dialogues. She was even asked to contribute diversity and inclusion strategies to their medical journal.
Ms. Emmanuel’s advice to up and coming small business owners is to work at who they are. “Drown out the negative noise and spend time identifying your strengths and deficits,” she says. “We all have them. Find out what you’re gifted at and follow that path.”
To contact Keep Evolving Consulting, and to register for a free 30-minute consultation, please call (704) 629-8213 or on the web at keepevolvingconsulting.com.
Mya Dixon owns her own salon in a salon suite, Cache’s Colours, and Cuts, which she started right after graduating from Empire Beauty School. Ms. Dixon had planned on seeking work in a salon right after graduation, but something told her to take this leap of faith, and she set out on her own. She has been quite successful despite the pandemic and has been open for one and a half years at this point, during which she has grown from the couple of clients that followed her from Empire Beauty School to over sixty clients and still growing. Ms. Dixon has loved styling hair ever since she was a child when she would practice braiding and transitioning hair from being relaxed to its natural state on dolls, mannequins, and family members.
Ms. Dixon states that developing confidence was her greatest struggle in getting to where she is today. “When everyone around you is doubting you, it’s hard to stay focused,” she remarked. She knew that being a hairstylist was her calling, and she proved to everyone that she could make it happen. She started small and simple, then slowly built up her skills and offerings at her salon, so that now she also does hair coloring in addition to cuts and styles. Ms. Dixon’s greatest accomplishment involves a client that followed her from Empire Beauty School and her brother. On her client, she was able to take her hair from a very dark brown to an even-toned light blonde. After experiencing that success, she was able to take her brother’s hair from dark brown to platinum blonde for a salon fashion show at Empire to showcase her work.
Ms. Dixon’s advice to up and coming small business owners is that it’s okay to fail. “Stay true to your passion,” she says. “You will fail at times; sometimes you’ll need to start over completely. Remember, all the greats have failed at one time or another. Uncomfortable situations help you to grow; it’s how you get where you’re going. Don’t be afraid of failure.”
Cache’s Colours and Cuts can be reached at (980) 328-4444 or via the web at myacache.glossgenius.com.
Donna Maria owns Indie Business, a trade organization and networking group that serves people who make artisan-made products themselves. Donna Maria came into this business when, after 20 years of practicing law, she wanted to branch out and develop her creative side. She taught herself how to make natural artisan soaps, body products, and candles. She opened her own retail store and was enjoying her work when she realized that most of her fellow artisans didn’t know how to really sell their products, which she had a talent for. That gave her the idea to start Indie Business. Through her organization, she teaches others how to sell their products, network, and build communities to help each other grow. Through training and coaching, she engages her clients to be the best they can be. She also has product liability insurance offered at a reasonable rate.
Donna Maria feels that managing her responsibilities as a wife, mother, and business owner was one of the most difficult struggles she faced. She started Indie Business as a young mother and has learned to juggle family responsibilities and work responsibilities while keeping up with and embracing the latest technology. While many people are working from home now due to COVID, Donna Maria has been doing it for over twenty years and loves every minute of it. Her proudest accomplishment to date is the legacy of the community she has created for her clients in Indie Business. “It is simply the best entrepreneurial community on the planet,” she beamed, “full of brothers and sisters that help each other, complement each other, and learn from one another.” It is really an example for larger businesses to follow.
Donna Maria states that entrepreneurship is for everyone, and her advice comes in three parts. “First, don’t let anyone discourage you if you know what you want to do,” she says. “It’s hard, but ignore the negativity. Second, connect with like-minded people in your business that can support you and that you can learn from and learn with. Teach those that come behind you. Third, understand why your product or service is different from similar products out there. Be able to articulate to a larger audience why people should buy your product over a similar option.”
Indie Business can be reached at indiebuisnessnetwork.com.