How To Assert Yourself As A Black Business In A White World

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Jul. 1 2021, Published 4:55 a.m. ET

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During the last year, many brands and corporations have made an effort in having their consumer-facing campaigns be more inclusive. However, a core component to the root of the issue is often due to the internal lack of diversity within their employee and vendor pool. Even when they do have both of these components there is often a disconnect with their intention and actual execution. 

As organizations are looking to reach more diverse audiences, they are leaning more on minority agencies to facilitate those authentic connections. Though the newly found interest in hiring minority firms, like WhitPR, has brought an influx of new business and growth within the company, it has also shined a light on the lack of value and trust in Black agencies to execute the work that we’ve been hired to do.

Even when I come to the table with over a decade of experience and proven results, I am still subject to unrealistic standards that my non-minority counterparts aren’t. Over the years I’ve been able to develop both thick skin and tactics to help advocate for myself and my team as a Black business in a predominately white industry.

In a recent business experience, a predominantly white institution (PWI) inquired about a scope of services provided by my business that was worth well more than they were willing to pay for it. To their surprise, I declined the opportunity after internally identifying red flags that forecasted a microaggressive project experience. This interaction reminded me of three pivotal tactics that I’ve learned over the years to assert both myself and my business in environments that discount us.

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Create Boundaries

Your rate is your rate, and this should be non-negotiable. Trust me this is a process that took me some time to implement because it’s easy to get caught up in the potential of an opportunity. 

Organizations will dangle the “opportunity” as a way to undercut the value that you bring to the table. Outlining a clear scope of work with your desired rate will help you create boundaries for the engagement term of a project. 

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You must stand firm in outlining and managing realistic expectations. With the aforementioned prospective client, it was clear from the beginning of the onboarding process that they were going to be a client that would not respect the boundaries that we outlined. As a result of their own poor planning, there was a sense of urgency from the point of contact where they were requesting numerous assets and deliverables before the execution of the contract. This was a contributing factor in my decision to decline the project. 

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Know Your Worth. Name Your Price. And Stick to It

It’s always important to know what you bring to the table. Inbound business opportunities come to you for a reason. Regarding WhitPR’s recent experience, our proven track record and execution of successful campaigns showcased our level of expertise in the work the potential client was requesting. As a result, I was non-negotiable on our rate for the desired scope of work. In providing a comprehensive strategy for the inquirer to review, I was met with disbelief on the cost proposal. 

The point of contact actually responded via email with, “OMG.”

Do you think a white firm would have been met with the same reluctance? Even if so, do you think they’d waver on their price? No. As a double minority business owner — Black and a woman — it can be easy to succumb to the systemic and predetermined stereotypical notions projected about my existence. However, in choosing to run a business, I take full ownership of creating a new narrative about myself and the many women like me. In identifying my worth, naming my price, and standing firm in my value, I not only attract opportunities that drive my mission forward, but I also contribute to limiting the “low-balling,” of other women of color service providers.

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Always Assert Yourself

To “make it,” Black entrepreneurs often feel the need to code-switch and not show up as their authentic selves to avoid being perceived as aggressive. However, in reality, they’re just being assertive in setting the tone for their working relationship. 

When I stood firm on the outlined scope of work, our compensation rate, and timeline, I was met with dismay from the potential client despite her eagerness to collaborate with my agency. She passive-aggressively devalued what WhitPR was offering in comparison to other firms and tried to present this project as a pathway to a long-term relationship with the organization.

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This was not my first time at the rodeo. I knew what she was attempting to do, but my confidence in my team’s capability of executing this project outweighed her efforts. More than anything, it was clear to me that once I remained unmoved and pushed back on her requests, she and unfortunately the project was unaligned with my moral compass. I ultimately declined the project, to which she responded, “don’t cash the check,” which further proved that I made the right decision.

Trust me, I tinkered with the thought of taking on the project at the prospect of a long-term relationship, similar clients coming my way and the growth it could offer my company. Black business owners are faced with so many roadblocks and biases so it’s sometimes easier to shrink yourself when presented with an opportunity that could potentially be beneficial to your business. However, no opportunity is worth devaluing me nor my business for the benefit of others.

This same notion is true with you. Whether you’re an entrepreneur, C-Suite executive, senior executive, or even a junior level professional working your way up the career ladder, there will be many instances in which you will be the minority in a predominantly white space. Instead of shrinking, use the moment to take up as much space as possible.

Your skills and experiences have already proven you capable. So stand firm in your assertiveness despite how it may be perceived. And always remember there is a village of women behind you every step of the way.

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