“I’ve always done several things at one time,” said Stephens, who earned a degree in visual merchandising. Then she worked as a reservationist at TWA and American Airlines. She became a caterer, arranged weddings, and helped raise her three daughters with her husband, Jerry Stephens, who retired from a 30-year career in the Navy in 2007.
“I am the type who is always looking for things to get better,” Stephens said.
“Networking has helped us a lot,” she continued. So has experience. She has planned weddings and other social events for more than two decades.
“I can help anyone plan the wedding of their dreams at a reasonable price. I can give them any kind of wedding they want. They can give us a deposit and then make payments. On a scale of 0-10, I’m probably at 5. I’ve figured a lot of things out.”
Small businesses will need to play their A-game this year, records show. In an area where African Americans number over 460,000 in the metro area and own over 7,500 businesses, the A-game counts.
A recent poll showed small business owners nationwide said they are being pushed to the brink. Other businesses say they are managing.
Small Business Administration records show a long list of challenges such as dramatically higher default rates for black-owned businesses. Black-owned businesses also receive a trickle of the loans they received before the economic downturn, with loan volume plunging 87 percent between 2007 and 2011 – even as SBA incentives led to rebounds for other groups.
Meanwhile, one of the most prolific lenders to black-owned businesses, Innovative Bank was forced to close in 2010. The Oakland, Calif. – bank was seized by regulators in 2010, and more than half of the SBA loans it made to local black businesses wound up defaulting.
“African-Americans want a fair shot,” said Bob Johnson, head of the RLJ Cos and founder of Black Entertainment Television. “They’re not asking for quotas or to be hired if they’re not qualified. They’re asking, first and foremost, to be considered.
Recent surveys show small business owners everywhere are coping with challenges. Many say they are generally feeling better about the economy, but they’re not necessarily acting on that sentiment. According to Manta’s Q1 2012 Small Business Wellness Index, 80 percent of small business owners did not hire any employees in the first quarter of 2012.
According to the report, businesses are laying blame on rising gas prices, with 43 percent claiming prices have affected profits and 82 percent saying prices will negatively impact business if they continue to rise. Some 20 percent of businesses have had to transfer some of that burden to customers, raising prices to cover costs, while 11 percent noted that the extra expenditure limited their ability to hire and grow their business.
Still, you still need to diversify and play your a-game, said Gaea L. Honeycutt, who heads the Northern Virginia Black Chamber of Commerce she and four other small business owners opened four years ago. Currently, they have 75 members, offer monthly seminars, and other events that increase profits.
“We were tired of crossing the river and the bridge over and over to do business with companies that wanted to do business with us but lacked a place,” Honeycutt said in a recent interview with the New Journal and Guide. “So we created a place where we could do business and be a conduit for other small businesses.
“We try to meet businesses where they are,” said Honeycutt, who heads G.L. Honeycutt, marketing, publishing, and research company.
Risk-taking is a common problem small black-owned businesses share, Honeycutt said. “We try to teach business owners to branch out of their communities. You need to break out to grow. Relationships become even more significant in times like these.
“Strategizing is also important,” Honeycutt said. “Have a plan that deals with your challenges. Diversify and go into, say public speaking. It’s a great way to open doors, meet people, and get business.”
Recently, the chamber hosted its fourth annual political candidate’s night. Business owners and about a dozen candidates met face to face.
This is part of the A-game strategy, Honeycutt said. “Learn, be a dynamic thinker, join an organization like ours that helps you stay focused on your goals.”