Turn your passion into action: Sister Spokesman highlights keys to small business success

Shoppers got a jump on the season and kept their dollars in the community. Steve Floyd/MSR News

Sabathani Community Center’s second floor gymnasium was transformed into a mini marketplace for Sister Spokesman’s annual Small Business Showcase and Shopping Extravaganza. The Nov. 3 event embodied its title, featuring more than 30 local Black entrepreneurs selling everything from soul food, African clothes and organic coffee to healing salves, body oils, lip balm and more.

In addition to the marketplace, the other main attraction was the panel discussion designed to arm potential and current small business owners with basic strategies to launch and/or maintain a successful business.

The one-hour discussion was led by Isabel Chanslor of Neighborhood Development Center, Warren McLean of Northside Economic Opportunity Network (NEON), and entrepreneur Wendy Puckett of Wendy’s House of SOUL. Identifying your passion, testing the waters, and creating a plan are paramount to finding success as a business owner, according to the panelists.

“If you say you’re the best cook on the block, test that idea,” advised McLean. “A lot of times people get started, and we don’t really know if they have customers for what they’re trying to do. So, the first thing I’d say is to test the idea.”

Chanslor also noted the importance of testing the market. “If you want to test your product, figure out ways to do that. Midtown Global Market has day tables… You can pay every day to be there and sell your goods and see what people say about them. Get their feedback.”

But that’s just the beginning. McLean added that potential business owners should survey their industry of choice and ask themselves hard questions: “Is this an area that’s growing? Why would someone buy [your] product instead of someone else’s that is out there? What do you bring to the table that others don’t?”

Sister Spokesman founder and host Tracey Williams-Dillard reminded the crowd that if they fail to plan, they can plan on failing. Chanslor also stressed this point: “[A business plan] is your tool. [It is] everything that you put into place to figure out how you’re going to go about this very, very risky venture. [I] can’t tell you how critical it is to do that.

(l-r) Isabel Chanslor, Tracey Williams-Dillard, Warren McLean and Wendy Puckett Steve Floyd/MSR News

“You do not have to have a degree to write a business plan. You do not have to write eloquently to write a business plan.”

Chanslor also encouraged attendees interested in starting a business to examine their relationship with credit and money. “Credit is a very difficult conversation, especially if you weren’t raised to understand how it operates,” she said. “Find out what your credit score is and start working on it.

“We all have a relationship with money. Start thinking about where [you] stand when it comes to personal finances. What are my habits, good and bad? How are those habits going to transfer over to the business, and what can I do about it?”

Rounding out the panel, Puckett encouraged fellow entrepreneurs to “step out on faith” and not be afraid to make their dreams a reality. She told attendees, “Believe in yourself and just try it. Don’t get in the way of yourself.”

Puckett has come full circle. She is a longtime vendor at Sister Spokesman and credits the opportunity with helping her test the waters to open her own restaurant and catering service. After the event, she expounded on why it’s important to follow your dreams.

“The other day, I was listening to a young man talk to his daughter,” said Puckett. “And his daughter told him that she wanted to be a veterinarian. He stopped her right away and told her that there’s no money in that. And she said, ‘But Daddy, that’s what I want to do. That’s what makes me happy.’ He said, ‘That’s not what I want you to do because there’s no money in that! Figure something else out.’

“That actually triggered something in me, [a memory of] when I was younger — all the things that I wanted to do. In my generation then, I think my family was hung up on titles and money versus what will bring you happiness. So, I wasn’t able to really do what I wanted to do early.

“With that being said, I feel like, don’t discourage what somebody else’s dream is because it’s not for you, it’s for them. You have to let people live their own life.”

She implored potential entrepreneurs to give it a go. “Try it. Have a small gathering at your home… Try Sister Spokesman or a similar event that you can try on a small scale when you’re just getting your feet wet.”

Attendees got into the groove. Steve Floyd/MSR News

The event also featured entertainment provided by Phyllis “Showtime” Braxton, who led attendees in line dancing, while KMOJ’s QBear spun laid-back bops to shop to.

Natasha Randall was a first-time Sister Spokesman attendee. She said she came out to encourage her sister who was vending at the event (Shalawn Randall of B’YOUtique, LLC). “I just found out it was every month, and I will be coming back!” said Randall.

She added, “I am glad I came because I got to see a lot of us African American women here doing their thing in terms of opening businesses and trying to stand on their own feet…  And I just really appreciate seeing women going in that direction to help the community.”

For more info on NEON, visit www.neon-mn.org or call 612-312-1505. For info on Neighborhood Development Center, visit www.ndc-mn.org or call 651-291-2480. Find Wendy’s House of SOUL at Facebook/YouveBeenSouled or call 612-800-4535.

Sister Spokesman’s next event is “Celebrating Moms of All Ages” on Dec. 1 from 12-4 pm at Lifesource, 2225 West River Road N. in Minneapolis. If you know a phenomenal mother you’d like to nominate, go to bit.ly/CelebrateMoms2018. Deadline for nominations is November 15.

See more photos by arrowing through below. All photos by Steve Floyd except where noted.