by Olayinka Ola
As we celebrate Black Business Month, it’s important to acknowledge that Black women are achieving more and doing more today than ever, especially in growing their small businesses. One reason for that is the increased use of technology in most businesses and workplaces. From being business owners, and mothers, while also working full-time, technology and the Internet age we live in are providing women with tools to succeed.
There is no question women have to work harder than men. As a woman and a business owner, I can attest to this. The demands on women from society, their careers, themselves, or their children can seem all-encompassing and at times overwhelming. It is no wonder that many women have felt the brunt of the pandemic and the crisis around child care.
However, one area of success women have seen, especially Women of Color, is in entrepreneurship. In the early months of the pandemic, this was far from certain. One report from the House Committee on Small Business showed a 40% decline in Black-owned businesses in the early months of the pandemic. Yet, according to one 2021 report, nearly half of women-owned businesses started during the pandemic were owned by Women of Color.
One element that enabled this remarkable shift is technology. By lowering the barriers to run and operate a business, technology is making it simpler, faster, and less expensive to start and run businesses from almost anywhere. Today, you still need a solid business plan and very often access to some capital, but once you set up your social media accounts, perhaps an email address, a cell phone, and a few other key elements, your business can be off to the races.
In my own business, retail and clothing, we saw similar overnight changes. Ayo Collections, my company, is a unique African clothing brand, producing clothing for both men and women, based in Seattle, Washington.
We used to rely on face-to-face sales, like any other traditional retail outlet, but during the early part of the COVID-19 pandemic, we turned to social media and advertising because we couldn’t count on in-person sales anymore.
We had dabbled in social media before — we’d had a Facebook page since 2012. Not until COVID shut us down did social media truly become part of our showroom and essential to our business. Trade shows we relied on were canceled and we lost lots of in-person opportunities. Through Facebook and Instagram ads, we were able to easily expand our reach and show our collections online. Now, 70% of our business is driven from online engagement.
We even use tools on our website to help customers schedule in-person consultations, ensuring we can control the foot traffic in our location and be appropriately staffed. Our online presence is now a big part of our in-person sales.
In the time of the Great Resignation, people are rethinking their life choices. If they are tired of playing office politics and putting up with policies that make their lives harder — like a lack of flexible schedules and working from home — it’s no wonder why many look to place a bet on their own talents and work for themselves.
Today, women-owned businesses only make up about 20% of all firms and they are underrepresented in every demographic group compared to their male counterparts. While we have seen tremendous success, there is still significant room for women entrepreneurs to grow and have a more substantial impact on our economy.
Our society needs to do more to help women in the workplace. Technology platforms are playing a large part in that, but we also need to ensure women have access to child care and health care. And for women who want to start a business, they need access to capital and resources to help guide them through the early stages of their business.
Living in Washington, we are lucky to have a Congressional delegation that leads on many of these issues. Yet, as women small-business owners, we also need continued access to new and innovative technology to thrive.
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