Black—and—Beauty. Two of the most controversial words you hear, see and read. Truth is, people—even some black people—still feel uncomfortable with the mention of the word—black.

Same goes for beauty. Within a nano-second of hearing the word you’re likely thinking: Is she beautiful? How beautiful? Compared to whom is she beautiful? Beautiful to me and others? Just beautiful to me? I can see why others think she’s beautiful. I don’t know why anyone would think she’s beautiful.

Now, imagine working in an industry where you represent both–black and beauty. Imagine the perfect balance you’d have to strike in order to survive, thrive and build a trending brand with loyal customers and impeccable service. Well ,that’s what these three smart, small business entrepreneurs are doing!

Shonna perfects your brows,  Shannie ‘beats’ your face and Bianca  snatches your whole body! Check out their insight below and learn what it takes to be a black business owner in the beauty and grooming industry.

Shonna Watkins, Owner: Shonna Watkins Beauty, LLC

What has been most important to you throughout your business journey?

Shonna: Experiencing my services through the perspective of my end consumer or client. Hands down.

Everyone loves to tag the obligatory “great customer service” at the end of their sales pitch. But, if we are really honest, a lot of beauty professionals are in business because they always liked hair and make up or because a career in this field was maybe easier or quicker to pursue than many other professions or because it seemed for fun and exciting or because for many of us this is a cash business. And, while those are all very valid reasons, they are also not customer-centric.

For many years black women have had to get their brows done by non black people of color who provide sub-par services and horrible customer service and/or in black salon culture, which came with its own set of disappointments. While I have chosen to pursue a field that I love, I have designed my entire business around what we as a group have been missing. I want black women experience quality services and amazing customer service, every time. Period.  

Shannon Cosby, Owner of Shannieonthebeat, LLC

Shannie:  The most important concept to me during my entrepreneurial journey is remaining true to myself and my artistry.  It is easy to be influenced by what the things are trending or mimicking other artists that may seem successful. Understanding the things that are important to me as well as the speed of my journey is how I am able to stay in my lane and stay “booked and busy”.

Bianca: Honestly, I would say staying true to who I am as an esthetician and person.

Does being a black woman make you overly conscious of people’s perception of you and your business?

Bianca D. Penny, Owner of BeezWax Beauty, LLC

Bianca: Yes it does! Unfortunately, our culture is one that is stereotyped as “ghetto/unprofessional/unorganized/etc.” So, most times I feel like, “oh you can’t say…” because it may be perceived as ghetto or unprofessional, and I could easily lose my diverse clientele.

Shonna: Funny you ask. I just had this heart to heart with my business coach Nia, owner of On Purpose With Nia. A few years ago, I was super pro black on social media, like blackity, black pro-black.  At the time, a good friend asked me if I was a worried about losing clients or potential clients with being so open about my stance on race. Without waver, I said, “if any client or potential client takes issue, then they are not the clients for me.” And then life happened, and my business experienced hockey stick growth, and the brand took precedence over Shonna, including pro-blackness and activism both on and offline. It wasn’t a conscious choice. It just happened.

Recently however, I’ve come to the realization that my current business model doesn’t really incorporate that old side of me. And frankly, I miss my voice. It is a black voice. A pro-black one. People are going to believe what they believe and be turned off and on to what turns them on or off. You can’t control that. All you can do is add value to the space and be authentic. I’m looking forward to striking a better balance between sharing what it is to be a black woman in business and being a black woman and a business. Both are necessary.

Shannie: Yes, being a black business owner , male or female, is difficult. The” twice as good” mindset applies and instead of it just being for non African Americans, it applies to African American clients/ consumers as well. You have to be overly conscious about being timely, responding promptly, and remaining professional. Unfortunately there is an expectation that we do not provide quality services, which I believe is false.

What’s the best way to deliver disappointing news to a customer?

Shannie: I try to live a life of transparency, It is always better to be truthful. Luckily , I am not afraid to have difficult conversations, in a professional way, of course.

Shonna: In the service industry, there is no good way to deliver disappointing news to a client. But I try to deliver it in a way that’s warm, even when I am not at fault for the situation. As for my own mess ups, a mentor once told me “don’t make it better, make it right.” That’s what I strive for. I do not want my clients feeling like my business is all about me and what I can get from them. In the spirit of service, everything is “we’re-going-to-figure-it-out-able.”

Bianca: In my opinion, it’s always better in person or via phone call. Text messages and email tones always seem to get misconstrued. I always apologize for any inconvenience first after delivering the bad news, offer a solution (most times a reschedule) and thank your client for understanding and for their business.

How can you tell when it’s time to take your business to the next level or evolve?

Shonna: Stress! Any time I am feeling stressed–rather than giving into the sense of being overwhelmed, I make myself get excited. Even if it is by force. Time to level up Shonna. For example, I knew it was time to find automated systems so my clients could schedule their own appointments when my book was filling up and I couldn’t keep up with same day appointments on my own. It was entirely too stressful. It takes being aware of yourself, business and industry to find solutions that help your business evolve. I always keep my eyes open to what’s going on be it tools, skills, systems, or trends. Ultimately however, I think it also takes wanting to be the best at what you do on a skills level.  As you sharpen your skills and grow as a professional, your business grows too.

Bianca: Honestly, I evolve with my clients needs. As I started noticing more and more clients pointing out different skin concerns, I started educating myself more and started offering facials. As my clients needs evolve, so do I!

Shannie: Honestly, I don’t have the best answer to this question. However, when you begin to get bored with what you are doing and it becomes second nature, it may be time for a challenge.