Following the successful Think in Color Conference earlier this year, DiversityQ caught up with entrepreneur Ellie Diop, the founder and CEO of Ellie Talks Money, the Ellievated Academy and a leading course creator on Thinkific, on why being a Black entrepreneur comes with an extra layer of challenges.
What was your motivation for starting your business?
My motivation for starting my business was being able to provide for my children and elevate our financial circumstances. I was laid off from my job in 2019, and I applied to countless jobs at the beginning of 2020 with no positive outcome.
So to me, that was a sign that instead of attempting to use my skills in a 9-5 environment, it was time for me to take them directly to the marketplace. During that time, I had also just gotten a divorce, so it was very important to me to build a new stable life for myself and my children.
Is it difficult for women of colour to access finance?
It is difficult for women of colour and women-owned businesses to access funding. Though women founders are more successful in business, women receive less than 3% of venture capital funding. Black female startup founders receive even less, with less than 1% of the total venture capital spent in the U.S. going to them. Lack of funding makes the entrepreneurial journey harder for women, and a leading reason businesses fail is the lack of capital.
In retrospect, what would you have done differently?
In retrospect, regarding starting and scaling my business, something I would have done differently is to hire help sooner. I didn’t hire my first full-time assistant or a customer service representative until after I hit seven figures. In hindsight, I should have done that as soon as I could afford it. I believe that had I hired much sooner, I would have been able to scale faster because I could have focused on activities in my Zone of Genius rather than staying up to handle administrative tasks or customer service questions that I could have outsourced.
Women, especially women of colour, suffer from impostor syndrome. What advice would you give them?
The best advice I would give to other women of colour is to list your accomplishments. Make a list of what you’ve accomplished in your job, what you’re great at, what you know how to do, and what you love about yourself. And as soon as you start to feel impostor syndrome, refer to that list and reread it as many times as you need to believe in yourself again.
The biggest reason we tend to suffer from impostor syndrome is that we are already conditioned to believe in ourselves less. So, one of the ways to fight that is to overly infuse our minds with reasons to be confident in ourselves by constantly looking at what we have achieved.
What was the most challenging thing for you when you started your business?
When I started my business, the most difficult thing was creating space and time – considering my schedule with four children. That was the hardest part because I had a lot of fear that the business wouldn’t succeed. I was worried about how I would be able to show up as other people in my space show up because I have four children as a single mother. What was my biggest fear actually became my biggest strength. Building my business around four children became an asset and a huge part of why my audience related to me so well. They felt that if I could do it, they could too.
Do you think being a Black woman has an impact on your business? What is your biggest challenge as a Black woman entrepreneur?
Being a Black woman has definitely impacted my business, but I will say it has mostly been positive. And I say that because, as a Black woman entrepreneur, I have an expanded view and ability to connect with other Black and non-Black women entrepreneurs overall. After all, our position as Black women in society is unique.
I would say that the biggest challenge I faced has been imposter syndrome and getting the respect and trust of other consumers. But, it has made me a better business owner and encouraged me to think more critically and deeply about how to build a business that ultimately can gain consumer trust and can last.
What would you have liked to know before starting your business?
I would have really loved to know more about taxes. One of the challenges of being a new entrepreneur and a Black entrepreneur is that most of the time, we lack basic business information. Many of us are starting down the path of entrepreneurship for the first time, and we are the first ones in our family or surroundings. Knowing about business taxes, registering your business, and overall good bookkeeping would have been helpful just to be more prepared. These should be items taught as basic high school education before graduating.
What do you find yourself supporting Black women entrepreneurs with the most as a business coach?
I find myself supporting Black Thinkificack women entrepreneurs most with their confidence and with their content. The biggest area that I offer support with when I have one-on-one clients or my audience, in general, is with assisting them in believing in themselves and that they deserve to build, that they deserve to be business owners and that they can do it successfully. And that is connected to the content that they create. We are often nervous and afraid to put our businesses out there because we lack confidence in our ability to succeed as business owners.
What advice would you give Black women who want to build an online audience?
The first piece of advice I would give Black women entrepreneurs that want to build a business is to be very clear on who you serve, what you help them to do and how you help them do it. This is what I call a brand statement.
Most of the time, Black women entrepreneurs, and entrepreneurs in general, are often not clear on exactly who they serve, and because they’re not clear on that, they’re unable to go and build businesses. So, the first thing to discover is who you help, what you help them to do and how you help them to do it.
Since starting my business in 2020, and even more so since launching my online learning academy on Thinkific in January of 2022, really honing in on my value and prioritising my customers’ experience has meant I have built a community in which I have helped thousands of women to overcome their circumstances to build successful businesses.
From there, I would give them the following advice, which is to focus heavily on content creation. Right now, access to business ownership has been levelled by the fact that everyone can create a social media profile and start sharing what they do and how they do it online. So, a great way to build a brand quickly is to go into overdrive with your content creation, stay consistent and always deliver value.