So I tried to Register as a Minority Business
One of the reasons we start our own businesses is to escape the bureaucratic nonsense that follows us through our day working for someone else. When we get that brilliant idea that launches us forward, propelled by what we’ve learned under the iron hand of the corporation, the initial momentum is exhilarating. Running up against wait times for LLC filings or figuring out a name for our venture, or even putting together the dreaded business plan doesn’t deflate the high you are on.
Getting the initial stuff done is part of that thrill, the new, high test version of the gas that drove you out from under the corporate thumb. As it usually happens the further you get away from that fuel the lower the reserve gets. By the time you begin the process of looking for help, funding or mentoring the gas starts to dry up a bit.
That initial umph that gave you the energy to power through days of working your day job and your dream at the same time, starts to peter out a little. Right around that time, you start hitting the most crucial part of the process, your energy is drained.
I want to stop here and give a quick public service announcement. I am NOT against any of the social help I’m going to criticize here, as a matter of fact, the reason I’m critical of them is not that they exist, but how they are delivered. Government, both local and federal, I believe, have a crucial role in lifting up their citizens, especially those who have been historically disadvantaged.
That being said…
Getting that help is a major pain in the ass.
When I started this journey to self-sufficient cooperation (I need to trademark that, be right back) I knew that I was going to be financially challenged by it. The last few years have been tough on my credit, I had to make some difficult decisions that set me back tremendously, and getting financing would mean being creative in my ability to raise capital. I come from a lower-middle-class/ poor family and they are all in a perpetual balancing struggle as well so there will be no financial support from them.
As an African American man with no real examples in my family of business ownership beyond a few members of my family who got wrapped up in MLM schemes, examples of proper business acumen were few and far between. Without being surrounded by people who owned and ran businesses the understanding of what it takes to do so isn’t as clear as it could have been. There really weren’t even good examples of Black-owned businesses surrounding me as I grew up. The one business I knew of that we frequented that was owned by a black family was our barber, and once a month wasn’t enough to absorb much of anything except a love for the smell of Clubman.
I already knew there were agencies, nonprofits and membership associations that were there to help and I knew of the SBA. I also knew that there were special programs for minority and disadvantaged entrepreneurs. What I didn’t know was how damnned difficult and complicated the whole process could be of getting certified as one.
As usual, I want to offer a guide to not only nascent minority business but any business owners, or those thinking about going down this road, to the winding, tricky and frustrating world of public funding and help you learn from some of my mistakes.
My SBA Nightmare
So I’m done with the first half of my checklist, personal evaluation, done. Business plan, done. SWOT, well, almost done. I did some basic market research and really found that there was a niche for what I do well. So I formed an LLC (surprisingly easy and quick) got an EIN from the feds (also surprisingly easy as the IRS is always good on the collection end of things), set up and staged my website, got set up with some payment processors, and got a logo. Business cards and stationery are on the way and I even set up an Amazon business account.
All of the above on my own time and dime.
Considering the low overhead of my business model and the ease of use of the tools I’m using (as well as the lack of expense) the $1,023.00 I’ve spent so far really isn’t much. But to run a successful business, and live off the earnings, requires at least as much capital as you plan on making. Add to the expense list health insurance for me and my family and business taxes, payroll taxes and etc, etc. I realized that if I ever plan on getting this plane off the ground I’m going to need a little help.
So as part of the process of conception of this little crackpot idea of being my own boss, I looked at programs, private, federal and state, that could assist me in some of the more mundane but costly aspects of the startup process.
I started with the SBA, the Small Business Administration, the federal government department created by the Eisenhower administration to promote entrepreneurial advancement through a combination of loan securing, counseling and other related support. The SBA directed me to several state organizations that expanded the web of confusion and complexity.
I ended up signing up for a program in my state which paired me up with a Business Grad student working for the big state college, still in the beginning stages of that so we’ll see where it goes. The SBA was another story entirely.