commentary of everyday women about how to build economic power

(photo by Andrea Ellen Reed)

Char Dobbs: Talking Money

As the co-owner of The Activate Network, it is our mission to foster  opportunities to help women of color (WOC) entrepreneurs create, maintain, and grow successful businesses. Studies have shown that the average revenue among many WOC entrepreneurs plateaus at $65,000, and rarely moves into six- and seven-figure numbers. We cannot sustain a business, retain employees, and take home a living wage at that rate.

WOC represent one of the fastest growing segments of entrepreneurs in Minnesota. Being able to take economic power into our own hands is crucial.

Yet it has been taboo to talk about money at home and at work. How can we earn what we need if we are afraid to talk with others about creating profit margins, assets, and net income? How can we find access to capital, or ways to reduce expenses, if we are not talking about money?

Fortunately, early in my corporate career, mentors opened the door to talk with me about money. We aim to do the same at The Activate Network. We want WOC to have access to programs, networks, and safe spaces to talk openly — without shame or judgment — about money. Our conversations require women to  learn  their numbers, and track their earnings. As women, we cannot simply delegate our finance work to someone else. It is important for us to understand and dig into the story that our numbers tell.

For too long, we have forfeited our power, our choices, and our future legacies when it comes to money. No more. It is our time to show up for ourselves and for our daughters.

Deb Loch and Jill Pavlak: Bank Rejection

(photo by Sarah Whiting)

When we began envisioning our brewery in 2008, we knew it would be a lot of work — late nights running the numbers, and hustling to gain the support of the community. We were unprepared, however, for how challenging it was for us to acquire a simple bank loan. Sitting at the desks of many Twin Cities bankers, we were scrutinized for our genders, our status as a married queer couple, and our ages. One banker asked what would happen if we got divorced; another questioned our ability to carry heavy bags of grain. By 2013, we found an affordable location and were able to crowdsource funding by selling T-shirts and food and offering tours of our potential space.

At that point we had good credit, a 160-page business plan, six years of industry experience, and half a million dollars from supporters. Again, our application for a loan was denied.

After trying 12 metro-area  banks,  we  were referred to a bank two hours south in Mankato. It accepted our application within weeks. With that support we opened Urban Growler in 2014 — the first woman-owned and -brewed microbrewery in Minnesota — six years after we started dreaming. We sold out of our flagship beer within two weeks.

We still hear about discriminatory lending practices. To get where you want to be, assemble a team of supporters and know that you are not alone. As women, we know we are able to grit it out.

Domonique Jones: Stable Land

Being an entrepreneur can increase wealth by 600 percent for a Black family and 400 percent for a Latino family. Yet finding affordable commercial land for business owners is difficult, especially in urban areas.

Small business owners and entrepreneurs are part of the fabric of our communities. They contribute to the social, cultural, and economic vibrancy of our city, and deserve to thrive in the places they call home. Gentrification threatens to displace these anchors in our neighborhoods.

I am working to develop a Commercial Community Land Trust. The purpose of a land trust is to provide long-term affordability for small business owners. We are looking for commercial real estate in North Minneapolis, where I grew up. One of my priorities is to secure exclusive purchase rights, from a tax-forfeited building purchased by the city of Minneapolis. Th is will create the first commercial land trust. We hope to buy at least two properties in 2020.

Trina Olson: Dynamic Equity

I am the leader of Team Dynamics, a strategy firm focused on organizational and workplace culture. We work  with leaders who want greater racial and gender equity. Most people believe in equity, but the systems in place that hurt us are hard to shift. We have lived with inequities and bias so long it has become normalized.

Our work is about telling full truths, to raise awareness of how pervasive the issues are, such as how we only see men as leaders. How are we creating high-quality jobs for women that pay well? Have we asked what each of us needs to be satisfied? Are we living our values? Sometimes it is as simple as this: Who in the organization remembers birthdays and attends funerals. Is that being shared by the team?

Research clearly shows that mixed teams with different perspectives are assets to any organization. Yet we leave so many people on the sidelines. It is not just about developing new hiring policies and decision-making teams, but also about enacting benefits to enable those who care for children, elderly, and the ill to be able to do so. Working more hours in a week does not correlate to better production — it just means you are sitting in one place longer. If we can tend to all of our responsibilities, teams are stronger.

We made the patterns, so we can adjust them.

Danielle Steer: The Entrepreneurial Ecosystem

I think about how my work today will impact my daughter’s future. I think about the environment she will inherit and the communities in which she will thrive.

When my 10-month-old enters adulthood, there will  be myriad examples of high-achieving business owners, founders, entrepreneurs, CEOs, investors, and elected officials that look like her, her Black and brown classmates, her queer and gender fluid peers, and the ever-changing makeup of our country.

The Twin Cities entrepreneurial community is experiencing a boom like never before. There are more events, collaborations, office hours, and startup programs dedicated to making Minnesota the best place to start a company. We have a unique opportunity to rewrite the playbook for growing big business where others have failed. Specifically, where tech and venture capital have failed founders — and consumers — who identify as women, people of color, and LGBTQ+, leaving billions of dollars on the table.

In the next two years, Lunar Startups will launch new pathways to capital that serve more than the rare unicorn. We will work to get more capital of all kinds into the hands of entrepreneurs solving our greatest challenges.

The future I envision for my daughter values the untapped talent that is underestimated in today’s economy. We have a lot of work to do to get there. But together, an equitable ecosystem is possible.

Tanya Ragan: Permission Granted

During my childhood in Rochester I was president of my local 4-H club, and raised rabbits from a young age. I regularly showed my rabbits at the Minnesota State Fair, and have fond memories of staying there in the 4-H dorms with other young people from across the state with similar interests.

My involvement in 4-H taught me leadership, community service, and responsibility. I still feel a strong connection and responsibility to Rochester. It has been inspiring to watch the rebirth and changes in our downtown. The young people moving downtown remind me of my younger self.

My passion is community. I am proud of the fact that my real estate and development company, Wildcat Management, has played a large role in the revitalization of struggling communities around the country. I have a passion for historic preservation and rehabilitation of old buildings — taking a building that has been boarded up and bringing it back to life to activate new community space.

My power is one of no longer asking for permission. I volunteer my time to several organizations, and manage a multi-million dollar business. Time is definitely my most valuable resource. In my early career ,I always felt the need to ask for permission.

Today, I feel a new sense of empowerment — a feeling that I can pave my own way. This energy allows me to invite other women to the table, and open doors in such a male-dominated industry.

What I want to share with other women is that we can control our own narrative. So often we get caught up in inner doubt, listen to negative people around us, and we back out of our dreams. My advice is to roll up your sleeves, dig in, and believe you can accomplish anything.

Elizabeth Orme: Non-Negotiable Value

I lived the challenges that special educators face. I built Creatively Focused because I am compelled to help educators be able to maintain  the  passion   for   the work they do. I  started  the company with $3,000 of personal investment for a laptop, printer, software, and some office supplies.

Three years later, I am running a company that achieved over $1 million in revenue in 2019.

Looking back, I was able to achieve this success because  of intentional thinking. I made a commitment to myself —  I would pay myself the same amount I was making in my previous position. I knew that if I was not paying myself for the amount of work I was doing, I wasn’t providing myself with enough value.

I also acknowledged that others would get paid more than I pay myself. I lead a team of 16 women and one man. I could not be doing what I am doing now without taking the time to think about what was important to me in terms of financials. Every quarter, I evaluated where we were as a company, where we were headed, and made hard decisions about how to do what we needed to do.

Daniela Mejia: Money-Making in My 20s

After several years of struggling to achieve financial success, it finally came when I learned to sacrifice. Cutting expenses and adjusting a budget are crucial for most young people.

I learned not to take things personally. Words like hard work, passion, and patience were more important than words of admonition from a boss about rewriting a proposal.

You might be disappointed or angry at your job, or at yourself, but that is self-sabotage. Don’t dwell on that energy. I also avoid comparing myself to others. It trashes self-esteem and prevents you from seeing your own talents.

Challenging myself to be open to new thoughts and habits outside my comfort zone helped move my income in the right direction.

Stefanie Bell-Egge: My System

I can’t control how much money an employer is willing to pay me for my time and talents, but I can control what I do with the funds I receive. Since I held my first job at age 14, I have two disciplines: 

1) I save a portion of everything I earn.  I always put something in savings, in investments, in reserve.  Over time, through the power of compounding interest, those little somethings grow into bigger somethings. 

2) I spend less than I earn. No huge home, no new car every few years, limited clothing purchases, limited meals out. This  enables me to have increased power over my economic status. 

Daneika Glenn: Four Financial Habits

I know that taking the time to develop financial habits to support my values, dreams, and priorities is the ultimate form of power. Here is what I do to put myself in the driver’s seat:

  • Live Below My Means — The bigger the gap between your income and expenses, the easier it will be to navigate a sudden job loss, pay unexpected medical bills, or cover a major car repair. 
  • Pay Your Future Self — It is not about the amount you save as much as it is about building the habit of saving a portion of all the money you receive. You will thank yourself for this habit later.
  • Create a Spending Plan — Decide what matters most to you and figure out how to support your decisions. It could be as simple as setting up an automatic deposit into your savings account every month.
  • Eliminate Debt — Cut housing, transportation, and food expenses in order to redirect funds to pay off debt. Consider a side gig, borrow instead of buy, and seek out used items to keep debt low and pay it off faster.

Peace of mind, a sense of security, and the freedom to choose what is right for you is what economic power is all about.