Interview with LaShanda Henry, Black woman entrepreneur and founder of SistaSense.
In this episode of Your Voices, we talk to LaShanda Henry, founder of SistaSense, a website that provides tools for building websites, as well as services like trainings, workshops and entrepreneurship courses, among others. LaShanda opens up to us about her inspiration to set up a business like this with black women entrepreneurs and work at home mums in mind. She also discusses some of the problems that black women face when starting their own businesses, and how to overcome these challenges.
Tieshena introduced you to us as a voice of Black women entrepreneurs. Do you see yourself in this role?
I do. In the process of building my website back in 2000, I attracted a lot of women entrepreneurs of color around me. It’s been my big vision to help other women over the last 16 years, as I build up what I’m doing right now.
What inspires you to help people? What is your mentoring about?
One of the things that really motivated me when I started – I built my first website, Multiple Shades of You Online back in 2000 – I watched this cartoon that was on BET at the time called Hey Monie! about two African American women, that was absolutely hilarious. For me, it was a big eye opener because I’d never seen a cartoon with two Black women. So it sparked my interest in finding other things of the sort. But when I went onto Google and I put in “Black women”, I got so many XXX websites and things that I wasn’t looking for. It kind of motivated me to create the content I was looking for, and to create positive content for young women. At that point, I created my first website, Multiple Shades of You Online which was an ease-in for young girls, and then from that point I was always passionate about creating those things that I felt, if there was a gap, I wanted to fill it.
Can you tell us what the meaning of SistaSense is?
SistaSense is simple making sense of making money online. When I started blogging, I guess it wasn’t as sexy. I created a blog so I could have an online diary of me figuring out how to make money online, like affiliate programs or Amazon, or e-books. And just in the process of me journaling that, my blog SistaSense was built out of that experience.
The trend of LetsBuyBlack has become popular, I’d say, in the past 2 – 3 years. You help entrepreneurs to present their ideas on the internet. Do you think that the activity of Black businesses in e-commerce has grown significantly since this became a trend?
I’ve been pushing “Buy Black” for so many years, working with Black business entrepreneurs. I certainly see that it’s trending now in a different way than it was before, but I think it’s something that’s always been there. I think at the end of the day, we have to make it easier for people to buy Black. It almost feels like a chore, because a lot of the things that we want are not accessible mainstream. But I think what’s great about it, because it’s trending right now, you see more conversations about it, more spaces where people are giving you great access to things you never saw before. And I think that’s what I’m seeing, this process of not only being trendy, but easier to find and see great content that other Black entrepreneurs and business owners are creating.
You’ve been working with Black women entrepreneurs, like you said, for over 16 years now. What do you think are the main issues they face when doing business?
I think there are a lot of issues that we face. I think one of the biggest struggles is people aren’t looking for you. So you literally have to go out, especially Black woman entrepreneurs, and put yourself out there so that people know your business exists and that you’re credible. Another struggle is that a lot of times, unfortunately, just within the Black community, working with Black business owners, there’s a negative stigma. So not only do you have to put yourself out there for people to see you, you’ve got to on some level, repair some of the damage that people have had with past experiences, so that they trust you and want to share you with other people as well. So learning how to put yourself out there, learning how to present the most professional business so that you can repair some of the misconceptions or damages your ideal customers have had, and being in a space where you’re comfortable with money. I say that because I work with a lot of Black women entrepreneurs who say, “People want my stuff, but they don’t want to pay,” or “I can’t find the money to put into my business.” Black women entrepreneurs create businesses six times more than the national average, but they don’t sustain because there are so many issues around pricing, investing, and generating revenue. That money conversation and education around that is really important. So I think those are three big things, powerful money conversations that need to be had, conversations around professionalism, mending the issues a lot of us have had when we try to work amongst each other, and understanding what effective marketing is as far getting yourself out there and introducing yourself to an audience that may not be aware you even exist.
And how often do people talk about or face racial profiling when doing business in America. Have you personally faced any of such issues, especially with regards to banks and other financial institutions not being ready to lend to a Black entrepreneur or investors not investing in the ideas of Black people?
I know the issue exists, but to be honest, it’s not been an issue with my experience only because I have protected myself against it. I’m a bootstrap entrepreneur. I did not start with investment because I didn’t even want to go that route. Just with the racial profiling, are you going to get a loan, or are you going to get a book publisher? I did self-publishing for my books. As far as investing is concerned, I saved what I had, I put my products and my services out there, and then when I was established, I was able to get a really great program, Paypal Working Capital, which gives you capital for your business but is based on your existing business. And so while I know it exists, I have personally found ways to create and sustain a revenue stream without having to go through those particular challenges.
You also organize workshops for Black women entrepreneurs. What do you talk about during these workshops?
Well, I think at the end of the day, the success of your business depends on the company that you keep. I feel like another stigma that we have especially with women, is “Crabs in a Barrel.” As Black businesses, we’re all trying to get to the top, but we’re pulling each other down. So I have different events where I can bring out the best entrepreneurs that I know, predominantly women of color, so that they can speak on their specialties. I specialize in web designing, creating digital content, I’ll have people who talk about branding. Tieshena came on and talked about book publishing or getting to the million-dollar level. So my goal is to bring out women who are established and can genuinely share from a supportive space what they’ve done in their business, and answer questions that women that are basically trying to get to where they currently are in what they do, may have. So a combination of my Back-To-Business Virtual Conference which I do every year, and also starting the year with my Power Circle Conference here in North Carolina, I’m just really excited about always giving them an access to other women, who reflect what they want in their life.
Can you tell us about who you work with? Do you work with a team or do you do all of this by yourself?
Honestly, it’s mostly a one-woman show. My team is my hubby and my son. They’re supportive, when I do my events, they come out. My hubby helps me with photography and getting things together, but I tell people all the time, my virtual team is my automation, me being smart about leveraging technology, whether it be the webinar platform to do my virtual conferences or Google Calendar, just being very intentional when it comes to using technology to do the things that a team would do and leveraging my partnerships as I can. The ladies are always so proactive about speaking at my virtual events because we work together throughout the year, whether it be partnering or just the affiliate connections and things like that. So yeah, just making the most of the partnerships that I’ve made just from working with other successful women entrepreneurs, making the most of automation and technology, and the support of my hubby and my son.
With what we do as a team at Black Matters US, we really like to be on top of all that’s going on in the Black community. We want to know, do you support protest movements like the Black Lives Matter or other Black rights groups?
I actually do support the Black lives movement. I believe that it’s essential and I try to be supportive in a positive way. When I say that, I mean that for me, on my platforms like SistaSense and Black Business Owner Online, I try to showcase what people are doing that’s proactive. What I do know is that a lot of negative things go on. I try not to present that and just be proactive about showing what people are doing right, versus dwelling on what people are doing wrong.
Finally, what do you have to say to people, mostly Black women, who want to go into business?
I think the best thing that I can say at this point in my life is, finish what you start. If you want to be an entrepreneur, if you want to create your own vision for yourself, commit to it. Leave the emotion out of it, whether things go right or they go wrong, finish what you start. That’s the only way you’re going to see the results. One of my favorite quotes is, “The only way that you can fail is if you quit.” With respect to entrepreneurship, really there’s no way to do it wrong. The only thing that you should do is to be consistent with that, and in that consistency, what you want will come to fruition.