Since announcing to my readers that my 10-year-old natural hair blog, Black Girl with Long Hair, is officially defunct I’ve gotten a lot of questions about how and why I made this transition, and where I see my brand going. That’s a lot of ground to cover, so I am chopping up my story into bite-sized pieces to share over the next several weeks. Today I’m tackling a question I get a lot — how the heck I am doing this as a single mother to babies.
My boys… Sage the wondergirl is missing from this picture.
One of the questions I often get is how I manage to run a six-figure beauty business as a single mom to 3 kids (aged 5, 3 and 16 months.) I could write a bunch of Instagram-friendly platitudes about vision boarding to success, but the real answer is more layered and will require me to be reaaaallly candid.
There are two elements here; how I’m doing this from a money/finances standpoint, and how I’m doing it from a time standpoint. Today I’m tackling the money/finances standpoint. Here we go…
When I started my natural hair blog, Black Girl with Long Hair, in 2008 it was one of the first to compile natural hair stories and images in one space, but I had no clue there was actually money in it.
Within a couple years my blog earnings had doubled the earnings of my former job. At its height BGLH was earning $300,000 in ad revenue a year.
Why so much money? Part of it had to do with my high traffic — 5 million visits a month at one point — but a lot of it was that back then advertising companies were scrambling to get in on the blog craze. They felt it was a perfect way to target a niche — just find a blogger who speaks your audience and bam, you get your product in front of the right eyes.
It was exhilarating, but also strange, to be a twenty something year old making that kind of money. I did a few of the ‘OMG I suddenly have money’ things — vacationing in France, buying a few pairs of expensive shoes. But ultimately I saved most of what I had earned, putting the majority into a mutual fund and purchasing an income-producing rental property (oh, and taxes took a big chunk of it too.)
I started BGLH Marketplace in November 2014 as a possible exit strategy for BGLH because I knew I didn’t want to be blogging forever, and that I also didn’t want to return to the traditional 9-to-5 workforce. Although I stumbled into BGLH Marketplace and the world of product creation I quickly identified it as a way to move my professional life forward.
Most e-commerce businesses take 3 to 5 years to turn a profit. And therein lies a challenge for many black business owners. We do not have the capital to float our concepts while we wait for them to become profitable. Many of the non-black small business owners I know can experiment with different approaches while their companies survive on loans from friends, family or financial institutions. Black people (including me) do not have access to capital and investment in the same way. So when I started BGLH Marketplace I used my BGLH earnings to subsidize it. Additionally I was married at the time and living close to relatives who wanted to help out, which afforded me free/low-cost labor.
So remember how I mentioned earlier that advertising companies were basically throwing money at natural hair bloggers and vloggers in the early 2010s? Well that ‘gold rush’ ended almost as soon as it began as companies realized that returns from blog/vlog advertising were diminishing. They moved their budgets to cheaper and more traditional forms of advertising and blog revenues began to stall.
So, here’s where things really go to hell.
Facebook had always been a huge driver of traffic to BGLH. Our content performed really well there and I regularly paid for Facebook ad campaigns. However, in late 2016 they changed their algorithm in such a way that my paid and organic reach dropped drastically. All of a sudden content that could easily get me 10,000 pageviews was getting me 2,000. My ad revenue — which had already stalled — dipped even further. BGLH Marketplace had lost its primary source of capital.
A few months later I asked my husband for a divorce. Did I pick the worst time ever? Um, yeh. But as anyone who has been through divorce can attest, it is damn near impossible to stay in a relationship when your heart, gut and mind are screaming at you to get out.
With the loss of a partner my childcare costs and my labor costs for BGLH Marketplace shot up. Between this and my declining blog revenue I was suddenly financially underwater.
My parents offered to let me and my kids move into their Denver home while I got back on my feet. It was an incredibly tempting offer that I agonized over for months. Ultimately I declined. Why?
Because I believed in the viability of my business concept. I knew I had a product that could be on every shelf in America, so I decided to double down and rebuild my professional life on that premise. As a symbol of the confidence I had in myself, I signed a lease for a storefront/workspace in Brooklyn and moved BGLH Marketplace operations there.
Which brings us to the original question: How am I doing this, financially, as a single mother with no outside investors.
1. I am using my savings.
Yes, all that money I saved in my twenties is now being used to invest in BGLH Marketplace. I am basically a self-funded beauty start up.
2. I put a prime on profit.
There are things I will never touch in the name of cost-cutting — like the quality of the butter, essential oils and extracts I use — but I am nimble with things like marketing and labor. Whatever I can do by myself, I do, from hauling boxes to creating and managing my ad campaigns. I know my numbers by heart — how much I need to earn every day to break even and how much I need to turn a meaningful profit.
3. I believe in my concept.
I won’t pretend that I haven’t had days when I’m like, ‘What the hell am I doing!?’ But then I think about the efficacy of my products. There is a reason I have dedicated my professional life to whipping shea, cocoa and mango butter — they are nothing short of miraculous. I see how effectively they work in my skin and hair. I have proof of concept.
4. I won’t shut up about my products.
My products are incredible, I know that. But what I have learned is that incredible products do not sell themselves. The whole ‘if you build it they will come’ thing DOES NOT apply to the overcrowded beauty market. Every day I am educating people about my products, , why they are one of the best options on the market. I literally can’t afford to be modest or demure.
5. I am grateful to have a plan B.
I don’t take for granted that I have parents who are willing and able to support me should I need it.
And there you have it, next week I will tackle how I am running this business as a single mom from a scheduling/time perspective.
As always, I hope this was informative!
Other articles in this series:
4 Things I’ve Learned Transitioning from Natural Hair Blogging to Running a 6-Figure Indie Beauty Business
7 Reasons I Only Sell Whipped Butter Instead of Creating a Full HairCare/BodyCare Line
Leila, you and your products are simply amazing. Can’t wait until my second order arrives!!
Your story is inspiring and brutally honest. I enjoy your writing style. Your children are adorable. I wish you continued success and look forward to trying your products!
This was so inspiring! I am also a single mother building my personal brand and blogging. My niche is in the education industry. Most school teachers are white women, so being a black woman “teacherpreneur” isn’t easy! But I LOVE education and believe heavily in my products and services.
When I started wearing my hair natural, I was instantly attracted to your blog. But your personal story has really hit home for me.
Be encouraged! You’re not alone. All this will be definitely worth it in the end.
This is valuable information, Leila. Thank you for sharing!
Well done, Leilia, well done *thumps up*
I love this blog. My new hero! Thank you so much ! Congratulations
I THINK THATS AMAZING!
Is there such a thing as a black american woman who is not a single mother? Geez seems black american women are fundamentally unsuitable for marriage/partnership and they wonder why they’re see the way they are. Even the handful of black american women who do marry its as if they do it just to do it but seek divorce so easily as if the commitment means nothing to them. Sad
Is THAT what you took from this post about a business/financial journey? It didn’t seem to be marriage related. I’m wondering if I should even waste time reading you this early in the morning…..
What’s SAD is your entire existence. It’s incredible than on an article about how this very intelligent black woman runs a successful business and juggles family life, the only thing you comment on is the fact that she is a single mom. You are more than likely a BLACK MAN expressing your anger and bitterness towards black women at any chance that you get on the internet. Black women are not to blame for single motherhood, and it’s hilarious when we get blamed for it as if we make babies by ourselves. Who’s missing in this picture? Oh, the BLACK FATHERS. At what point do you all take any responsibility for yourselves? If you hate black women so much, how did you even find this blog? Leave us alone and keep on living your miserable life away from us.
It just seems black american women wear this single motherhood thing as a badge of honor, something must be inherently wrong with black american female cultural mindset that it becomes this prevalent/acceptable. And it cannot just be the men when they have higher marital rates and lower divorce rates than the women and when they marry more both inside and outside the race, so I dont know its just way too common of an occurrence to keep brushing it off when almost 80 percent of black kids have an unwed black mother. And if it wasn’t for black Africans and black Caribbeans who knows what that number would be, its mostly non-American black women who remain married. Just a thought. By the way nothing about what I said indicates “hatred”, its the reality of the situation and its mostly nonblacks who make this same observation about black american women. If yout hink black men harshly judge black american women and no one else does you’re delusional, if anything black american men are conditioned to accept black american women as normal whereas other groups of people are less accepting of this, you get even more judgment from nonblacks so I dont know what you’re talking about. So you can deflect this as me “hating” black women but thats just such a lazy, cliche trope. And maybe that’s part of the problem
Marriage and black single motherhood weren’t exactly the point of the post but I will address your comment regardless. I am very grateful to be a black woman living in a time where I have legal options to leave a union that is detrimental to my emotional and mental health. And although there is still a lot of stigma attached to being an unmarried black woman with children, I’m grateful that we’ve come far enough as a culture that I am not completely socially ostracized for having made this decision.
I don’t think anyone enters marriage with the intent of divorcing. But sometimes things fall apart, especially when you marry as young as I did (engaged at 24, married at 25.) I don’t see it as my duty as a black woman to grit my teeth and endure a debilitating relationship for the sake of appearances.
As far as whether I am unsuitable. Well, perhaps I am. I am a financially independent black woman who refuses to put up with b.s., so I’m guessing that makes me unsuitable to a lot of men. But that’s okay with me 😉
While that may not have been the point of the post I do think this is a much needed conversation (although I only mentioned it because black women are the ones who often do inject it into the conversation when they keep alluding to being single mothers, its almost as if its some badge of honor they are seeking credit/props for.) So while I respect your response I beg to differ in that you actually did make it part of the post – if you did not want single motherhood to become part of the conversation then perhaps it didnt need to be referenced. And therein lies part of the problem, it does seem to me that black american women mention this because it’s almost as if they’re trying to get some level of recognition for struggle – and trust and believe I’m not in that alone sentiment, most people who are not a black american woman feel similarly. In any case I appreciate your candor.
You mentioned in a previous comment how ‘if it weren’t for Caribbean and African woman it would be worse.’ Well I am Caribbean. My father is Haitian and I was raised in Jamaica. Incidentally my ex-husband is African American. But we won’t get into all that right now…
You are coming on *my* platform for *my* business to tell me not to frame my life in a certain way.
I have owned this web platform for 10 years. This one that you are commenting on. Readers have seen me post photos of my wedding, my kids right after they were born and now they are continuing the journey with me as I navigate single motherhood and divorce.
Do not tell me how to feel about my life. And do not lump me into whatever stereotype of black women exists in your mind. I am not ashamed of what my life is. The fact that I am a single mother is relevant to this piece because it requires more work, thought, money, time and planning than running a 6-figure business as a married mother.
Also, just a fun factoid for you — as I mentioned in the article I used to run this business with my husband. Maybe instead of harassing me you should find him online and ask him what happened with all that. Like a true misogynist you lay blame squarely on the woman’s shoulders. As I alluded to in my piece there was a plan for how we would map out our lives as a married couple and as business partners. Without getting messy I will just say that one of us believed in the plan and worked hard at it, and the other one exploited that labor while increasingly becoming a deadbeat.
This will be the last comment I approve from you. And honestly the only reason I approved it was so that people see what black women face online when they dare to speak candidly about their lives and experiences.
I do not wake up and stereotype myself or put myself in a box. I am a soul chasing freedom and happiness. And you would be mistaken if you think that, in the process, I am worried about what my life looks like to other people.
Lord, I loved this piece but ER, you really annoy me! I am pretty certain that you speak from a position of ignorance and I don’t mean that rudely. It appears to me that you have brought your personal issues on marriage and motherhood here but you really lack both the facts and experience to actually comment. Again, I do not mean this rudely, I feel that people who talk about marriage as generally as you have , simply have never had the experience of being married. People who fail to understand that motherhood is really a tough journey that requires huge amounts of sacrifice and dedication, just probably have not been mothers themselves.
Trust and believe, single motherhood and running a very successful business at the same time is not the norm and is not easy. Leila is kind enough to be so candid and share her ups and downs, not many do, many bloggers just fake it and try to make it.
ER, my point of view is that if you have no experience, don’t speak about it.
Leila, please trust and believe that the reason you have fans like me is because you ARE that girl! You have always been honest and candid and hardworking. You are very much admired and cherished as a writer, business owner, fellow mother and friend 🙂
Well maybe if black american men were more suitable husbands the situation would be different. Black american men, even when married outside of their race, have the highest divorce rates. Meanwhile black american women who marry outside of their race have some of the lowest divorce rates, although when they are married to black men the rates of divorce are significantly higher. Seems black american men are the issue here. Numbers don’t lie.
Thank you for being so candid and open about the realities of starting a business. It is refreshing and inspiring to see that despite the hurdles, it is possible for a Black woman (and a single mother) to do her thing. Thank you for letting us witness your story as it is evolving.
Thanks for your passion and hard work. Being an entrepreneur can be very challeging. Stay on your grind. lets talk soon. I would love to interview you for Emerge.NBIA. Lets talk.
Please text me @ 718 875 3811
Loved it, Thank you so much for sharing your story
Thank you for your knowledge on natural hair, while I transitioned into my own hair journey. I have enjoyed every blog you have ever posted. I wish you ALL THE BEST with your continuing business. I will be trying out one of your hair butters. Good luck and many blessings.
Wow eye opening i admire your strength even in the fave of adversity and you have inspired me to push past mine. Thank you.
I’ve tried your products and I do like a lot!! I’ll purchase more when I start receiving income again:-) BTW….your boys are so handsome:-) You are an awesome lady…continue keeping your head up and you will continue to prosper:-)