Launching Your First Brand? Consider These Important Pro Tips.

Featured image: TONL
Sofiya Ballin, founder of Black History Untold and a judge for Sweet July’s 2023 National Black Business Month campaign, gets candid about what she’s learned from growing her brand.

“I think this is a terrible idea.”


These were the exact words a former executive editor directed towards me. I told him I was leaving and taking my Black History Untold concept with me. I left that legacy newsroom excited and terrified—and an entrepreneur.


As I stepped out on my own, I heard his feedback play over and over again in my head. It became my motivation to build Black History Untold from the ground up, with a smaller team and far fewer resources than if I had pursued it with an already established company. Starting it on my own was the best decision I could have made. In the last six years, it’s grown into an award-winning multimedia project and online documentary series. After venturing out independently, I scaled back. That meant moving into an apartment I didn’t like but was more affordable but also making mistakes like lowballing myself, but it also meant becoming a better leader. More recently, it’s won me two Webby awards. The journey has been filled with ups and downs: The tears, the joy, the loneliness, the community, the satisfaction, the disappointment, the doubt, the faith, the wins and the failures. 


I’ve learned so much and I’m still learning. Here are some takeaways I’ve gleaned thus far: 


Get familiar with your brand identity

Get used to telling your story over and over and over. Practice articulating your brand’s values, mission, and most importantly, what makes it stand out. Inviting audiences on your entrepreneurial journey allows consumers, collaborators and investors to forge a connection beyond the numbers—a connection that resonates through ethos and values. This can lead to long-term partnerships and relationships to take your business to the next level. 


Get legal counsel

Before signing a contract pertaining to a major partnership, have a lawyer look it over. In my case, it’s a friend with legal expertise who has been a lifesaver. Most lawyers have an understanding of general contract law regardless of their practice area. Lawyers can revise contracts to ensure you are paid on time, institute late fees and protect your intellectual property. They can help draft, review, and negotiate contracts and help comb through language related to content creation—licensing agreements, image releases, rights to footage and beyond. They can also mitigate any potential risks in your business plan or strategy. I’ve had my legal counsel mediate when I was contracted to do work and the contractor was avoiding payment. Even scheduling a consultation can equip you with the knowledge to protect and advocate for yourself and your business. There are also various pro bono legal resources available to business owners.


Seek community and mentorship

Entrepreneurship is a constant adjustment process. That’s what can make it so exciting but also challenging. As I’ve maneuvered from journalism to entrepreneurial filmmaking, I knew I needed guidance. I am constantly cultivating relationships with mentors who can offer insight and support. Though it may not seem true at face value, entrepreneurship is a collaborative journey. There isn’t much room for ego and success to co-exist. There are failures that will happen. Your ability to adjust, learn, ask for help and adapt will be one of your strongest assets.


Take care of yourself

The entrepreneurial journey is a marathon, not a sprint. The financial inconsistency that can come from working for yourself can impact your mental health. I’m only now truly recognizing it. As an entrepreneur, especially an entrepreneur of color, you’re more likely to experience burnout. This is why you must create a sustainable routine and schedule. 

Create office hours that you stick to (there will, of course, be days when you’ll have to burn the midnight oil but try to be as disciplined as possible). Invest in therapy. Self-awareness and knowing your strengths and weaknesses can allow you to create the necessary safeguards for your business to be successful. It can provide you with stress management tools as it is not easy leading a team of people with different personalities. To me, the aim isn’t balance because balance adds pressure. Instead, I strive for integration: Taking time to be with your loved ones, having hobbies that are solely for enjoyment, resting and vacationing allows you to enjoy the fruits of your labor. It rejuvenates your spirit and your creativity so that when you get back to work, you’re better than ever.


Don’t procrastinate doing the unsexy stuff

This one I still struggle with. The taxes, the health insurance, the contracts. I love the creative process but struggle with all the paperwork. Take it from me, you don’t want to delay this portion. Start by understanding the tax implications of your LLC or S-Corp status. Stay organized by keeping track of all your expenses. Research what is deductible. You’ll be surprised how much money you may be leaving on the table. If you don’t have another source for health insurance, be proactive in obtaining your own, and remember to factor in both your taxes and insurance costs when setting your rates. It gets easier—trust me!


Featured image: TONL


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