L-R, Top Row: Kathy Times, president of Yellow Brick Media Concepts; Mercedes Young, owner of Vivid Consulting Group, LLC;
L-R, Bottom Row: Bianca Berry, owner, The Gift Code, LLC; Stefanie Johnston, owner, Natural Essence
BY FRANK DROUZAS, Staff Writer
ST. PETERSBURG – The COVID-19 pandemic didn’t stop the Sisters Kin-nect Women’s Conference from connecting, igniting, and inspiring women to live their best lives. Under the City of St. Petersburg’s My Brother’s and Sister’s Keeper Initiative, this second annual summit got underway virtually last Friday, Oct. 23.
Entrepreneurs Kathy Times, president of Yellow Brick Media Concepts, and Mercedes Young, owner of Vivid Consulting Group, LLC offered nuggets of wisdom in “Power of Prosperity, a panel discussion moderated by Michelle Christie, vice president of Regions Bank.
Times, creator of the WOW! professional development programs, said it takes time to establish a brand and stressed the importance of underscoring what is authentic. Recently, when she rebooted and rebranded the WOW! programs, one thing that was consistent about her brand was that she was a professional storyteller.
Before she was a national president of a black organization that advocated on behalf of members of all races in the organization, Times said, she was president of the local black journalist chapter and networked with other African-American professionals and organizations of color.
“I became an advocate for those, especially in the communities that I covered, predominately sometimes African American, in Birmingham, southern cities like Mississippi, and I grew up in Miami,” she said. “So I grew up in a very diverse environment and became very passionate about not just telling the stories of the African- American community, but I was very bold about pursuing the truth when it came to anyone.”
Young, who has helped to open doors for many Black and Hispanic professionals, noted that professional women endure racist and sexist comments and urged ladies to keep their integrity in the face of it.
“It is imperative that all of us as powerful women that are standing up on our own authenticity,” she said, “to make sure that we know that our own authenticity speaks of the authenticity of everyone behind us and all of those that came before us.”
Times agreed that integrity is vital, adding that people should safeguard themselves, especially on social media.
“How many times have you seen people with these phones, and they’re recording, and someone may capture you, and you don’t know it,” she asked. “I tell people you are live 24/7 no matter where you go. And I learned that as a result of being in the media.”
Identifying your purpose and passion is crucial, Times said, and once you do that, you can harness the power of the variety of media outlets available to us.
“Don’t just live for the day,” she urged, “but continuously improve who you are so that you have a message that is worthy of sharing. And once you have your message and where you’re trying to go, your purpose and your passion, then you develop what we call a positioning statement and look for opportunities to spread your message with your intended audience.”
Be relevant about who you are and where you’re trying to go, Times stressed, while connecting with your audience via a particular social medium.
The image of Black women in media has changed over time, Times said. When she started in the early 1990s, many African-American women were hired to diversify in the workplace. Through the years, Black women have become more emboldened to present themselves as they wish, even if it means wearing their hair in braids on air, for example.
“That has changed for the positive because people understand you can be your authentic self, you can be professional, and still wear your hair in a way that represents your natural beauty,” she said.
Speaking of image, Young pointed out the importance of always maintaining a professional appearance. She referenced a young caterer she came across that served excellent Caribbean fare yet wore flip flops and dirty aprons while on the job.
Young pulled the young caterer aside and told her how to present herself and her savory food better, even suggesting that she place signs that list ingredients in front of dishes to aid those with allergies. Following such advice and cleaning up her appearance, the caterer has since been able to land large catering contracts.
Young, author of the book “Prosperity Through Service: A Guide for How to Be, to Do and to Have,” has issues with the business minority certification, as she views herself as diverse, not a minority.
“I know when it was created it was created with a purpose to make room for us'” she said, “but in 2020, it’s just time to move forward. It is a campaign passion of mine … so I decided, ‘I’m going to join the most powerful, diverse association in the nation, and I’m going to be on the board! I’m going to be a voice, and I’m going to get every certification there is because money is green, and I’m going to prove a point that if you hire a Black woman, you’re going to get the skill, you’re going to get the talent, and you’re going to get the multi-task!'”
Times has written a digital book for college students that will soon be available for download through her website. She plans to have it available on Amazon and other outlets as well by year’s end.
“I think that you have to invest in knowledge, period,” Times averred, adding that everyone should take advantage of all the free information available to us through credible news sources and online media.
She also stressed the importance of maintaining good health: “At the end of the day, if you’re not healthy, just remember this: you cannot achieve your goals in life.”
Nurture Your Spark, moderated by Nichelle Bowes, dean of student affairs at Relay Graduate School of Education, featured Bianca Berry, owner, The Gift Code, LLC. and Stefanie Johnston, owner, Natural Essence, offering their expertise.
Berry, who works as an IT systems analyst, launched her e-commerce business, which sells novelty items and apparel when the pandemic hit. Johnston, an international traveling hairstylist, was studying psychology in college when she realized just how lucrative hairstyling could be. She is the CEO of her company but does plan to return to school to study psychology.
Carving out space and time to pursue your passion is paramount, and Berry said she is very intentional with her time and sets small goals for herself during the day.
“Your effort is your currency,” she said.
Johnston and Berry agree that only so much energy can be given before it needs to be replenished at the end of the day, whether it’s sapped by family or business, and being successful requires balance.
Berry recalled how she’s wanted to be an entrepreneur for years, and even while in college, wrote a proposal for a business selling t-shirts to her mom. She has had other ventures since then and has followed the same blueprint for each.
“It just really started with a passionate idea,” she said. “I incorporated, I worked it until I couldn’t work it anymore, I worked it until it started making me money, I worked even if people didn’t like it, I just kept working, and I said: ‘You know, somebody’s going to see me one day.'”
Johnston recognized a calling to help people early on in her life. Coming from cheerleading practice in high school one day, she saw a boy sitting on a bench and something told her to reach out to him. She asked him if he wanted to take the bus with her, and he agreed.
The next morning at school, she was called into the principal’s office, where she was met with the boy and his family. It turned out that the day when teenage Johnston reached out to him, the boy had been waiting behind the school near the train track to commit suicide.
“That’s when I knew my calling,” she said, “and I realized, ‘you have something in you, that when it speaks, you need to talk to people and connect.'”
From there, Johnston attended FAMU to study psychology but took an interest in people and their hair and realized the potential. She then dropped psychology and switched to business studies. In time, she opened a salon with her then-husband and connected with many of her clients.
“That’s when it hit me,” she said. “I have a love for both — psychology and beauty. And both play an important role for each other.”
Once she earns her degree, she aims to establish a center one day called Twist and Talk, a place that can offer the benefits of a therapist’s office and a beauty salon. Johnston has shot a couple of episodes of a reality show, also called Twist and Talk, that she hopes to air.
“Traveling to the U.K., doing hair in Germany, to France, to the U.S., I’ve met so many different people twisting and talking,” she said.
Challenges and obstacles occur on the road to success, and for Johnston, one of them was facing her clients after her publicized divorce — clients she and her husband had attracted together in their joint venture.
“It could’ve affected the brand,” she said, “but I didn’t let it because I stayed positive … I just have to continue to be true to myself, be genuine, be non-apologetic.”
Berry admitted financing and research proved to be challenges for her, but she was determined to research as much as she could on her own to cover her bases when it came to a business venture. She also “bootstrapped” herself when it came to raising funds, as she took advantage of online resources like Fiverr.com, a marketplace for freelancers and entrepreneurs.
“Some of the stuff on there is five dollars! Who can’t afford a logo for five dollars?” Berry said.
Various grants and loan opportunities available from the Small Business Association website are an excellent way to get a leg up, Berry and Johnston agreed. Joining groups to connect with successful businesswomen is another excellent way to network and learn, they said.
Both women agreed that going with your gut feeling and not second-guessing yourself are essential attributes for an entrepreneur. For Johnston, her motivational guide is the advice her grandmother used to give her: “Put one foot in front of the other — move!”
“Little by little by little, and you’ll be surprised at how far you’ve gone,” she said. “I just stick to that one thing, and it’s been working for me.”
Berry added: “Never let fear sink in. Never let anybody tell you that you can’t do it. And if it flows from your heart, you will make money.
To reach Frank Drouzas, email firstname.lastname@example.org