An image of a human head sprouting a tree, and two smaller humans climbing up to water that tree, is used to illustrate the idea of developing a support system.

This article is the second in a three-part series to provide proven business-development methods to minority-owned businesses. The author is Toshiana C. Baker, founder of the Network of Multicultural Spa and Wellness Professionals, whose mission is to provide support, education and access to resources to underrepresented and marginalized professionals.

Part One of our series looked at how technology helps build a business foundation. In this article, we will examine how to build a business by working with coaches, consultants, communities and mentors.

Challenges in a Minority-Owners Business

Once you have gotten through the basics and established your business, there usually comes a feeling, usually by the second to third year, where you seek ways to gain momentum and get your business to a consistent and predictable profit. This feeling or urge can happen sooner for minority-owned businesses that have failed to start their business on a solid foundation. By the third year or so of business, owners and operators need outside help.

Entrepreneurs are often working daily in their business and also wearing all of the hats to work on the business, which can contribute to them reaching burnout if they do not get strategies to avoid this.

On top of that, entrepreneurs have blind spots where they are so close to the day-to-day business that there are missed opportunities and signs and signals that they ignore that would contribute to more efficiency, more consistency, and overall growth that is predictable enough to take the daily pressure off the owner.

Although we know that all entrepreneurs need outside experts to assist in their personal and professional growth, minority business owners tend to also need additional guidance to navigate and overcome the common experiences that minorities struggle with due marginalization and lack of access to resources, capital and support.

Some of the life experiences of minority business owners that cause them to become disheartened and discouraged lie in the fatigue of coming up against microaggressions, as well as overtly disparate and traumatic experiences that are a part of the dominant power systems and culture tilted to keep them disadvantaged.

The challenge in needing assistance like this is that there is a lot of noise and a crowded marketplace when it comes to hiring a business expert to assist in achieving these kinds of goals.

This article will provide guidance to explore these options to make it easier to evaluate what kind of expertise you need and what to expect from working with each of the following: coaches, consultants, communities and mentors.

Work with a Coach

One point of confusion is many people use the terms coach and consultant interchangeably. They do have similarities and overlap depending on the expert’s experience. Often, a professional who provides coaching services also has the skillset to be a consultant and vice versa.

But this is not a given. This is why it is important to know the difference between the two.

A coach is someone who is skilled in an area and will assist their client in learning a skill and holding them accountable to execute specific goals, activities and tasks to achieve a desired outcome. If you recall the proverb, “If you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day. If you teach a man to fish, you feed him for a lifetime,” coaching is more of the teaching a man to fish or making him a better fisherman approach.

When seeking a coach, it is important to evaluate their coaching style andtheir skillset and experience. It can be helpful to see testimonials and references from their other clients as that often solidifies the confidence in their ability to produce results.

Every coach doesn’t mesh with every client and vice versa. Their coaching style can impact how effective the process will be to achieve the desired outcome. The most common mistake is hiring a coach based on their skillset, experience or client list and not considering their style and approach to coaching.

Hiring a coach can be an expensive endeavor. Why? Think of the value of “learning to fish” or being the best fisherman and the continual gains that the new or improved skillset adds to your business. Since coaches should provide a significant boost to your skillset and acumen as a business owner, there is often a substantial price associated.

Group coaching programs have gained popularity as an offering that would provide a desired skillset and acumen boost, but since it is not delivered in a one-to-one coaching format, the cost is shared among the group. Group coaching programs differ in the amount of support and accountability that is built into them and that is often a significant factor to consider before committing.

Work with a Consultant

Consultants are those who are an outside set of eyes who possess a set of skills, knowledge and experience that allows them to look at a business and see missing systems, areas of opportunity (like the need to learn to fish) and ways to improve processes and procedures for growth and optimal results. They are able to create an actionable plan, strategies (group of plans), provide resources as well as make recommendations based on best practices so that a business owner can get on course to achieve the change and improvement desired.

A consultant is the expert who can explain the what and why of a problem and offer the how-to for solutions through recommended resources to allow business owners to feel empowered and supported in making decisions for the business.

Consultants typically have areas of expertise and specialization, which will help determine what their focus and approach would be for the business. Some also lead their own internal teams of doers who can execute and implement plans they create once the business owners approve. This is usually an additional and separate cost.

The biggest challenge in hiring a consultant is learning to zoom in on the area of expertise needed and align it with the type of consultant hired. Know if you need a specialist or generalist, so to speak. Sometimes that can be hard to determine, especially for newer business owners.

 A big mistake in hiring a consultant is that they are often in the wrong area of expertise or they are mistaken for coaches. Also, even when hiring an excellent consultant, because they themselves are not the doer and they are not necessarily teaching a specific skillset, it can be common to end up with a plan that no action is taken on.

Areas of knowledge and experience are one of the most important factors to consider when hiring a consultant. Just as it is important to consider the style of a professional when hiring a coach, it is important to consider the communication style of a consultant. Some consultants are more accessible and communicative than others and this will determine the client experience.

The amount of accessibility as well as the scope of the project is a major part of the price for a consultant. You are paying for their expertise and knowledge—therefore, often pricing can vary based on the level of expertise they have and the value that their knowledge adds to your business in the short- and long-term.

It is important to understand that often consulting is not a one-size-fits-all solution and it is common to have to hire more than one consultant at different stages of business development and growth, since they do vary by their areas of expertise.

Work with Communities

Minority-owned businesses are important to the U.S. economy, and as they grow and succeed, they provide jobs to the community. This creates significant social impact as well. As the number of minority business owners increase, especially with the surge in female minority-owned businesses, it is increasingly important to have safe spaces to share common experiences as professionals.

Entrepreneurship can be lonely. Often, a sounding board is needed.

Numerous professional associations and communities have been created to support massage professionals and offer resources to operate better businesses. However, even when considering Facebook groups and the like, the number of communities that would provide similar business support while also addressing and acknowledging the experience of the minority business owner constantly being “othered” in our society are substantially less. (This is why the Network of Multi-Cultural Spa and Wellness Professionals was created, to provide a community of belonging and authentic inclusion that had been sorely missing.)

When evaluating a community, be mindful of not only its stated mission or vision but also observe how that is played out among the community members. Is the community truly committed to what it says it’s about? Are community members upheld to certain standards? Communities of support should hold space for some sort of common value while also holding space for differences to present themselves without devaluing or harming community members.

Often minority massage professionals are welcomed into existing professional communities and the common bond is the shared profession, yet the community is not a safe space for them to be their authentic selves. A minority business owner would likely be a member of many communities, each offering support for different reasons.

The biggest mistake is staying in groups and communities that do not serve you, despite what they advertise. The damage of staying in unsafe spaces too long can wear on the mental health and psyche of minority business owners and diminish the confidence and mindset needed to be a successful and resilient entrepreneur.

Membership in such communities is typically more of an affordable option than coaches or consultants for a minority business to get support, fellowship as well as resources needed for personal and professional development. Some communities come with additional benefits as well.

Work with a Mentor

Last, but certainly not least, is the value of finding a person that is ahead of you, even if by a couple paces, as your mentor. The very definition of a mentor is an experienced and trusted advisor. Simply stated, there are not enough minority business owners with mentors. Conversely, there are not enough minority business owners as mentors.

One great resource for mentorship is SCORE, through the Small Business Administration. SCORE mentors are volunteers who have rich, varied experience to share with small business owners. They are always seeking volunteers as mentors via their website. There are other organizations that will set you up with a mentor.

Mentorship can also be discovered via networking within the massage or spa profession. Opportunities to discover a mentor are at trade shows, conferences, seminars and on social media.

Many business owners crave the guidance of a trusted advisor, but often do not know how to seek someone out for mentorship. It’s a relationship, so every person is not a good fit as a mentor or protégé.

It is important to be respectful of the mentor’s time, being sure that they have agreed to the mentor-protégé relationship. Depending on their style, mentors can share advice or even coach on certain areas.

However, without the consent to the relationship, it can feel as if the unofficial mentor is being taken advantage of. Keep this in mind when seeking minority mentors within the profession, since historically minority professionals are underpaid for the same work and experience as their white counterparts. This can be perceived as a micro-aggression.

The presumption can cause the relationship with someone you admire to sour to the point of causing a stain to your professional reputation. The industry is still a small community where one would not want there to be a buzz of having taken advantage of someone’s time and expertise under the guise of mentorship. Word would travel fast, and it could create friction when attempting to find another mentor.

The most common mistake made when finding or being a mentor is overcoming the perception of how accomplished one has to be to provide value. As stated before, the mentor-protégé relationship can be only a few paces apart in some instances. It is most important that there be an established trust, setting the boundaries and expectations of the relationship. When done properly, mentorship is often the best-kept secret to entrepreneurial success.

Toshiana Baker

About the Author

Toshiana Baker is an esthetician, spa educator and spa consultancy owner. She founded the Network of Multicultural Spa and Wellness Professionals, which supports multiethnic and multicultural health care professionals and minority-owned businesses with education and other resources. She is also CEO and founder of SpaWorx. Her articles for MASSAGE Magazine include “Diversity, Equity & Inclusion: Persistence and Patience Underpin Real Change in the Massage & Spa Field” and “Success Strategies for Minority-Owned Small Businesses, Part One: Technology.”