SIERA WHITAKER, CO-FOUNDER AND CEO OF AFFIRM NOIRE, DISCUSSES TIPS SHE LEARNED IN THE FIRST YEAR OF RUNNING THE COMPANY.
Siera Whitaker| March 25, 2021
I’ve dreamed of becoming a best-selling author, a Grammy winning singer, and a restaurateur at varying stages of life. I knew a singing career was no longer for me when I realized I’d most likely have to wear pink wigs and get plastic surgery on my not so coke-bottle shaped waist to make it big in today’s limelight. No offense to those who do wear colorful wigs or have had plastic surgery- I just typically go against the rules. All this to say, obviously, AFFIRM NOIRE never began as a small concept in my mind.
The difference between those dreams and my dream for AFFIRM NOIRE is I feel I’m finally at the right moment in time with good enough resources to make it successful and the right amount of ambition to give it my all. I feel enough Black entrepreneurs dream up small-scale businesses. I've raised the bar for myself intentionally. I want to represent the notion that Black folks can be owners of enterprises that can stand the test of time. I’ve accepted that my company is beginning as this seedling although it’s probably the size of Audrey II in my mind, and that it’s my job to nurture it so it flourishes into a big ass sunflower. So how am I developing my sunflower?
STORYTELLING: Tell yours and help others tell theirs.
Coming from where I come from and doing what I am doing is influential. I lost my mother, of whom I was a caretaker from a young age, in my early twenties and my father became disabled from a stroke when I was 11 years old. With them unable to give me their full selves due to their personal struggles and internal demons, I faced a lot of difficulty as I got older and was left quite vulnerable in the world without real guidance.
I use the struggles that have cropped up along my path to fuel me as an individual and in the sphere of business. I'm sifting through the muck left behind from generational traumatic experiences to make way for healing. I'm deprogramming and de-cluttering my mind to educate myself about my value and my money and on love, on healthy relationships, and on society’s perspective of me. This healing and maturing, which I now deem growth spurts or incremental moments of observation and introspection- have given me the courage to become a CEO.
Given that my co-founder and COO Bri also has an incredible backstory, we are well-positioned in the lane of narration. If there’s anything that can make a business seem worthy of investing into, it’s a great story. With this knowledge, I make it my duty to tell our stories and to now help amplify the stories of BIPOC and the LGBTQIA+ community. I recommend any new business owner find a compelling story to tell for their business and use it until they get someone’s attention.
STRATEGIZING: Strengthen it by getting specific.
When Bri and I started working on AFFIRM NOIRE, we had very basic strategies in place. My business and communications degree helped ease some of the confusion associated with the many facets of strategy, while her experience in customer service prepped her for operations. However, we were still on the fence of what exactly we wanted AFFIRM NOIRE to offer. AFFIRM NOIRE began as a podcast concept that would examine culture as Black millennials. Luckily, it didn’t stay that way because our plan to book some spaces where we could utilize podcast equipment to record our series would have been met with the blunt realities of Covid-19’s self-distancing regulations.
On my end, the strategies- the business strategy, the communications strategy, the sales strategy, the marketing strategy- gradually came together into clear objectives, goals, and KPI’s, only after we decided what we'd offer and after we started immersing ourselves into the business. We decided to just jump into the business even with not knowing all the details. I broke down my vision for AFFIRM NOIRE, how I plan on making it become what I want it to be, and how I would convince others to see it in the same light. The number of questions that arose during this process alone was mind blowing.
Developing strategies is daunting even to a business grad. I had to put in several hours of research and sign up for conferences for entrepreneurs to get tips on several elements of the business. However, the importance of developing strategies for your business and all of its nooks and crannies (i.e., departments) can’t be overstated. And you know something? You won’t know everything about your business's needs until you are in it. There’s a learning curve that you have to get over simply by walking the walk.
Note: I haven't mentioned the why of AFFIRM NOIRE because if there was anything we were clear on from the beginning, it was our purpose, and any CEO should always start with why they want their company to exist in the first place. And it had better address a real need.
SHARING ON SOCIAL MEDIA: Share little pieces of yourself and reap the benefits.
I strongly feel having a social media presence puts humans at risk for encountering several vulnerabilities. There are pedophiles creeping online plus there’s exposure to fake news (and so many other issues that can arise). Not saying these incidences don’t take place outside of social media networks, but they’re easier to encounter in an online space, especially now that Covid-19 is forcing us to stay indoors. For the sake of the topic at hand, I’ll stick to my own vulnerability: sharing myself in a public space as an introverted type.
The social-media-verse (the term I use for the existing network of social media platforms and the people using their services) is vast and dynamic. Social media is a wonderful invention, yet one I feel is shaping the thoughts and opinions of so many just by being. It’s an ideal place for marketers, for sure. But it’s also a pretty scary place for an introvert who has issues with being vulnerable, and of course, that isn’t Facebook’s issue, it’s mine. I think displaying one’s profile publicly as an entrepreneur is beneficial. But this creates cognitive dissonance in my brain due to the walls I have up and my thoughts on information security.
In addition to this, I’m constantly in the background debating about what to post when I don’t necessarily want to post in the first place because of the visibility of narcissistic behaviors amongst users that exists across platforms and how negative that is on my own psyche. There’s also the question of whether social media is simply used by people so they can put on facades about their lives for people. There’s also this sense of using social media to keep up with trends, however adverse they may be (i.e. extreme selfies).
However, if we look beyond negative behaviors that become visible across these platforms, social media is undoubtedly a powerful tool for networking and conveying a message. To have better odds in the world of business, one has to consider sharing themselves on social media networks because it's an intelligent consideration to ponder. I use it primarily to run the communications of my company, but every now I give people insight into my life, as well, just for the connection aspect of it. I feel good when a person I haven't spoken to in years stops by and says hello and that they're amazed at what I'm doing.
SACRIFICING: Get comfortable with it and make it less painful.
Being a boss doesn’t come without sacrifice. As a working CEO (in this case I’m working two additional jobs), I sacrifice myself on a consistent basis to build my business. I sacrifice time I could be spending watching Outlander on Netflix, visiting family, or going to dinner with friends to move my business forward consistently and gradually. Sometimes I divert energy I could be using to work out, to invest into a hobby, or to get a few more hours of sleep into my business. I regularly sacrifice being present with others to be present with my business.
As CEO, you don’t get as many breaks as others. You don’t get to quit feeling inspired because someone else on your team isn’t. You don’t get to miss frequent deadlines. You don’t get to tap out completely. That comes with the name.
However, it’s important to recognize that your human first and foremost, and that means you will feel tired, frustrated, unheard, stressed, angry, and so on. I personally get so caught up in the work (in part because I’m passionate about it, dedicated to it, and a type A perfectionist) that I can sacrifice my well-being at times for my business. Sadly, this is typical for entrepreneurs, but with AFFIRM NOIRE being the self-care brand it is, I’m constantly reminded that if I don’t take care of myself, I can’t take care of my business or promote self-care to others.
What I am learning, though, is sacrifice can become less painful when I proactively approach it with intention and practice. A common word I’ve been hearing since the pandemic began amongst business professionals is “pivot”. I’ve began pivoting when things are happening beyond my control and that pivoting actually helps me decrease my need to sacrifice as much. More often now, when my laptop doesn’t want to participate with me or I’m forgetting to drink water because I’m focused on meeting a deadline, I pivot. I tell myself, “It’s okay to work on this tomorrow.” I allow myself to feel compassion for myself and to reward the work I’m doing with something as minuscule as rest.
I don’t think success comes without at least some sacrifice, so it’s important to get comfortable with the pain associated with it. But it’s equally as important to recognize when you’re overworking yourself and neglecting yourself, and to change that.
So, here you have it. These are four tips that I've discovered along my path as CEO during the first year of my entrepreneurial journey. While general, they are still very important and useful for any budding entrepreneur to consider as they grow into their role as CEO.
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