Advice for Small Business and Startups in the COVID EnvironmentFeatured

I spoke with @Roshawnna, founder and CEO of EnrichHER, a financial technology platform helping women secure funding to grow their ventures. Their network has engaged over 23,000 people through their online community and in-person events. EnrichHER provides a wide range of financial resources to help women-led businesses grow, including small business loans, training, debt and credit cards, and affiliates and partnerships. EnrichHER has helped women-led businesses access over $3 million in financing and is growing that figure to $57 million this year. Roshawnna and I discussed EnrichHER’s founding story, advice for female founded and led startups and small businesses in taking advantage of the recent government stimulus, and establishing and growing vibrant online communities. Roshawnna grew up in San Diego, where her parents were teachers. She loved school, but in school, she had her first exposure to bias. Even though she had enjoyed and excelled in math, a teacher told her she would not like or be great at math simply because of her gender and ethnicity. This formative experience became part of his inspiration for founding EnrichHER. Her mother was involved with the school’s investment club and brought Roshawnna to some of the meetings, where she learned more about business and investing and the financial empowerment that can come with these pursuits. Roshawnna continued pursuing her interests in these areas, and at the age of 15, she successfully found a way to pay for her college degree and PhD degree through $600K she had raised from writing to numerous individuals and organizations around the country. She received her doctorate degree in Computer Engineering and Finance from the George Washington University while working full time at Johns Hopkins University, and stayed in DC following graduation to work in terrorism prevention. Throughout her 7 years in The District, she started helped coworkers with their 401K, and purchasing their homes, and saw that many of them were completely afraid and uncertain about managing their finances and financial futures. Inspired by the challenges she had seen her coworkers and many others go through, she decided to shift her professional focus away from policy and instead toward finance, specifically helping people better understand finance in their personal lives as well as their businesses. Roshawnna realized that many people seek to start their own businesses and take control of their financial futures, but all too often, women are told explicitly or implicitly, that they are not able to. With EnrichHER, she dedicated herself fully to changing this by providing financing and support for a network of women-led businesses that can, in turn, help each other over time as well. Regarding advice for creating online communities, Roshawnna recommends crafting strategies optimized for uniqueness and relevance. For example, in the current COVID-19 environment, Zoom conferences have rapidly become commonplace, so standard online webinars may no longer provide differentiated value add, and community managers and businesses may consider alternative means to connect and educate their audiences and customers. More broadly, you should always provide value so members continue to be excited about returning to your platform. For long term viability, empower your members to provide their own content. Encourage and provide incentives for members to post. For example, by sharing more about their business or circumstance, members can connect with potential partners or receive advice from potential mentors. Encourage members to respond to and help each other, promoting a culture of symbiotic value add and win-win mentalities. Tag specific people who may have relevant input for each post. Launch pitch contests to further incentivize actionable and topic-specific sharing. On advice for founders and business owners to make the most of the recent government stimulus, Roshawnna recommends applying for every option that may be available to you. It is always better to err on the side of too many options than too few. Even if you are approved of a particular loan, you do not need to accept it. Additionally, apply as soon as possible. For example, the 10K advanced loan was first come first serve, and by the afternoon of the same day it was announced, over 250K companies had applied. It is understandable to want to read everything and think through every little detail before applying, but given the first come first serve nature of many of these opportunities, it is crucial to move more quickly, even without full information. In general, these programs are beneficial to businesses, providing additional runway without taking equity. Each program has different requirements of supplementary information to include with your application, so make sure you have all of your financial documents finalized and ready to send, such as P&L statements, balance sheets, and payroll figures. Lastly, breathe! This is an incredibly challenging time for companies, but do not view your revenue metrics as a reflection of you. Let go of anxieties and focus on best supporting your business. Regarding general financial advice for business owners, Roshawnna recommends knowing your core metrics and staying on top of your finances at all times. Many people make the mistake of not prioritizing this constant tracking and wait for tax season to get organized, which creates more room for error and stress later on. Even during challenging times, it is important to track KPIs (even if doing so feels painful). Cash flow is the #1 reason why businesses fail, so be sure to always track and plan around cash flow. Even with macro challenges abound, companies can pivot to stay in business as long as they have cash flow. On advice for aspiring female leaders and for her younger self, Roshawnna recommends seeking out mentors and advisers but balancing this with trusting your own gut because only you understand your true why and passion. It is understandable to feel self-doubt when what your advisers or mentors recommend is different from your initial plan, but ultimately, you are the one executing and implementing with the most nuanced understanding of your organization. Early on, advisers told Roshawnna that being a LinkedIn influencer would be a detriment to her business and brand since people would not take her seriously, so she ceased her involvement in this capacity. But looking back, even if well-intentioned, this advice was ultimately not prudent. Had she remained a LinkedIn influencer, Roshawnna would now be better able to leverage her voice to support EnrichHER and their founders.