If there’s one city in The USA that represents the American experience over the past 100 years best, it is Harlem. Harlem is located in Manhattan, New York, NY. Manhattan was named after a tribe of Native Americans that roamed there before the European settlers that created the borough of Harlem, which was named after the city of Haalrem, Netherlands. Harlem, NY was the epicenter for all things great in post slavery life for African Americans and the birthplace of one of the biggest social movements of the 20th century; The Harlem Renaissance. During that time, the African American community saw not only new job opportunities but opportunities to seek education and artistic self-expression in ways not prohibited in the Jim Crow south. The Harlem Renaissance was a beautiful time, which birthed some of the greatest art in all forms of the 20th century and inspires so many to this day. Some of the greatest thought leaders of the 20th century started developing their contributions to the world in this region. The likes of Langston Hughes, Billie Holiday, Oscar Micheaux, W. E. B. Dubois and Marcus Garvey, to name a few. Though this region of the world saw some very tough times post The Harlem Renaissance era, both economically and socially. The very spirit of the era has been there ever since. The very spirit of taking nothing and turning it into something. The very spirit of self-expression in-spite of status quo. The very spirit of innovation and creativity, bravado, thought provoking ideas and yes, music; has never left. Home to some of the biggest contributors to American culture and though it may be tough to understand, home to both Diddy and Tupac. Yes…I know. Harlem is still birthing people who are not only the movers and shakers (pun intended) of America. But individuals who are more of an inspiration to people they’ve never met, than they may ever know. In my personal opinion without Harlem, modern day America would be much-much different and to be quite frank, very-very boring.
Allow me to introduce you to Monique, a woman who embodies the spirit of Harlem. A true Harlemite, Monique turned nothing into something in the face of adversity and status quo. Growing up in Harlem, Monique’s childhood wasn’t an easy one. While other girls were joining The Girl Scouts and selling cups of lemonade for 25 cents, Monique was trying to find a way to keep food on the table.
“When you grow up in a neighborhood in Harlem that’s tough and you grow up with a family member – an immediate family member that’s on drugs, like your mom or your dad. A lot of people shun you out, so you’ve got to be on your own, you’ve got to be defensive, you’ve got to know how to make it for yourself. I think that’s what made me a great business owner now, because I know how to get through things – with a little something I can make something really big.”
Monique attributes her childhood for her innate ability to be super resourceful and hyper vigilant; always looking several steps ahead. “I’m never satisfied, because I never know when I’m going to have something and when I’m going to lose something. So me, I’m always trying to move forward and make sure that I have more than enough.”
During high school Monique lived with her aunt in New Jersey for about a year. During her senior year she moved in with a good friend’s family in NYC, until graduation. Post graduation she joined a program that assisted young adults to be independent that had nowhere else to go. Most of us can agree that living on your own isn’t any walk in the park; paying bills isn’t fun and can require a learning curve.
With a dream of being a radio personality Monique decided to study communications at the local community college. While in school she got a job at a makeup store called Sephora working part time, which was her first introduction to skin care. After five years of working at Sephora, which consisted of training to become a manager, Monique saw the job as an obstacle for her to complete her true dream. How often have you heard of someone taking a job to pay the bills while chasing their dream only to focus so much on the job that they forget about the dream? I know, far too often. One day Monique decided enough was enough and walked out and I don’t mean that metaphorically.
“I believe in taking a step back to take ten steps forward.”
Monique then found a job doing something that wasn’t as much as a distraction from achieving her goals, at a telecommunications company called T-Mobile. During this time two significant things occurred. Monique started to toy with the idea of being an owner of a salon and she was introduced to a book; The Secret by Rhonda Byrne. This book has been regarded as a reading that has changed the lives of many, including Oprah Winfrey. “They should have this book in high school”, Monique says. The Secret is one of those books that make you think differently, it’s much more than a motivational book; it speaks about the power of positive thinking referred to as the Law of Attraction.
“I knew that if I think these thoughts and I believed these thoughts, they were going to happen.”
While working at T-Mobile Monique had ran into some financial problems and was struggling to cover rent. She was unhappy with her job and realized that it too was getting in the way of her goal of being a radio personality. She had remembered a girl that did eyebrow waxing at Sephora, who worked independently and made good money as well. Monique did some research on how to get certified in this field and stopped by the school her former coworker had attended for the 600-hour course: Lia Schorr Institute of Cosmetic Skin Care Training. While there she was able to meet with Lia Schorr herself and Lia told Monique, “You start Monday”.
Monique started working part time hours at T-mobile and started moving through the course immediately. While many of her classmates wanted to do all kinds of beauty treatments, Monique stuck to her desire to do eyebrow waxing. Right around the time she graduated from the program, a local beauty salon had opened that specialized in waxing and was modeled after Miami wax salons. One of her classmates who knew Monique was focused on waxing gave the owner Monique’s information, which lead to her first interview and job in the field.
Monique quickly picked up their waxing technique, strip waxing and became one of the most sought after waxing technicians. Soon after she became a trainer for her location and several of the surrounding locations. When she started taking “a look behind the curtain” and seeing the business side of things she realized that what most employees eventually realize. There was a huge disparity between the amount she was being paid and the amount of money she was generating for the company. Needless to say, after 2.5 years of being one of the most successful technicians and a trainer, though not yet a manager Monique had a lot of influence amongst the direction of the store and the staff. One day, Monique was reminded of that ugly glass ceiling that most hope is a myth, when she received a phone call from her employer informing her that she was no longer employed. Within that same hour one of the best things that could’ve happened for Monique occurred. She received a call from one of her regular clients. The client requested that Monique either come to her house or she comes to Monique’s, but she refuses to get her waxing done by anyone else.
After awhile of doing home visits Monique had got a tip from a friend about a location that was looking for a new tenant for a salon style space. She met with the owner, who agreed to make a deal to not only rent to Monique below market rate for the first few months but for a location in none other than Harlem World. The Law of Attraction was working just as hard as Monique. The only thing Monique had left to do was to come up with a business name and register it. Monique used an online service called Legal Zoom to register her company name and while sitting in a Dunkin Donuts, Monique created Brazilian Babes LLC.
After working out of this space for three months, Monique decided it was time to take things to the next level and get a space of her own that she can truly brand and create the vibe that she has always had in mind. She started the hunt on a Monday and by Thursday was able to find a space that she loved, that she is still in to this day. When she met the people that were in charge of the space they requested to see a business plan in order to understand how she intended on paying the rent. Though she lacked a business plan at the time, she did one better and showed them her books, which consisted of a list of real clients that were paying her on a consistent basis. They loved it, they loved her and the only thing that they asked for was 4 months of rent in advance. Now being that this space was quite bare and needed some furniture and construction, Monique knew that in order to make this work she had to get resourceful. She called some friends and was able to raise thousands of dollars in two hours. Which really speaks volumes about the type person Monique is. Monique’s the type of person that has people who want to see her succeed. Monique’s the type of person who has friends that will let her borrow money at the drop of a hat. That speaks volumes about her character, people not only want to see her win but they know that her word is as good as gold. She was able to get some friends who were experienced handymen to help her lay down flooring and create two rooms. Within 19 days, Brazilian Babes Waxing Salon & Beauty Boutique was open for business @ 2285 7th Ave NY, NY.
When I asked Monique what was the most difficult thing she had to deal with as a new business owner, her reply was the most unique thus far. Monique’s most difficult thing she had to deal with was the misconception that some new clients had of her for being a black business woman. When starting a new business many people are going to want to know about the owner. Many use that as a basis to judge the validity of the business and whether it deserves their dollars. Some people won’t spend money at a business if the owner is too young, too fat, too gay, too [insert religion here] or even too [insert ethnicity here]. I’ve met business owners that will act as if they’re the manager and the owner is some old guy that’s retired in Thailand. They do this just because they do not want the business to suffer due to a customer’s discrimination of them. For they do not fit into their idea of: a small business owner. Sometimes fighting through the expectation of the “typical business owner” and making space for not only the service that you provide but a brand for your business can be difficult. Especially, because it is necessary to do it all at once. Nonetheless have no fear; changing the status quo is why you’re here.
What’s Monique’s greatest triumph in business? Getting through her first year of business. In the United States more than 50% of businesses fail in their first year. They fail for various reasons, but almost never because the idea was bad. Primarily it is due to mismanagement of finances, poor quality product, bad customer service or simply just a bad online presence/marketing. What ever it may be, those who survive the first year figure out the most important pillars of business: Customer, product, price and promotion. You’ve got to understand those, very well, or you will be sitting in a sinking boat wearing a dunce hat.
“They believe what you believe, because you’re selling it. If you don’t believe it and you’re selling it, then why should they?”
Monique figured these out quickly. From the free glass of champagne each client receives upon entry, to her 40+ reviews on Yelp that equal up to a 5 star rating. Which, if you ask me, is quite impressive for a hair removal business. Monique has really mastered the client experience, by creating a great atmosphere in her salon and offering a high quality, value-priced service.
One word in particular that guides my path is Maktub, which in Arabic means, “It is written.” For all those who have read the world famous book The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, you are familiar with this word all too well. In the book Maktub essentially denotes that your wonderful future is already written. You have the ability to mess it up, but if you are able to identify and follow the omens your written future will come to fruition. When I was replaying my conversation with Monique I kept thinking about “Maktub”. Monique wanted to be on the radio; that was her future that she had decided for herself. Being a small business owner wasn’t even part of the equation. But when she went where the energy flowed, when she decided to follow the opportunities (omens), everything just sort of unraveled for her.
You start a race not knowing where the finish line is, just knowing that you are going to cross it. Imagine that you are running a marathon, alone. One that you have never ran before and you’ve never seen the finish line before so you couldn’t pick it out in a line up. In order for you to cross that finish line, there are two requirements: select a good path and to keep moving. If you were to happen to come across a fork in the road, one path blocked by a bush and the other open and clear, which would you take? A clear path, more often than not, is an opportunity that is going to take you where you want to be even if you don’t know where that is, yet. Maktub.
What is some advice from Monique for aspiring entrepreneurs?
“Make a plan, make a list and write down the things that are on your mind and do what is most important first in order. Don’t skip your order, don’t change your mind, the way you map it out is the way you see it and you don’t want to get yourself confused….Your idea might work and it might not. But if you want it to work you better learn how to communicate the way that people understand. What I mean is that you may think something is awesome, but you need to put it out there in a way that everybody can understand. One thing I’ve learned is that people don’t like to read! They like visuals, pictures, video. You’ve really got to know who is around you, if they want to do be there, what’s going to work for your business, why do you want to open it in a certain place, who is your customer and you just got to know how to market it.”