‘Seek first to understand, then to be understood’

Startup problems of the Black entrepreneur

By Meegan Scott

Meegan Scott

I’ll never forget the first time I heard my next door neighbour shouting in Jamaican patios.It rang out with an English accent.

That Saturday morning was the first time that I had heard shouting from next door. My neighbour was having it out with her father. She had just told him of her plans to resign from her job, a prominent position, and to open her own business. Although she would still be providing consulting services to her current employer, her father could not see the logic of that move and like the typical Jamaican parent of the day, he declared that the plan amounted to “madness.”

I laughed at hearing her lash out in patois. “Serves him right. Yes, it is high time for our parents to show confidence and respect when their children decide to start their own business,” I said to myself.

Thirteen years later, I am hearing the same cry – only this time with a variety of Canadian or Canadian-Caribbean accents. Today, I take a somewhat different view of the situation.

This time around I am looking from a lens shared with us by author, Stephen R. Covey, as the fifth habit of highly effective people —”Seek first to understand, then to be understood”.

If we apply this lens to the typical response of the parents of black and Caribbean entrepreneurs on learning of their offspring’s plans to go into business, we will be able to maintain more harmonious family relationships which in the end will serve to fuel the growth of a culture that supports and promote entrepreneurship in our communities.

However, none of this will happen if we fail to understand and respond appropriately to fear that drives doubt in our parents and communities.  A tall order, given the teething pains of starting a business often serves as evidence and the origin of the narrative of fear that often sounds as follows.

“I believe you would be better off finding a job than killing out yuh self on that business!

“Eev’ry day you work, and no money coming in; you went to university. Why don’t you just get a job?”

OOOuch!!! Those words can really hurt those who are just starting out in business. They can hurt even more seasoned entrepreneurs. Unfortunately, such remarks are all too familiar to first and second-generation entrepreneurs in the Black and Caribbean communities.  They hear them from parents, siblings, spouses and friends. Coming from parents and loved ones, those words could carry a potentially more lethal sting because entrepreneurs look to them most for support.

When we do not understand or are tired of the well-intentioned doomsday prophet, there will be resentment and even anger. Matters are made worse when detractors seek to wield financial or emotional power in order to have their way.  If you are a parent or partner who use such tactics please remember that you have got one life to live and so does your relative. I doubt you consciously want to be a “poacher” of someone’s life.  If you are the entrepreneur, know that your life is yours to live.

How then do you overcome the overbearing naysayer and unintended deprecator?

 First, understand that while black and Caribbean entrepreneurs are likely to hear those intended “words of wisdom” which in fact lack even shadows of wisdom— they are not alone. In every social group the ears of the young in business will be assaulted by family and peers who doubt or fear for them.

Second, remember naysayers are more risk averse; that is why they are not entrepreneurs. Their fears are real. They do not have many success stories of their own kin who have led big businesses. Some have shared negative business journeys with family and friends while others are acting from the negative half of their view of the world. Uncle John and Aunt Lou tried their hands at business but failed to attract  enough customers. Understand their frame of reference!

Some operate from a position of wisdom.  But wisdom for whom? Yes, they have seen the lack of support for the black and Caribbean enterprise in their communities and feel forced to warn you. Because your loved ones do not see business as a feasible option for ensuring your financial wellbeing or for making a basic living, they have no logical basis for supporting you. Your view is different. So, you must find creative solutions for maintaining harmonious relationships while bearing your own weight and growing your business.

Many among us lack entrepreneurial experience and that drives the persistent fear of doing business. Even you experience that fear at times when doors are slammed in your face. So, empathize with your parents or loved ones even as you reinforce the boundaries of respect for yourself and your business. You must realize that their intent is not to harm you or to show disrespect. It is merely their crimpling fear that is rooted in caring; though it will hold you back, if you let it.

Don’t expect a culture that supports and promote entrepreneurship to emerge to meet your needs when there exists no universal training in entrepreneurship and historically your people have served more in micro-businesses and as employees compared to others.

Be grateful, for even partial support from naysayer-parents. They are the ones who will ensure you eat, wear clothes, get to the doctor when clients and customers don’t pay and the bank won’t give you a loan.

Some wives and husbands who are irritating and backstabbing naysayers make the sacrifice to hold down jobs they would rather quit because the bills must be paid while you experiment with growing your business.  To make it work for you and your family, you must walk around in their shoes even as you stick to your calling.  Caring for the significant persons in your life despite their lack of faith and understanding will help you to make the right decisions for yourself and your business. Besides, you might discover new revenue streams or opportunities.

When you succeed and can demonstrate the outcomes and impact of your business (even if not on the scale of a Daniel Taylor, Metro Design, Lowell Hawthorne, Golden Krust or Thalia Lyn, Island Grill); and you can share your journey as an entrepreneur, you will help to make starting and growing a business a more feasible idea for parents, loved ones, educators and others in your community.

If you doubt me watch carefully what happens to your network while you are growing your business, especially if you had what they deemed to be a “great job” before. Watch what happens when that business begins to take off.

Let’s use understanding and success to root out fear and under representation of high performing Caribbean businesses. In today’s world when technology is replacing jobs, and you are likely among the first to go, entrepreneurships is a must for providing solutions as much as it is for survival.

 (Meegan Scott is a Jamaica-born Strategic Management Consultant in Toronto.)