Since the death of George Floyd in 2020, the world has had many conversations about diversity and inclusion. However, within the small business community, oftentimes the conversation around this very important topic hovers at the surface and is focused on marketing strategies—rather than creating intentional relationships with vendors and clients of color. Because of this, Randi Smith feels called to take conversations regarding diversity and inclusion deeper with creative entrepreneurs.
Randi Smith is the founder and lead designer at Sugar Euphoria—a boutique wedding cake and confectionary studio in North Carolina. As she’s navigated through the busyness of being an entrepreneur, cake designer, and mother, she’s faced many challenges, but her story is that of a woman fighting through burnout and working in the negative to have a profitable business.
As a small business owner, Randi has noticed the lack of diversity and inclusion—especially within the wedding industry—and she wants to be a voice that continues the conversations around diversity that are needed today—even if much of the world has once again stopped having these conversations.
What do “diversity” & “inclusion” mean?
As we dive into this conversation of diversity and inclusion, we need to establish a little context for the current climate of diversity and inclusion within the small business industry.
As Randi shares in this episode, before the summer of 2020, there was a definite distinction between wedding vendors of color and white ones. After the murder of George Floyd, there appeared to be a collective effort on the part of white vendors to be more inclusive. For example, there were virtual town halls, conferences, and discussions both online and in person.
For a while, there seemed to be a shift in the content that major publications and vendors were sharing, but for the most part, it was short-lived. As Randi says, “We’re back to business as usual. The color has started to disappear from these spaces again.”
In this episode, Randi shares that this brief shift only scratched the surface of what diversity and inclusion should mean for small business owners. And, it seemed as if most of the efforts toward diversity and inclusion were simply for the sake of checking off a box rather than being intentional about building relationships with vendors and clients of color.
Randi used to define diversity and inclusion for small businesses as more of a process that involved picking out people who looked both similar and different to meet that diversity and inclusion metric. However, Randi now argues that diversity and inclusion are so much more than a simple metric and shares in her own words: “Supporting diversity and inclusion means you’re intentionally seeking people out to shift a cultural or company mindset, and it isn’t just having a person there, but actually listening to them and not just parading them around for marketing.”
In other words, supporting diversity as a small business owner means you’re intentionally inviting people to your table who offer different perspectives and come from different backgrounds (e.g. cultural, religious, etc.) to collectively elevate your businesses and serve a diverse group of people.
What can vendors do to bridge the gap & cultivate genuine connections with vendors of color & different backgrounds?
With an understanding of what diversity and inclusion means, we can move in a more practical application direction for how to support diversity as a small business owner.
In this episode, Randi offers the following three steps for bridging the gap between vendors:
1. Use social media to build connections.
This might sound too simple, but social media is a great place to make connections and start fostering relationships.
In this episode, Randi shares that social media is a great tool to search for vendors of color and different backgrounds. She recommends simply searching for diverse vendors or business owners, seeing whose work you’re drawn to and really like, and then reaching out to those vendors in an effort to begin to foster genuine relationships through your admiration for their work and your shared interest.
Randi adds that in this digital age, you aren’t limited to finding someone just in your local network with whom you can connect; you have the opportunity to reach out to people all over the country and build relationships that are truly diverse and inclusive.
2. Offer compensation when seeking collaboration.
Within the creative entrepreneur industry, there are often opportunities for collaboration. And, in an effort to support diversity and inclusion within the wedding industry, many wedding vendors have tried to organize styled shoots within the last few years specifically with vendors of color.
This is nice in theory, but in this episode, Randi emphasizes that you don’t want to approach someone you’ve never worked with before and ask them to work with you without offering some sort of compensation. (Styled shoots often require vendors to donate their time, talent, and goods for free in exchange for photos and marketing opportunities.)
For example, if you’re a wedding vendor putting on a styled shoot and you reach out to a florist whom you’ve never worked with before, be willing to pay for a portion or all of their services. Afterall, they’re helping you and your goals and are likely receiving the same request from countless others.
Randi shares that your vendor relationships can help diversify your client base. And, to foster that collaborative exchange, it is important to be able to give your vendors some compensation.
3. Have a clear plan for how you’re going to market your work.
If you are going to host a styled shoot or collaborate in another way with vendors of color, it’s important to approach them with a clear marketing plan, so there’s an understanding of how you’ll be working together.
For example, if you’re approaching a vendor to help with a styled shoot, make sure you’re able to share what the photos will be used for (e.g. social media, website, blog, etc.) so that there’s equal exposure of the work you’ve done together.
Regardless of the industry you’re in, collaboration between vendors should be equally reflected in the service or product created so that a broader, more diverse client base can be reached and served well.
How can we cultivate genuine relationships with clients of color & authentically market to clients of different backgrounds?
While forming genuine connections with clients of color and being able to market effectively involves similar steps to building diverse vendor relationships, Randi offers two additional steps needed to connect with diverse clients:
1. Do your research.
First, Randi explains if you’re trying to diversify your client base, then you need to do your research on your potential clients’ traditions, customs, and cultural influences.
For example, if you’re a wedding photographer and you want to work with couples from the Caribbean or different African countries, you need to find out what their wedding traditions are and the cultural expectations associated with weddings.
Even if you’re not in the wedding photography industry, if you know the clients you want to work with, then take the time to learn about their culture, traditions, and customs. Be intentional about the connections you make with your clients and don’t just reach out to diverse clients for the sake of diversity. Reach out because that is who you want to work with and serve well.
2. Show clients of color.
Next, Randi shares that when marketing to diverse clients, you need to make sure you’re showing clients of color.
Randi explains that your diverse clients need to be represented in your marketing materials in prominent ways and not just footnotes on your website, a handful of photos on your Instagram, or a brief mention on your blog.
Basically, marketing is all about being able to show what you are selling. If you’re not showing that you serve a diverse group of clients, people of color likely will not want to work with you. Be intentional about representing diversity in a way that makes people feel welcome.
What can vendors and business owners do today to be more inclusive?
Okay, before we go, let’s talk about what you can do right now to support diversity as a small business owner. Because, this isn’t something you have to put on your “to-do” list for later; this is something you can do as soon as you’re done reading this blog post or listening to this episode.
Randi explains that you can start supporting diversity as a small business owner just by getting online and searching for diverse people to reach out to who are in your community, your network, and even your competitors to collaborate or just build relationships.
When you reach out, make sure you share what you like about their work and ask if they’d like to meet with you either virtually or in person. It might feel awkward at first, but according to Randi, it is a necessary first step in establishing genuine connections.
Friend, I hope you’re ready to take this first step and use the practical guidance Randi shared to help us all support diversity as small business owners through genuine relationships with vendors and clients of color.
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Links & Resources Mentioned in This Episode
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