“Healing” and “intersectionality” aren’t words typically thrown around in entrepreneurial success stories, and if they are, they may be masked by the more ubiquitous terms such as “drive,” “gumption,” and “sacrifice.” Dr. Venus Opal Reese places all of these ideas front and center in her work to help Black women entrepreneurs “heal their way to their first million” and overcome entrepreneurial challenges.
Reese is certainly an expert in dusting yourself off and making your own way, when the world may not see or share your vision. As a teenager, Reese was homeless on the streets of Baltimore struggling to get through high school. With the help of her math teacher, whom she affectionately calls “nanna,” Reese submitted an essay to an NAACP competition, winning enough money to attend college and earn a doctorate in literary theory from Stanford University.
Even after escaping her difficult adolescence, Reese still had to battle rejection. Thirty publishing houses passed on her book, “The Black Woman Millionaire: A Revolutionary Act That Defies Impossible,” before Reese made the decision to self-publish. Reese’s belief that women’s power and earning potential lies, not in their skill, but in their story, has inspired numerous women to overcome their own entrepreneurial challenges, and earned Reese a spot on the best-seller list. Here are her tips for turning “pain into profit.”
1.) Get comfortable with being uncomfortable:
Reese’s secure life as a professor was jolted when she was turned down for tenure by her university. “My faculty — people I had thought were my ‘friends’ — voted against me,” Reese said. But the startling rejection revealed to her that she’d been living beneath her potential. “I was just collecting a check. My life was bigger than the classroom,” she said. Once Reese decided to do more than what paid her bills, her journey to full-fledged entrepreneurship began.
2.) If you don’t love yourself, no one will love your business:
Reese’s journey to self-employment also forced her to reckon with her feelings about herself. “I had to confront myself to stop trying to make people want me or love me,” she said. “I decided that day that I loved me — bruised, damaged me. God loved me. And I realized it was time to find others who did, too.”
Reese’s search led her to speaking engagements where she found acceptance sharing her story of growing up as a Black woman in Baltimore, Maryland who’d been on her own since she was 16 years old. “No one has your story,” Reese said. “Sisters can have financial freedom when they learn how to make money from what they ‘know’ instead of what they ‘do.’”
3.) Working for free can get your foot in the door:
Reese didn’t start out getting paid for her story. Her pro bono speaking gigs for top-tier organizations like The Rotary Club and the Urban League, and networking events for high-level executives ended up being excellent lead generation tools. “You name it, I tried it,” she said.
4.) Learn to delegate:
Rather than make the mistake of trying to do everything alone out of the gate, Reese recommended hiring for help. Getting help with things like accounting and bookkeeping can reduce the stress of running a business. “Just hire them for a few hours a month — you will train yourself to delegate instead of doing it all yourself, and you will know you have your books in order when it comes to taxes. Your attorney can draft agreement templates that you can use for various vendors so you are protected,” she said.
5.) It takes a village:
Reese was only too happy to discuss her “tribe,” the followers she has helped with her story. In fact, this tribe convinced her to self-publish after her book was rejected. Reese uses regular check-ins and conversations with this group to keep her centered and focused on her mission. “I go on Facebook Live with my tribe at least once a week,” Reese said. “Pouring into my tribe reminds me that I am doing God’s work. It’s not about me.” Reese also keeps her family close. Reese’s wife, Nanna, and sister all work and tour with her company Defy Impossible.
“Defy Impossible is a family business,” Reese added.