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4 lessons from America’s first Black woman millionaire

In honor of Black History Month, we are highlighting lessons learned from the first Black woman millionaire in the U.S., Madam C.J. Walker, who took her cosmetics and hair care company from small business, circa 1906, to a global brand, which surpassed her death until its closure in 1981. Madam C.J. Walker overcame multiple obstacles, including racial and gender barriers (she was born to formerly enslaved parents), as well as extreme poverty and becoming an orphan at only 7 years old. While Madam C.J. Walker’s story may seem unique and specific to her time, check out these 4 lessons that still apply to businesses today.

  1. Build a business around your own needs or problems. Madam C.J. Walker started her business after suffering from dandruff and other skin disorders. She made a great salesperson and business owner for her cosmetics and hair care business because she was her original customer; she knew what customers needed.

  2. Start small. Don’t rush to compare yourself to big and established brands. Madam C.J. Walker began by selling her products door-to-door and gained a following by offering high-quality products and teaching her audience how to gain the most benefits from her products. Eventually this combination led to many retail shops, hair dressing schools, and even business conferences to support her business community, all of which began with just a few customers.

  3. Reinvest in your business. Madam C.J. Walker didn’t only take her profit and put it away in savings. Instead, she grew the business by training salespeople and continued to develop new products, including tools and machines, to support the business and her customers. Having a sound financial strategy is key to growing the various parts of your business, which is why we believe it’s important to support businesses with cash flow management to support businesses with growth without the financial stress.

  4. Support your community. Last, but not least, Madam C.J. Walker consistently gave back to her community by teaching hair care and sales, as well as financial independence and business skills, in addition to making multiple donations to several organizations that aligned with her values. Teaching is very important to us at SMG Business Services, which we implement it at every level of the business, from supporting our clients, to internal trainings, to offering free business courses to early-stage and aspiring women and people of color entrepreneurs.

Madam C.J. Walker grew a sustainable business with very little resources by partnering with her family and community. Her story is one that exemplifies the power of women, especially women of color, in reaching unbelievable goals. To learn more about Madam C.J. Walker, click here.


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