We all know that the pandemic has made life quite tough. We feel it. We understand it. We are living through it. But with every cloud, there's a silver lining, and it's great to be inspired by powerful women who have been able to surpass just surviving and find ways to thrive, especially professionally.
Take a cue from these three entrepreneurs who were able to throw fear and panic to the wind and get to the bag by being creative, remaining resilient, and using their talents to stay afloat:
Multiple Streams of Income and Going 100% Digital Saved the Day for Rhonesha Byng
Courtesy of Rhonesha Byng
When Rhonesha Byng founded Her Agenda, an online community for millennials, in 2008, it was a recessionary time around the world that posed challenges for professionals and businesses alike. She has been able to tap into the creativity, resilience, and tenacity built during that time to find success during today's pandemic. "When Her Agenda first launched we were unable to raise investment capital from venture capitalists so we doubled down on building our revenue streams."
Her platform offers content on job seeking, career advancement, mentorship and entrepreneurship and has expanded to provide exclusive resources via Her Agenda INSIDERS where professionals pay for membership and get access to mentorship services, exclusive events, job listings from the hidden market, and peer-to-peer connections. Her Agenda also worked with companies to reach and serve millennials.
"Our biggest revenue driver was our work with brands for sponsored content. This all came to a complete stop in March which impacted us greatly as a business, but we could still make it through (and pay our writers and team) because although our INSIDER community isn't our biggest revenue source, it is consistent."
During COVID, she decided to take Her Agenda 100% digital. "We were used to doing a mix of in-person and virtual programming, but now we are all virtual. We had to get creative with how we work with our partners and sponsors so we could still provide value and engagement," Byng says. "Recently, we kicked off a new partnership with Bank of America called Property and Power to educate millennial women about affordable and sustainable homeownership. Within this series, we're offering a mix of articles and live virtual events across Twitter, Instagram and culminating toward a live panel that will replicate the feeling of being in person and allow our audience to get answers to the questions they have about the homeownership process."
Thinking about how to expand her revenue streams while serving her customers and community, which includes thousands of millennial professionals and entrepreneurs, was her saving grace. "What helped us to hone in on this idea was using the Business Model Canvas to define our value proposition and map out the business," Byng adds. "This is when the idea for INSIDERS came about and we launched our online community hosted in a private app. The lesson in this is of course [to] have multiple revenue streams, but beyond that, look to your audience, build it into a community, and don't be afraid to come to them for support or create a pathway that allows them to support you while you provide a service in return!"
Byng also recommends doing your research and finding other ways you can monetize what you offer. "There are so many resources that have been created during the pandemic to support Black women-owned businesses," she says. "It can be a lot to keep up with, which is why I personally curate a monthly grant round up email to provide our audience with the information of the grant programs, fellowships, and funding opportunities they should have on their radar."
Relying on Her Tribe and Purpose Led to Eunique Jones Gibson Expanding Her Brand
Photo by Ashleigh Bing
As founder of Because of Them We Can, Eunique Jones Gibson wanted to continue to expand her purpose of linking culture and community. She initially came up with the idea of a game centered on black culture in 2019, and she began keeping ideas about it on the Notes app on her phone. She knew she wanted to do something that would further highlight black excellence and be a fun way for people to connect and be entertained. Being a master at figuring out acronyms, she had an aha moment, and in came #CultureTags. After talking about the game with close friend and author Luvvie Ajayi, she was urged to get started with making the idea a reality. "She showed up for me and really pushed for me to double down on my dopeness," Gibson recalls.
Gibson decided to look further to her extended tribe and launched a Kickstarter, getting more than $35,000 in support and receiving thousands of pre-orders. She also began doing live events with her community where the game could be played and experienced in real time. A representative from Target noticed what she was doing and the success of the Kickstarter campaign, and Gibson was able to connect further with their team to get the game into stores this year. She gave the "pitch of her life," went through the supplier production planning and vetting process, and the rest is history. The game hit shelves shortly after Thanksgiving and just in time for Christmas. "It's like Taboo for the culture," Gibson says. "You can play it in person or virtually." The game tests players' knowledge of popular phrases and concepts specific to black culture, from entertainment to music to fashion and more.
For other entrepreneurs who are looking to pivot and continue expanding their brands, Gibson says, "Be open to inspiration [and] don't box yourself into one perspective." She also adds that having a good team of people around you and leaning on your tribe and your purpose within that tribe is more than important. "For me, it's always been culture and community, and it makes it easier to move to something else when there's that common thread of purpose."
Switching Industries and Using Soft Skills Brought Shana Cole Bankable Wins
Courtesy of Shana Cole
Shana Cole started her makeup line All Dolled Up Cosmetics in 2014, and since then, the brand has evolved into The Shana Cole Collection and expanded from Kingston, Jamaica to the U.S. As a makeup artist and stylist, she's worked with the who's who of the Caribbean, from radio and TV host Khadine "Miss Kitty" Hylton to dancehall sensations Vanessa Bling and CeCile, to top professionals at corporate powerhouse Sangicor. Her brand also caught the attention of dozens of social media and beauty influencers, which led to even more growth in sales.
For someone who's whole business was about person-to-person contact, COVID-19 put more than a dent in her revenue and further expansion. Cole had to make some hard decisions. "We were locked inside so no one was really wearing makeup," Cole says. "I had one store in the Bronx, and I still have a store in Jamaica. They both were closed for months because of COVID and that led me to paying all the bills out of pocket. I ended up closing the one in the Bronx after realizing that I won't be opening back up fully any time soon. Even when [the world] opened up a little, I still didn't really want to run back to doing makeup because the contact between clients and I would be so close and doing their makeup while they wear a mask, I couldn't even imagine it."
Being the enterprising woman she is, she decided to get into an area where there was clearly a need, especially with COVID-19 driving everyone to focus more on feeling good and surviving. She decided to become an independent contractor with Total Life Changes (TLC), a direct sales company that offers supplements, wealth-building, essential oil and hygiene products.
"I started my health and wellness business back in October but didn't have the time to give it full attention until the lockdown. At that time, I started caking on that because that's where my focus went and that's how I was able to pay all my bills. I ranked all the way up [in sales] through the entire course of COVID, and I was just hitting ranks back to back. I would say it has been a blessing and a curse, but I'm still thankful because I did really big numbers and learned so much."
Cole says that she began being more vocal about the wellness products and got serious about gaining more knowledge of the business. "I stayed consistent so people could see that I take my business seriously. I am now at a brand-new rank within my company—the 2nd highest—and I have ladies who I work with who also learned to be consistent and were able to do really well in the business. I have earned multiple six figures during COVID which pits me to the most money I've ever made from a business in such a short space of time." She adds that she even found new love, made connections with other high-earning businesswomen, and has been coached by the best of the best in the wellness industry. "It sounds weird but I've had the most success I've ever had during the pandemic."
Building relationships and closing sales was nothing new to Cole, and she was able to use those soft skills to win big in a totally different industry. She says discipline and holding on to hope helped her transition into a new business adventure. "You can't prevent what happens in the world, so you just have to pray about it, help who you can, and continue doing what you do because life still happens. Stay consistent no matter what. If you truly believe in your business or career, you are going to do what it takes to take it to the next level."
Featured image courtesy of Rhonesha Byng
Exclusive: Gabrielle Union On Radical Transparency, Being Diagnosed With Perimenopause And Embracing What’s Next
Whenever Gabrielle Union graces the movie screen, she immediately commands attention. From her unforgettable scenes in films like Bring It On and Two Can Play That Game to her most recent film, in which she stars and produces Netflix’s The Perfect Find, there’s no denying that she is that girl.
Off-screen, she uses that power for good by sharing her trials and tribulations with other women in hopes of helping those who may be going through the same things or preventing them from experiencing them altogether. Recently, the Flawless by Gabrielle Union founder partnered with Clearblue to speak at the launch of their Menopause Stage Indicator, where she also shared her experience with being perimenopausal.
In a xoNecoleexclusive, the iconic actress opens up about embracing this season of her life, new projects, and overall being a “bad motherfucker.” Gabrielle reveals that she was 37 years old when she was diagnosed with perimenopause and is still going through it at 51 years old. Mayo Clinic says perimenopause “refers to the time during which your body makes the natural transition to menopause, marking the end of the reproductive years.”
“I haven't crossed over the next phase just yet, but I think part of it is when you hear any form of menopause, you automatically think of your mother or grandmother. It feels like an old-person thing, but for me, I was 37 and like not understanding what that really meant for me. And I don't think we focus so much on the word menopause without understanding that perimenopause is just the time before menopause,” she tells us.
Photo by Brian Thomas
"But you can experience a lot of the same things during that period that people talk about, that they experienced during menopause. So you could get a hot flash, you could get the weight gain, the hair loss, depression, anxiety, like all of it, mental health challenges, all of that can come, you know, at any stage of the menopausal journey and like for me, I've been in perimenopause like 13, 14 years. When you know, most doctors are like, ‘Oh, but it's usually about ten years, and I'm like, ‘Uhh, I’m still going (laughs).’”
Conversations about perimenopause, fibroids, and all the things that are associated with women’s bodies have often been considered taboo and thus not discussed publicly. However, times are changing, and thanks to the Gabrielle’s and the Tia Mowry’s, more women are having an authentic discourse about women’s health. These open discussions lead to the creation of more safe spaces and support for one another.
“I want to be in community with folks. I don't ever want to feel like I'm on an island about anything. So, if I can help create community where we are lacking, I want to be a part of that,” she says. “So, it's like there's no harm in talking about it. You know what I mean? Like, I was a bad motherfucker before perimenopause. I’m a bad motherfucker now, and I'll be a bad motherfucker after menopause. Know what I’m saying? None of that has to change. How I’m a bad motherfucker, I welcome that part of the change. I'm just getting better and stronger and more intelligent, more wise, more patient, more compassionate, more empathetic. All of that is very, very welcomed, and none of it should be scary.”
The Being Mary Jane star hasn’t been shy about her stance on therapy. If you don’t know, here’s a hint: she’s all for it, and she encourages others to try it as well. She likens therapy to dating by suggesting that you keep looking for the right therapist to match your needs. Two other essential keys to her growth are radical transparency and radical acceptance (though she admits she is still working on the latter).
"I was a bad motherfucker before perimenopause. I’m a bad motherfucker now, and I'll be a bad motherfucker after menopause. Know what I’m saying? None of that has to change. How I’m a bad motherfucker, I welcome that part of the change."
Gabrielle Union and Kaavia Union-Wade
Photo by Monica Schipper/Getty Images
“I hope that a.) you recognize that you're not alone. Seek out help and know that it's okay to be honest about what the hell is happening in your life. That's the only way that you know you can get help, and that's also the only other way that people know that you are in need if there's something going on,” she says, “because we have all these big, very wild, high expectations of people, but if they don't know what they're actually dealing with, they're always going to be failing, and you will always be disappointed. So how about just tell the truth, be transparent, and let people know where you are. So they can be of service, they can be compassionate.”
Gabrielle’s transparency is what makes her so relatable, and has so many people root for her. Whether through her TV and film projects, her memoirs, or her social media, the actress has a knack for making you feel like she’s your homegirl. Scrolling through her Instagram, you see the special moments with her family, exciting new business ventures, and jaw-dropping fashion moments. Throughout her life and career, we’ve seen her evolve in a multitude of ways. From producing films to starting a haircare line to marriage and motherhood, her journey is a story of courage and triumph. And right now, in this season, she’s asking, “What’s next?”
“This is a season of discovery and change. In a billion ways,” says the NAACP Image Award winner. “The notion of like, ‘Oh, so and so changed. They got brand new.’ I want you to be brand new. I want me to be brand new. I want us to be always constantly growing, evolving. Having more clarity, moving with different purpose, like, and all of that is for me very, very welcomed."
"I want you to be brand new. I want me to be brand new. I want us to be always constantly growing, evolving. Having more clarity, moving with different purpose, like, and all of that is for me very, very welcomed."
She continues, “So I'm just trying to figure out what's next. You know what I mean? I'm jumping into what's next. I'm excited going into what's next and new. I'm just sort of embracing all of what life has to offer.”
Look out for Gabrielle in the upcoming indie film Riff Raff, which is a crime comedy starring her and Jennifer Coolidge, and she will also produce The Idea of You, which stars Anne Hathaway.
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When we think about our overall health, how we keep up without physical strength and emotional endurance are often a top priority. But another muscle that’s just as important to keep sharp and in shape is our brain.
Our brain is the control center for everything we do. From its ability to keep our memory and motor skills in running order to maintaining the millions of subconscious functions that we’re unaware of, our mind is essential for overall well-being and quality of life. And while the wonders of our brain’s full capacity still remain a mystery, one thing that we can be sure of is its complex nature that controls one important factor, cognition.
“Brain cognition is a term for the mental processes that take place in the brain, including thinking, attention, language, learning, memory, and perception,” Anna Braunsdorf, VP of Content at Elevate Labs, tells xoNecole. “It's a critical part of our day-to-day life as it helps us understand and interact with the world around us.”
The brain is responsible for the storage and retrieval of information, allowing us to remember past experiences and learn from them. It controls our ability to focus on specific tasks or stimuli while filtering out irrelevant information and is crucial for language processing, including understanding, speaking, reading, and writing.
As we age, the need to keep our minds sharp and focused is more important than ever, and it’s never too early to start.
With November officially serving Alzheimer's Awareness Month, it’s important to recognize and understand the causes and preventive measures to take with this common disease that primarily affects memory, cognitive function, and the ability to carry out daily activities.
Thankfully, there are a number of specific exercises and practices that can contribute to and improve cognitive well-being. “We can do a lot of easy things to support our cognitive well-being on a daily basis, such as completing memory exercises, playing word games, meditating, and practicing mental math,” Braunsdorf says.
“Unsurprisingly, in this digital age, there are a host of apps available to support us in improving these skills while also making it fun. From Elevate, which trains practical cognitive skills in the areas of vocabulary, memory, reading, writing, speaking, and math through fun, research-backed games, to Balance, which is a highly personalized meditation app that can improve people's stress, sleep, focus, and mood, people can easily work on improving their cognitive well-being with the help of mobile apps,” she adds.
Engaging in activities that stimulate the brain promotes improved memory, clearer thinking, and reduced anxiety and depression, better mental health. Improved cognitive health is essential for overall cognitive well-being.
“The National Institute on Aging clinical research has reported that engaging in activities like music, theater, dance, and creative writing can improve quality of life and well-being in older adults, boosting their memory and self-esteem and reducing their stress and loneliness,” she says.
“As I like to put it: Physical health can help you live a long life, but cognitive health makes that life worth living.”
The road to a stronger and healthier brain doesn’t have to feel like mental gymnastics. In fact, Braunsdorf says that solving puzzles, especially crossword puzzles, is an effective way to maintain cognitive sharpness and have fun while doing it.
“Studies published in top medical journals have found that solving crossword puzzles, in particular, can improve cognition, problem-solving, and memory skills. According to a Harvard study, crossword puzzles can improve thinking and memory almost as much as an FDA-approved memory-enhancing medication by engaging multiple regions of the brain and training them to link new concepts together,” she says.
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Featured image by Vuk Saric/Getty Images