A big part of the American Dream is entrepreneurship. Unfortunately, it’s not an easy road to go down. According to Entrepreneur, “approximately 20 percent of small businesses fail within the first year. By the end of the second year, 30 percent of businesses will have failed. By the end of the fifth year, about half will have failed. And by the end of the decade, only 30 percent of businesses will remain—a 70 percent failure rate.”
Those are sobering statistics for anyone with aspirations to become a business owner. If you spend any time online, you already know that there are a plethora of people exalting the idea of being their own boss, making their own hours, and showing all the success they’ve found. But we all know people tend to put their best foot forward online and leave all the missteps off the timeline, which makes it harder to determine whether to take the leap. That’s why I wanted to catch up with Monique Parker, owner, and founder of Blow Candle Co. She’s been there.
“My full-time career was in diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). I moved to Texas for a job and intended to rise in the ranks because I wanted to be a chief diversity officer in the tech space. That's the direction I was marching in prior to becoming a candle lady.”
She started Blow in 2020, during a pandemic, a racial reckoning, and grieving the death of her brother, DaVaughn. Three years into it, Parker has expanded her business to include opening a studio, candle-making workshops—where customers can socialize and create custom scents— and helping to develop a thriving entrepreneurial community.
If that wasn’t enough, she also started a non-profit called, Little Bit of Good—a “capacity building accelerator program for non-profits in the Central Texas region, with a focus on Black-led and predominately Black serving organizations”—and joined forces with concrete artist, Sarah Miller—owner of Awkward Auntie—to start LABLD, a “technical platform that helps product-based businesses better connect with and sell to wholesalers and retailers.”
Parker is BUSY, but she made time to chat with Black Girl Times (BGX) about her journey into small-business ownership, what potential entrepreneurs should keep in mind as they build their businesses, and why success looks different to her now.
What do people get wrong about entrepreneurship?
A lot of things. The definition of success—and what success looks like—have changed over the years.
I went into building a business thinking, “Okay, I put something out there and people bought it, I'm going to build a website, and then more people are going to buy it, and then I'm going to go to these markets, and then people are going to learn about me.”
You think that's how people start generating sales, or once someone buys things two times, then they're going to buy everything every time you have a drop. That's not at all realistic [but it was] definitely [ a thing I thought]—I'm a Virgo, so there is a roadmap to everything—but running a business is not linear in any way.
I’ve had to adjust to pivoting, being flexible, and changing my perspective and thoughts. When we opened the studio, I thought revenue was my main indicator for success. But I now know that the companies I admire, they've been in existence for 10 years. They [weren’t immediately successful]. So I have to take a step back and say, “Okay, I may not be paying myself a six-figure salary, but we kept the lights on this month and got all of our orders out,” and that is fantastic.
Business owners, entrepreneurs, future entrepreneurs look at how much money is this going to make us? How much shine are we going to get? How many followers and likes? If that's all you're focused on, you will be out of this so fast because your feelings will get hurt. It just doesn't happen like that.
Blow Candle Co. and other local businesses collaborate regularly—online and in person. How important is community building to entrepreneurial endeavors?
The most important. Entrepreneurship is a very lonely career path because it's just you initially. You're building something that’s in your head, and there's a lot of learning to do. Because of social media you're always going to put your best foot forward when it comes to branding and marketing. Because of that, everybody always thinks that they must be at a certain level, or they need to be perceived as doing well or super successful, which leads them to only talking about their troubles in their heads or people close to them who aren't in the same position. Having a creative or entrepreneurial community that understands what you're going through, where you can be transparent, is so important to keeping you motivated.
As a business owner, I can go to my community and be like, “Yo, I am two weeks behind on the rent this month, and I'm freaking out.” And they'll be like, “Girl, don't even worry. Two months ago, I was three months behind, and it's okay, we made it.” Or they'll say, “you know, what can we do?” “Here's who you should talk to,” or “maybe you should try this.”
They act as a resource and remind you that you're not alone. [That isolation] slows a lot of entrepreneurs down. They're thinking “okay, I'm not doing this well, I need to pivot, and do this.” If they heard someone say, “Oh, I was going through that, here's what I tried, just keep going,” it would have been a different story. Having that community, utilizing that community in the ways that you need is so important, and so helpful for growth.
What things do you think keep people from trying to start a business?
The scarcity mindset, especially when it comes to businesses where there's a lot of competition in that vertical or industry, sometimes keeps people from trying or creating businesses because they think there's already enough people doing that. People should keep in mind that most of the time, especially in the very beginning, people are buying into you. Yes, you want to have a good product or service but don’t let that be a roadblock about thinking about an idea.
Black businesses often deal with being judged more critically than non-Black businesses. Have you noticed this as you’ve built your business and how have you dealt with those assumptions?
It's true. It’s on both ends.
There are all these initiatives to support Black business—especially within the Black community. [It’s always] “support fellow Black businesses and don't let the Black dollar leave our community” but we probably see the highest level of critique from our own community regarding product and pricing. [Many times, it’s let’s] “cut a deal or can we do a trade?” more than not.
At first, I took everything to heart. I [would think] “ok, I need to look at our pricing [when people would make that comment] because I was trying to make something for my people. Granted, candles are for everybody, but I'm a Black woman. When I go out and I commune with my customers I would love for that to predominantly be the Black community. However, in the last three years, I've seen a bit of a struggle that I don't know how to pinpoint.
There's the argument that [Black people] are quick to spend major dollars on brands, but when it comes to someone trying to get their business off the ground, we're like, “oh, that label doesn't look good,” or “oh, that didn't work well,” or whatever. Granted, there are some cases where I will go out of my way to support a Black business and the service won't be good; I understand [complaints in] those scenarios. But in a case where there’s a [vendor] market, you don't need to go up and complain about the pricing. I rather you just not say anything at all.
I’m intentional when it comes to collaborations to work with people of color and always uplift Black-owned businesses because there's a need for that community. But when it comes to my clientele, I no longer specifically try to appease our community. It's conflicting to say, but ultimately, I make intentional decisions in other areas. As customers and clientele, many of us just aren’t there yet.
On the other end, identifying as a Black-owned business to non-Black people almost creates a feeling of tokenism. There are times where white women will come into my studio, or come up to my table to buy something, and express that they were so excited to come and purchase from me, because it’s a Black-owned business. While part of me understands where the compliment is coming from, I don’t enjoy people wanting to support me, because I'm a minority, as opposed to because my stuff is good. That's not a compliment to what I'm building.
A portion of the proceeds of every candle you sell “goes directly to the organization in order to support and enrich the programs and resources they provide for women.” Why is it important to give back so early into your business journey?
In our first two years, we partnered with other nonprofits specifically supporting women. And that was because one, I was coming from a space where I wanted to support nonprofits. And, because I was viewing this as my side hustle. I have a really good job making good money and I didn't want to be selfish. I wanted to give some of this money back.
Our first year, we only worked with organizations that supported Black women and then in our second we branched out to supporting more creatives and women in business because I saw a lot of women wanting to try creative businesses. Now in year three—after opening the studio— the support goes by way of sharing the physical space. We host networking workshops, co-working space, work on grants, and we also open the space for other workshops and rentals.
My feeling is that once one of us has a space, all of us has a space. It’s so necessary for any type of creative or somebody trying to build a community. It’s hard out here. If we can do something to better support somebody that takes nothing from me.
Now, I don't recommend businesses in their first couple of years to do a give back unless it's very specific—$1 per every $50—because it does cut into your revenue that most people don't have in their first year.
What’s next for you?
All the things. My focus outside of revenue and figuring out alternative means to generate revenue is creating a format for this business that is both successful—in terms of we can pay the bills, we're making money—but also allows me to continue being creative and doing what I love about this. We're on a retail schedule, we do our seasonal drops and have our signature collection that doesn't really change, but I found that my passion and drive come from creating and introducing new scents.
So now my focus has been figuring out a new schedule where I get to have fun, my customers will have the scents they love, but I can drop on a more frequent schedule.
I really love the intersection of branding and scent, and how scent can enhance brand recognition or the customer experience when they're in your space. I'd love to work with more brands in that area.
I'm just excited.
I feel very grateful to be able to build and try things. The more that I try the more comfortable I get with the thought of failure. Looking at the last three years, all of the moments where I was like, “Oh my gosh, I failed.” It has truly been a learning [opportunity] for the next big thing. Now I kind of look at those things like okay, something bigger is coming.
I love this this little creative, crazy, risky, stressful role I made.
What is one action that a budding entrepreneur could take today?
Reach out to people in your industry. You might think they're doing amazing things, [then you] reach out, and learn they only had two sales last month and it's just Instagram that you see.
Reach out—be respectful of course—but approach people [let them know] “you're doing a fantastic job, and I would love to have a 30-minute chat with you just to pick your brain about things.” People are often open to that. Don’t be afraid.
Perdita Patrice is a Texas-based writer and documentary filmmaker. She enjoys live music, reading, and watching TV. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram @perditapatrice