1. Figure out how to get access to capital.
“If you’re trying to raise capital just chill,” Bell says, explaining that “chill” can serve as a useful acronym.
C means “cover your own basics.” Bell says a certain amount of building is required before investors are going to want to send money your way. “Investors don’t invest in you to go, they invest in you to grow,” Bell continues. “Nobody wants to invest in a car without wheels [so] if you don’t have anything, you’re pre-revenue, then you’re going to have to find your own way to build.”
H stands for “have your numbers top of mind.” Often, Bell says, people don’t adequately budget for the cost of doing business. “Focus on the cost of doing business,” Bell adds. “Know how much it will take to get a profit, and know how much it’s costing you.”
I stands for “illustrate and demonstrate.” Bell explains that, sometimes, founders’ pitch decks are beautiful but what they say is different than what the founder herself is saying. “You can tell somebody else made that deck,” Bell adds, noting that it can also go the other way around, where the pitch deck isn’t so great but what the founder says is. “Make sure [what the things you say and show] match and make sure you’re executing.”
The double L stands for “look and listen.” Bell says Look means researching, looking at what investors are investing in. “[An] investor is your customer, they are just another type of customer base,” she continued, and having that alignment means it’s easier to get capital and misalignment means you could both be wasting your time.
2. Get to know more people.
When it comes to getting money, Bell makes it clear “you’re going to get money from people you know.”
Bell says one’s network is like a linen closet—you don’t always remember that you had that extra blanket until someone comes over to stay the night. “Most of the time you’re within six degrees of who you need,” Bell continues. She advises founders to start by following people on social media, watching what they say, what they take photos of. “A lot of the time they will be speaking on panels, [and] when you walk up you don’t have to be a stranger,” Bell says. “You have an immediate common ground for you to now build off of.”
Similarly, Bell encourages founders not to be afraid to ask for introductions. “You’re more likely to build a relationship if someone else introduces you or is talking about you, so anytime you have champions in your life, you should equip them with the language to speak about what you’re doing.”
3. Create an advisory board.
People often say we are a combination of those we surround ourselves with, and Bell agrees. She encourages entrepreneurs to identify people who are a few steps in front of them, as well as some who are a long way ahead.
From there, Bell recommends putting together an advisory board of people who are going in a direction you’d like to. Sometimes, these networks can be found in accelerator programs or other entrepreneurial communities, though Bell acknowledges that many accelerator programs aren’t always accessible to women of color founders.
Regardless of where you find them, Bell says a strong advisory board can make all the difference. “Make sure you can ask questions and have them make introductions for you,” Bell says.
4. Build yourself up.
Though logistical approaches to securing capital are important, there are internal factors at play, as well; one of them is imposter syndrome.
“There is no easy way to deal with imposter syndrome,” Bell says. But she does believe there are some tools that women founders of color can have in their arsenal, including keeping track of important personal milestones. “Write down your accomplishments, I don’t care if it’s that you made honor roll in the third grade. Write down 100 things and keep a running list,” she adds, noting that every time you accomplish something new you can add it to your list and refer back whenever you need a pick-me-up.
Though Bell admits self care has become a buzzword, she says that it can really look like anything. Including reading books that can help shift your perception of yourself and your capacity (she recommends reading The Four Agreements and A Whole New Mind).
Ultimately, when it comes to starting a successful business as a woman of color, there are undeniable roadblocks, but Bell encourages perseverance and self-confidence. “Don’t spend time worrying about whether your idea is good or bad—spend every available moment trying to find the person who will buy from you.”
Bell adds that a good idea doesn’t necessarily translate into an instant success, just like there are many business ideas that aren’t very good. “Every time you put a straw into a juice box you get splashed with juice. That’s a terrible idea—but we’re still using it because we don’t have a better idea for portable juice,” Bell says.
“Ultimately, don’t worry about whether or not [an idea] is good or bad, find [somebody who will buy it],” Bell concludes. “They may not be in your neighborhood, your family—doesn’t matter. Somebody out there needs what you have.