Negotiating Boundaries as a Black Female Social Entrepreneur


As you begin to build your business and brand, there will be several types of people you encounter who will be interested in working with you. This is especially true if you have a novel and exciting business idea and have demonstrated some success in your work. It certainly is an exciting time to get recognition for your business and have people want to offer you money, resources, and acclaim. However, it is important to be able to recognize and negotiate boundaries to avoid being taken advantage of and to protect your brand. This is especially important as a Black woman because there are certain biases that shape the way people approach you as an entrepreneur.

In particular, there are several ways that people have crossed the line with me as I have grown my business and I have had to learn some tough lessons as a result. As a speaker, researcher, and community organizer, I have encountered too many people who ask me to speak at their event or help organize their event for free. At first, I agreed to help because I believed in whatever cause they were promoting. However, as the event approached, I realized how much time, energy, and financial resources I was expending to help them. As a Black woman, I also felt compelled to help "my people" because I am aware that many organizations do not have the financial resources or skill set to service their clients and promote their activities. I have been taught to "shut up and do the work" that needs to be done to help vulnerable populations. HOWEVER, after years of expending my energy and resources to help those in need, I have realized that I am also in "need!"

As my elders would say, "You can do volunteer work on your free time. This is your business and you should expect to be compensated!"

The challenge, of course, is that because my work is considered a "social enterprise," it can easily blur the lines of "volunteer" and "entrepreneur." It is important to delineate the difference for yourself and uphold those boundaries for others. Here are my tips for negotiating boundaries as a Black female entrepreneur:

1. Delegate a certain percentage of your work as "donated" to an organization in need.

2. Select one organization with which you will "donate" your small percentage of time and resources.

3. Be prepared to say "NO" to a lot of seemingly great causes and opportunities.

4. Be specific and unapologetic about which opportunities align with your mission and goals. Do not say yes to anything that deviates from helping you achieve those things.

5. When asked to help an organization, speak at an event, or provide other resources, politely send your price list or set up a time to talk about developing a budget proposal based on their needs.

6. Do not be afraid to be upfront about your paid services.

7. Suggest other colleagues who might be willing to do the work for less or for free.

8. Develop a standard operating procedure that requires requests to be submitted at least one month in advance and provides a specific list of tasks/resources/funding needed.

9. Delegate tasks to interns and staff to free your time.

10. Know your strengths. You cannot be everything to everyone.

Allison Mathews