Bonnie Smith asked herself a simple question as she set out to build Studio B Entertainment without the support of outside investors.
“What do I need in order to just live and pay my bills?” Smith says. “What do I need to make and what happens if I don't make that? It took me about a year of really thinking through the financial decisions I would have to make if I wanted to go on this adventure.”
Studio B is a brand agency that specializes in producing consumer, influencer and customer experiences “for women, by women.”
“It’s my goal to bring a larger focus to communities of women of color who have enormous buying power, yet are still being underserved by the marketing and media industry,” says Smith, the company’s founder and CEO.
Since she launched the business in 2014, Studio B has grown an average of 20 percent each year.
In this Dealmakers feature, we spoke with Smith about key questions you need to ask before you try to bootstrap your business and her role as a pioneer for other African-American female entrepreneurs.
One of the factors in Smith’s success was her willingness to be patient. Bootstrapping her business would take more time than if she sought out funding from investors.
“You need to do what is best for you,” Smith says. “When I started the business, I knew I wanted to be where I am now, but I knew that it would take a little while to get there because we didn't have an investor. I didn't think we needed it and didn’t think it was necessary for the business that I wanted to build at that point in time. Personally I've worked very hard to eliminate debt and create a foundation for myself and for my family to build wealth and to have opportunities and access that I didn't have growing up.”
This wasn’t a decision that Smith took lightly. She assessed her own financial situation and made the decision to continue working in her full-time job as she built her company.
“That way, I could continue making money and save it so that once I did make that final transition into being self-employed, I would have a bulk of savings to help me move the business forward,” she says. “I think that's very smart. You have to do those things.”
Ask for help
Brainstorming was another key strategy that Smith found to be effective in her entrepreneurial journey.
“Another piece of advice I would give is to sit down and take Post-Its and put them on the wall and just start brainstorming on your own,” she says. “Who do you know and what are the things that you need? What are the things that you don't know? So I literally did that exercise. I'm very tactical and very visual when it comes to figuring things out. And so this exercise helped me see where I was lacking and what I would need to be able to grow the business if I wasn't going to bring on an investor.”
In other words, bootstrapping your business doesn’t mean you have to do everything on your own.
“This process allowed me to remember that I have really smart people that I have access to, people with great experience that have done these things that I want to do,” Smith says. “When you leverage your resources as best as possible, you’ll be really surprised how many people really want to help you and want to see you succeed. Don't be afraid to ask for help.”
Follow your passion
Smith’s passion for the core of what Studio B is all about continues to burn bright.
“When I think about being a pioneer, creating these types of experiences for women of color, specifically I go back to what our communities talk about every day and the things that I've seen,” Smith says. “When you see somebody at an event, and you see how much you've touched them, it could be just one person. That makes you happy.”
Going forward, she expects dealmaking will continue to play a role in her company’s growth strategy.
“In terms of dealmaking and partnership acquisition, what I have thought about is potential partnerships and how to make what we do for brands accessible for the general public,” Smith says. “I would look at and consider building out a partnership underneath the Studio B brand that also creates platforms directly for women to have fun and just have shared experiences together.”
Whatever she pursues, Smith is confident she’ll find a way to make it happen.
“In my head, I just always feel that if you want it, you're going to go after it and you're going to do what you need to do to be successful,” Smith says.