Experian wants to shine a light on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion by sharing stories told by business owners, policymakers, or anyone who believes actions speak louder than words when it comes to creating jobs, equality and inclusion in the workplace, and what it feels like to run a small business when the odds are stacked against you. This week we speak with Brandelyn Green, owner of Voice of Hair, a thriving hair care products brand with an amazing online community. The video of our interview is below.
Brandelyn’s segment appears at 14:24 in our episode.
Brandelyn Green talks to Experian about the power of a strong community
What follows is a lightly edited transcription of our interview with Brandelyn.
[Gary Stockton]: Brandelyn Green understands the value a strong community can bring to a small business. Her company, Voice of Hair, helps women of color find the best hairstylists, hair products, and hair extensions through a portfolio of pictures, videos, and reviews. But the idea for her company came from a situation involving her health. In today’s Inclusion-Forward segment, we get to learn more about this rising entrepreneur and what drives her. Brandelyn, welcome to the Small Business Matters podcast.
[Brandelyn Green]: Thank you for having me, Gary; excited to be here.
[Gary Stockton]: Well, we’re excited to have you. Brandelyn, could you share a little bit about how your business got started?
[Brandelyn Green]: Sure. So my background is in industrial engineering and then I went back and worked in the CPG industry for a while. And I thought that was my dream, because I was a CEO of a little brand, but I realized it wasn’t. So I came to Austin in 2014, I had always struggled to find a great hairstylist. So I wanted to create a platform that could help women of color, and really a lot of black women had this issue where we moved to different places that we can’t find trusted stylists. Well, I was building this portfolio or this two-sided platform, and just had a lot of development issues. And so I said, let me just start with social media to see if people even are trying to find hairstylists. So really to kind of build out an MVP in a way.
And on Instagram I started just highlighting hairstylists that I thought were amazing in different cities. And my audience grew really quickly in the first year, our community grew from zero to 100,000 followers. And then every year after that, it seemed like we grew at least a hundred thousand more followers. And so then I started to kind of work with other brands and people, you know, wanted to promote with us, which was cool. But it wasn’t until 2018 when I kind of had some health issues–I found out that I had a non-cancerous brain tumor, a pituitary tumor, that it was affecting my hair and my fertility and was making my hair fall out. And I was like, you know what? I need to create a solution for myself. And hopefully if it works, I’ll share with my community.
[Gary Stockton]: Wow. So was this your first business?
[Brandelyn Green]: Yes, this is my first business.
[Gary Stockton]: I don’t think we can call this beginner’s luck, right? I mean, just watching the growth cycle of your business. You started it in 2014, right?
[Brandelyn Green]: Yeah. I started posting to social media in 2014, but I did not launch my first physical product until 2018. So the first four years I was really building community. Honestly, I pivoted like 10 times. I was trying to figure out, you know, what can I do with this massive community, so I just kept serving them. And then finally, you know, I asked them, what do you guys want? And people were always sending me DM’s and emails. Like, can you please tell me which products are going to grow my hair? What products do you recommend for this issue? And instead of, you know, highlighting other brands, what if I just made my own products? So that’s what I did.
[Gary Stockton]: So it seems like community, it’s such a major success factor for Voice of Hair. Would you agree with that?
[Brandelyn Green]: Yeah, absolutely. The first product that we created was our Hair Elixir. So that’s what I use to kind of help restore my hair. And I sent it to friends and family and a couple of close influencers that I knew from social media. And they were like, “Oh, I love this oil. Yes, please let me know when this is available to buy.” So when I was ready to launch, like I created a private group and I asked them to help me with the name of the product. I asked them, what benefits are you looking for? So I utilized their input to create the product. And even with our product extensions that we’ve created since then, I mean, it’s really come from their feedback.
[Gary Stockton]: So what’s your social media strategy overall?
[Brandelyn Green]: Well, I started on Instagram and then we added Facebook and Pinterest, and now we’re on Tik TOK as well. So we have all the platforms. And so my goal is at least to always have a presence, even though I know I have channels that really convert for us and also help us connect with our community. But right now our strategy is really to continue to grow the community, to keep people engaged. So when I did decide to launch products, I didn’t want to just turn the page into a platform that was all about me and my products, because that’s not how people found me. And I felt like that wasn’t truly genuine to what voice of hair was. So we still do highlight a lot of great hairstyles, hairstylists tutorials, and try to provide that education for people through our blogs. But we do also let people know, hey, we sell products. If you’re looking for a solution, we have that solution for you.
[Gary Stockton]: So it’s sharing knowledge really. I mean, it’s thought leadership for hair. You’re delivering value. I’d say that your first step is to deliver value to your audience, deliver it on a consistent basis. I mean, I was just bowled over by the amount of content that you have on your Instagram channels. And I’ve checked a few of your other channels out. What’s really great about the community that you’ve built here, Brandelyn, is it’s a lot of user submitted content as well. So you’re not limiting to just pitching product it’s, “Hey, you know, let’s look at these new styles and look at really creative things that people are doing with hair.”
[Brandelyn Green]: Yeah. And actually that has been, I would say like the biggest blessing for our business, because when I did finally launch products, I have, and I still do have people who will message me and say, Hey, I would love to try your products and make content for you. So sometimes I get people–influencers, hairstylists, or people who I can see from their profile that they actually know what they’re doing, but they’ll say, “Hey, would you send me the products? Can I make content for you?” And I say, yeah, absolutely. So it it’s kind of mutually beneficial because then I can give them exposure. And in return I can get content that we can share.
[Gary Stockton]: Yeah. So it’s primarily e-commerce. And I read that you had a product release that was just hitting upon the supply chain crunch of late last year. How did you work through that? Because you were able to successfully launch something, right? During the supply chain packaging shortage?
[Brandelyn Green]: Yeah. So like I said, when we first launched, we had literally just one product, which was our Hair Elixir. And I knew that while people like the oil, it may help them to restore the hair, moisturize it, but that’s not a complete hair care solution, especially for a woman who is looking for overall hair health. So I knew we needed a shampoo, conditioner, a leave-in, all those things. And I tried to launch this product, this product, honestly right before the pandemic hit, and had some slowdowns, right? Like in December when things are supposed to roll out, December of 2019. So then I ordered enough packaging and supply. So that once the manufacturer that I’m working with was ready, and had all of the raw ingredients, then he can just go and get the products made for me because that’s, I mean, it’s one thing when you’re making products at home and you’re making like 50 at a time, but I was trying to, you know, scale and make more. And I needed a partner who could do that. But the packaging was something that was a big issue because like droppers, for example, these were like, eight months back ordered, bottles, jars. So I used the money that I had available. I ordered enough to keep me around for like the next several months. And so thankfully when the packaging came in, he was able to go, whereas some of his other customers that he was working with, like he had all their raw ingredients, but had no packaging for them. So then they were delayed even further.
[Gary Stockton]: Wow. Good move on your part. So are you completely self-funded or have you ever sought financing?
[Brandelyn Green]: We are self-funded so we bootstrapped and I think, you know, in the future becoming funded is something that could maybe help us and we could actually grow a lot faster, but for now we have been bootstrapping. So I think it’s great because then, you know, I own all of the company, but I would say there are some benefits to having a cash infusion from an investor. You can move a lot quicker. So it’s not completely off the radar for us. It’s just not where we are right now.
[Gary Stockton]: One of the things that we hear a lot and from the Fed Survey of Small Businesses of color, is that they have big challenges getting access to capital. Do you think businesses of color get enough support from financial institutions and could more be done?
[Brandelyn Green]: I definitely think more could be done. And I feel that we don’t typically get our fair share. I’m grateful that I’ve applied for a couple of grants and gotten some of those which have helped float us, you know, through some challenges that we’ve had. I’m a part of a couple of business entrepreneur groups with other businesses of color; even getting a line of credit is something that has been hard for a lot of my colleagues. So it’s, it’s really tough, especially because it’s not just the access, but it’s knowing where to go, who to talk to, then knowing the things that you have to have in order; there’s that knowledge gap, but then there’s also the networking piece and I feel like certain businesses, these institutions, don’t understand, for hair care, they don’t understand it unless you can prove that you’ve had consistent sales and growth.
[Gary Stockton]: Yes. these are great points. So how, how did COVID impact you? You and I had a few conversations leading up to our interview here, but could you share what things have been like the last couple of years keeping your business running?
[Brandelyn Green]: Yes. So I think in 2020, you know, where we had, like the peak, everything was shut down. For me, that was quite unexpected in just how many people were willing to buy. I was selling on Amazon at the time. I wasn’t able to keep up with the inventory on Amazon. And so I eventually got off of Amazon; I’m back on now, but I was off for about six months because we were really low on our inventory with our Hair Elixir, and that was the only product we had at the time. So that was probably one of the biggest challenges. Since things have opened back up, I would say it’s still difficult in terms of the additional delays, mostly with supply chain and then now with inflation. I mean, every supplier that I’ve worked with, their costs continue to creep up and we, I get it where everybody is getting squeezed, but it does make it a little bit challenging in terms of like forecasting and your margin and your profit that you you’re going to have. So those are some of the challenges we’ve been trying to work through.
[Gary Stockton]: Yeah. But you’re, you’re surviving. And I would say, I’d say you’re thriving in, based on the growth that I’ve seen and in what you’re doing there with social media and always having new content. I was watching, I watched your aloe vera video. I know it’s it’s from last year, but I’m like, this is genius. I mean, that’s part of growing a thriving community is doing how to’s and, and sharing your own personal experience. Right?
[Brandelyn Green]: Right. And I think honestly, there are so many brands, especially in the black hair care market. I think a lot of people have jumped in because they see that it’s growing and it’s, you know, it’s a low barrier to entry. But the one thing that I feel like I can do is to try to connect with people on a personal level. So even if it’s just going live and giving them some tips, at least they can see that I’m a real person and not just like, you know, this figure this brand. So that’s the one way that I’m able to distinguish myself from like some of the bigger brands that you might see, you know, in retail,
[Gary Stockton]: What’s the best piece of advice you ever received about running a small business?
[Brandelyn Green]: Oh, that’s a good question. Well, I would say like, as a product-based business, talking to your customers is so vital. And when I say talking to them, I’m not just saying like on social media and like having, you know, like responding to their comments. I mean, like calling your customers and understanding, you know, Hey, why did you buy from me? You know, why do you keep buying or why, you know, why didn’t you buy again, these are questions that are sometimes uncomfortable, but I think are, have been very helpful for me in terms of figuring out like what our next step is or the things that are missing in our business, because from the outside looking in, or even, you know, I’m in the business everyday. And I think we have things together, but when I talked to a customer and they tell me, “I had a really hard time checking out and I didn’t understand, you know, this process,” it’s like, wow, okay, you had that problem, then there are hundreds of people who’ve also experienced that, and just having told me, so I would say that has been like the most enlightening and most beneficial thing.
[Gary Stockton]: You’ve set up the website to have that flow of customer experience reviews. And that’s something that a lot of e-commerce businesses kind of, kind of miss, you know, right. From the, from the beginning. I see that as a, a very important success factor, there is getting reviews, but also, you know, listening to maybe some of your detractors, if people haven’t had a good experience, you know, responding and you’re saying, get in there and communicate with them directly and trying to understand where could things could have gone better. Right?
[Brandelyn Green]: Yes. we have a customer service manager who, you know, all of the, those kinds of issues, customer issues, they get bubbled up to her and, you know, small things like, Hey, you know, I have a quick question or, Hey, this coupon code didn’t get applied. She won’t come to me for that. But if there’s a customer who says like the product didn’t work or the product, you know, she had some sort of experience with it, then I actually will, a lot of times call that customer and just let them know, Hey, this is who I am. I’m the founder. I heard you had an issue. Can, can you help me understand what happened and how we can make that right for you? And I think most often when people get those kinds of calls, they’re first of all, like, wow, you’re calling me. But secondly, they they’ll oftentimes pour out their hearts to me. And so it usually, it’s a way to win back customers as well.
[Gary Stockton]: Yeah. Well, it keeps that community growing and because that positive experience is going to feed on itself because that person’s going to go out and say, you know, I, I had something that maybe was initially not a good, good moment of magic for, with this hair product, but then the founder contacted me and, oh, it’s just fantastic. It got resolved. And you know, that, that story is going to be shared. Good for you for you know, taking a hands on approach to customer service. Thinking about business in 2022 Brandelyn, is the glass half empty or is it half full for small businesses?
[Brandelyn Green]: I think it’s still half full. I think we just have to figure out other ways to kind of stand out, because I think the pandemic has done a lot of good things for small businesses. I mean, I think it’s created a lot of new opportunities, even, you know, making people more comfortable with, for example, e-commerce and buying online, creating services that people didn’t realize they needed. So I think there’s a lot of opportunity, but I think we, as small business owners really have to figure out how to stand out from the noise. And some of that is it really comes down to spending more time, like with segmentation, understanding our customers and getting really clear on what their needs are. And then speaking specifically to those needs and not trying to just, you know, address every problem that you think a customer has, but maybe picking that one need and being everything to that customer.
[Gary Stockton]: That’s wonderful. Well, Brandelyn, thank you so much for taking time out to share about your business and your strategy for building a thriving community on social media, and I want to remind our listeners to follow up with Brandelyn and check out her website. It’s voiceofhaircare.com, and on Instagram, if you look up @voiceofhair, she has almost a million followers incredible. And some of the content on there is really fantastic. So go check it out.
[Brandelyn Green]: Thank you so much for having me, Gary. You’re very welcome.