She Got Her Own: LaShanda Henry, Internet Entrepreneur
The Web queen and mom helps others make money from home
In this series, we're profiling women who have left their corporate jobs behind and launched their own businesses in the recession. They are balancing children, careers and relationships and manage to make being their own bosses look good.
LaShanda Henry is one of the original entrepreneurship queens of the Internet. No exaggeration. In the past 10 years, she has created 15+ web sites, all with the driving focus of helping black women excel, either in business or their personal lives. She juggles her online presence with offline events and is considered the go-to source for launching and maintaining successful businesses. Loop 21 had to catch up with Henry to see how she does it.
Loop 21: You're involved in so many different Web properties. How do they all connect with each other?
Henry: SistaSense is my identity. People know me as Lashanda Henry a.k.a Sistasense and everything expands from that. Black Business Women Online [an online network for black female entrepreneurs] is one of the sites I'm most active on. Black Moms Club is another one of my Web properties. (Check out the full list of sites here.)
Loop 21: That's a lot for a one-woman show. How do you manage to keep content fresh on all the sites?
Henry: I try to make it have a life of its own, because for one person, it's a lot to physically maintain. From time to time, I will look at the best content members have posted and do a collection, letting people know, "This is what you should be looking at." I make sure everything is integrated, so people have a conversation whether I'm there or not.
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Loop 21: How did you get started on the Web?
Henry: I started with small consulting opportunities and in the process of doing that, blogging became popular. So I said, "Let me blog about my experiences." SistaSense grew because I was trying to figure out how to make money online. I wanted to put the information out there on how to grow your business, and now SistaSense is a brand of its own.
Loop 21: Your first weekend business workshop, She Rocks the Web, is in June. How did you decide to take what you had been doing regularly online and expand it into a three-day event?
Henry: I've been working online for 10 years and been working from home for 5 years. I feel like the offline world is a new domain for me to take over. I started doing local meet-ups in North Carolina and I started the Power Circles [a one-day telesummit with women from different industries] this year. My mission is to continue to connect women entrepreneurs of color on as large a scale as possible. It's in its infancy, but I plan on doing more.
Loop 21: So, as busy as you are, what do you do to keep yourself motivated, especially when you're drained creatively?
Henry: When the outside world is too overwhelming, I just look inward. When I feel overwhelmed with things that are going on, I tend to shut down. If you feel like people are going places you want to go, and you're not there yet, you have to go back and think, "Is this the right time for me to do something else?" That's how my PowerCircle event came about. I wanted people to hear from the women that are in my circle, and have us talk about the things everyone should know.
Loop 21: How do you combine motherhood and all your business endeavors, particularly as a work-at-home mom?
Henry: When my son was smaller, it was a little easier only because his dad is Mr. Mom when I do things online, but now it's a little more time intensive. When he was a baby, I could breastfeed while I was on the computer. But now he's in school and midday I have to stop and go pick him up. And then there's the the school activities, the field trips. It's definitely different now that he's older.
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Loop 21: What's the best part of working-from-home and working for yourself?
Henry: The freedom and flexibility, especially with my son Christopher. I like not having to ask people for time off. If it's a priority to my son, I'm there. Before I began working for myself, we had a family event that [I] planned to attend and my stomach was in knots because I had to ask my supervisor for time off. Not having to feel that is awesome. I always say, some people work and some people have careers. I've been able to go from my 9-5 to making 2.5 times more than when I had that 9-5. And that's another benefit — not feeling like there's a ceiling on what you can make.
Loop 21: What's the biggest issue you see facing black women entrepreneurs?
Henry: There are 3 major frustrations I see. One of them is that because we're in such a social media-driven society, people feel like they need to be on Facebook and Twitter all the time. But what happens is we get sucked in. It can be a situation where you're on these spaces, but you're not as productive. And that becomes a problem. Another is having to sell. Nine out of 10 times, the entrepreneurs I meet are so happy to birth the products, but the afterbirth — sales — is really excruciating. They don't want to sound pushy; they don't want to talk money. Another issue is finding the right people to get their media together. Working with the wrong people to get their brand online is common.
Loop 21: How often do you get downtime?
Henry: When you start a business, it's your first baby. There were some 12-14 hour days. It got to a point where health-wise and family-wise, that was not an option. I had to say, sometime between 6-8 I will stop working. And definitely not on the weekends.
Loop 21: What advice do you have for women who are thinking of starting their own business?
Henry: I believe that had I not left my 9-5, I would not be close to tripling my income. When you have that security blanket, it's easy to neglect the things you want to do. In this economy, you do want some financial security. If you're doing your business on the side, be conscious of your security blanket. You need to know that you have a plan to work on your business when you're not working at your 9-5. Time moves so fast. I'm big on making specific goals. You have to put a number on it so you can track your progress and hold yourself accountable. Doing that ensures I get certain things done throughout the year.