She Got Her Own: Nia McAdoo, Owner, Cocoa Babies
Positive messages made specifically for children of color
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.
The brainchild of Nia McAdoo, a former university administrator, Cocoa Babies promotes positive messages to black children, who might be less likely to hear such messages from the mainstream media. In this feature, we talk to Nia McAdoo about the origins of her business and why social media is a necessity for any small business owner.
Loop 21: What was the basis behind starting Cocoa Babies?
McAdoo: At the time, I was in graduate school, working toward my degree in higher education administration. This was about the time that Abercrombie & Fitch was really big and I would see teens in shirts that were just wrong, the messages were just borderline inappropriate. So I did my own research and went into stores. I looked around and saw that there was nothing for children of color, nothing that was positive. From then, Cocoa Babies was born.
Loop 21: What was the biggest hurdle in launching Cocoa Babies?
McAdoo: Not coming from a business background. It's great to have an idea, but unless you have the tools behind you, you're going to hit a lot of snags. When you start a business, you need to know the ins and outs. I made a lot of mistakes in the first year or two until I figured it out. I went to a local community college to figure out how to do screen prints. When I purchased my equipment and found out how to do it myself, I was able to negotiate better with wholesalers. They looked at me differently. I was able to use language they understood, and negotiate better prices. It's good to go ahead and get started, but I had to get serious and learn the business.
Loop 21: What's the best part of owning your business?
McAdoo: Cocoa Babies has been around long enough that every once in a while I will see someone in the product. The first time I saw someone in our product I ran up to them and asked, "Where did you get that shirt?" She looked at me like I was crazy and said, "A Web site named Cocoa Babies." It's an amazing feeling.
Loop 21: What's your key to balancing being a mom and wife with a new business?
McAdoo: It is hard. My son, Morrison, is only 5 months old. I'm still learning. I'm fortunate that my husband is very supportive. If I need to go to the post office or work on some orders, he can step up and assist me. The balance is a struggle. Going from full time and having Cocoa Babies on the side, to having Cocoa Babies full time, to getting married and having a baby all within a year — it was an adjustment. It's about making sure I carve out time with my son and my husband. I used to work Cocoa Babies all day and all night. Now I try to stop around 6 p.m. and take breaks when I need to.
Loop 21: What has been the impact of social media on your business?
McAdoo: It has really put our business into a whole new realm. When we started, there was no Facebook, there was no Twitter. But now I can track how people find our site, whether it's through a link on Twitter or Facebook or through a Google search. Most of our new visits come from Facebook. I've seen that sometimes a customer will post a picture of themselves in one of our shirts and then the sales of that item goes up. It's such a necessity for small business owners. It's been a lifeline for us.
Loop 21: How do you come up with the products?
McAdoo: Usually it's from customer suggestions. It's sometimes hard to gauge what will be popular and what won't. We usually put it on Facebook and see if it's popular. If no one "likes" it or comments, then maybe that's not a direction we need to go in. We get a lot of ideas from people making suggestions, from children themselves, etc. We had the Strong Black Man in the Making shirt for a long time and a little girl asked, "Why don't you have a Strong Black Woman in the Making shirt?" I said, "I don't know -- let's get on that." We're always open to ideas -- inspiration comes from everywhere.
Loop 21: Any advice for female entrepreneurs? Perhaps those who are struggling to make their side hustle their main hustle?
McAdoo: I would say to be prepared. Most entrepreneurs would love to make their idea their full-time job. In this economy, you never know when you'll be laid off. You have to have a foundation that's strong enough that if you need to make that leap, you can. I think it's a different mindset from "This is a side hustle" to "This is what pays the mortgage." You have to make sure you have the ability to deal with the increase in customers, that you know how to increase the brand. If you don't have the framework, you're going to stumble. So while you're working full-time, develop an exit plan. Set realistic goals. That would be my biggest piece of advice.