29 Oct 2019

The Hustle Is Real - The Risk And Reward Of Being Your Own Boss Featured

Photo: Leilah Dhore/How She Hustles

In honour of Small Business Month, ByBlacks spoke with Emily Mills of How She Hustles about what it really takes to successfully build your own business. Mills is fresh off the launch of her latest project - the Startup & Slay Digital Series sponsored by CIBC, Futurpreneur Canada and Ryerson University.

"It's been a game-changer," says Mills. "We produced 6 incredible digital videos about diverse women entrepreneurs from British Columbia to Nova Scotia and amplified their stories during Small Business Month. Many of these women said the experience gave them visibility and validation like nothing they had ever experienced before."

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Start up and Slay Digital Series Launch. Photo: Leilah Dhore/How She Hustles

Catherine Addai, founder of Kaela Kay Designs (who has been featured on ByBlacks) was one of the six women included in the series.

How She Hustles began with the vision of a safe space for women of colour where they could be supported by their peers. Initially, Mills considered HSH as an idea for a blog, which instead became a series of sold-out networking events. It has since expanded into a global brand with corporate sponsorships and tangible opportunities for Canadian women of colour to be seen, heard and celebrated while growing their businesses.

“We're carving out a lane for ourselves as a leading voice for diverse women in Canada through our digital content. We created the award-winning project HERstory in Black, that later became a signature multimedia project for CBC, where I worked until becoming my own boss in 2018. HERstory in Black alone generated national press coverage on TV, Radio and digital, plus a 1-hour TV documentary. The Michelle Obama tribute video featuring some powerful Black women in Toronto is another example."

Mills also proudly notes that the entire team behind the Startup and Slay video series included women of colour as videographers, sound techs, editors and more.

She is evidently joyous in living her biggest passion, which is bringing together diverse women. But the media veteran says leaving her career with CBC was not an easy decision, given the under-representation of black professionals in the field and the financial risks of raising a family on a reduced income.

"My husband and I have two young boys. I had to decide carefully how I would earn enough on my own and chart my own path as an entrepreneur vs. holding on to my last full-time job that had a good salary, full benefits, relative job security and I had earned seniority in an organization that is an icon of Canadian culture. I was worried that I didn't have it all figured out yet. When I became my own boss, I didn't have a 5-year business plan. My plan was to step away and finally spend time focusing on a business plan. Then, get to work. Life had other plans for me. I'll never forget leaving my office on a Friday in February 2018. By Monday morning I was meeting with the Prime Minister's Chief of Staff on Parliament Hill telling her about my work with How She Hustles. It happened that fast. Doors just kept opening. And the signs keep coming. I haven't looked back since."

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The team behind the Startup and Slay video series. Top L - R: Terri & Leslie Bryan, Jessica Yamoah, Kat Espiritu, Ebyan Bihi, Rahel Appiagyei-David.

Bottom L-R: Jalisa Luces-Mendes, Emily Mills, Sophie Taylor.

Photo by: Artists Touch Productions

Thankfully her leap of faith has paid off. Mills was recently recognized by Mercedes Benz Canada with the Emerging Leader Award as one of Canada’s Top 100 Most Powerful Women. She says her style of leadership is influenced by numerous women in her life including her mother- the ultimate event planner with a warm and welcoming personality and Ebonnie Rowe, a childhood mentor and founder of Honey Jam. Mills says Rowe has taught her to believe in her vision even when others didn’t.  Although she became an entrepreneur unexpectedly, she says being a businesswoman runs in the family.

"My grandmother ran a little shop - like a convenience store in the country - in St. Ann, Jamaica. She used to sell all my favourite childhood treats for hot summers in the islands - including coconut drops, cheese chips and bag juice. She still has a servant leader personality - she gives so much and doesn't need to be loud about it. Beyond our social media feeds, there are many things I do to give back and give opportunities to women through How She Hustles that I don't share publicly but do with an open heart. My grandmother is also a woman of faith, and changed many lives by inspiring others to believe just like my late grandfather did as a pastor. As their granddaughter and as an entrepreneur, I have to believe in things unseen almost every day to keep going and trust this journey."

As Mills forges ahead, she’s aware it will take faith, courage and creativity to even the playing ground. Systemic barriers such as wage disparities and erasure are additional challenges faced by women who don’t have equitable resources to run a successful business. While best-selling books like Lean In encourage women to smash the glass ceiling, a 2011 Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives Report found that in 2005, racialized women earned 55.6 cents for every dollar white men earned. Mills says she and other women from HSH have had the rare opportunity to share their real-life experiences with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during a roundtable discussion. 

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"We talked about some of the barriers and pain points of this work, and the differences between policies on paper, and what's actually happening on the ground in our communities. One of the areas that really interests me is the role How She Hustles can play to ensure Black communities and diverse women entrepreneurs have more access to government funding and vendor opportunities, and how I can be a bridge between stakeholders in that regard."

2020 marks ten years since Mills founded How She Hustles. She wants to continue making the network more inclusive of queer and trans women, Indigenous women and women with disabilities. She remains focused on her personal mission to help others and advises those considering the path of self-employment to be clear in their intention.

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Photo by Leilah Dhore/How She Hustles

"Only you know what truly brings you joy and what you feel is your life assignment. If you are ready to leave that full-time job, have a plan. But it's also OK not to have everything figured out before you leap. Know what you're good at and show - don't tell - others so they know you're good at it too. Have faith. Trust yourself. Learn from others. Put your goals out there to the right people. Be open to the unexpected. Tap your networks. Find your tribe or build your own to keep you grounded and surrounded by authenticity. Stay humble. Know there are many paths to the same destination - you can make an impact in ways you didn't expect. Get ready for a rollercoaster and relentless hustle. Then go get your money."

Know a Black Canadian business we should cover? Email us at info at byblacks.com

True Daley was born and raised in Montreal, Quebec and relocated to Toronto in the 90s where she was a fixture in the hip-hop journalism scene as a freelance writer for various urban publications.
She's also worked as a morning news anchor, actor, late night TV host and commentator on pop culture and politics with appearances on Flow 93.5, BET, HBO, CBC and MuchMusic.
 Currently, the proud Parkdalian is a community worker and filmmaker with an unhealthy attachment to vintage clothing. Follow True Daley on Instagram @truedaley.


Read 976 times Last modified on Thursday, 31 October 2019 09:33
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