Coleen Otero knows what it’s like to walk through the storm as an entrepreneur and come out on the other side. The founder of CEO Chick, a network of diverse women entrepreneurs, Otero is also a beauty expert and the author of Brand to Bucks: A No-Nonsense Guide to Building a Six Figure Brand.
Otero started her entrepreneurial journey as a hair stylist, getting her license right out of high school and eventually having her own salon.
“And then the market crash hit. I thought, man what am I going to do now that I’m no longer behind the chair in this particular brick and mortar space?”
After the Great Recession, Otero lost almost everything—her salon, her car, her home. “It was sort of like a rebirthing, honestly,” she says. “That journey was one of the toughest things that I ever had to face.”
Otero sees the parallels between the rough time she went through and the challenges so many women entrepreneurs are facing right now as the country grapples with the coronavirus pandemic and the fight for racial justice.
“We’re seeing so much loss around us. It puts you in a place where things that you relied on are no longer available, people you relied on are no longer available,” she says. But the upside is that it “really allows you to see what defines you—who are you, what you really need. Things I thought I needed, I didn’t.”
And, she says, it forces you to discover what you’re made of: “None of us have ever seen anything like this. It’s going to rock you to your core, and you’re going to realize, either I’ve got some work to do but I’m able, I’m equipped to walk through this season. Or you’re going to find out, man I really don’t have the faith I thought I had. I really ain’t the boss like I thought I was.”
Now she looks back on losing her salon and says, “The day we closed, I tell people that was the best day of my life.”
Otero’s comeback started with the internet. She was able to connect with potential customers in new ways, eventually become a stylist who traveled with clients or worked on projects such as photo shoots or book covers.
“Social media really changed the way we did business,” she says. “It allowed my business to grow further after the salon closed.”
Social media also gave her her tribe. In 2012, she started a Facebook group to foster the kinds of conversations she was interested in having with fellow women entrepreneurs.
“One of my favorite scriptures is ‘My people perish for a lack of knowledge,’” Otero says. “I don’t have all the answers but I’m one that will continue to knock.”
In 2015 that group turned into CEO Chick, which now offers online courses, live events, and group coaching to its community of 1,000 women entrepreneurs.
This month, Otero is expanding that virtual education beyond the network with a Master Class Mondays series that is affordable—$20—and open to the public. Topics will include how to secure funds for your business, how to use technology to scale, and how to become a household brand name, with experts such as Amazon Web Services’ Jillian Blackwell and Sassy Jones Boutique CEO Charis Jones.
Otero chose the format to “bring different industry leaders to share the information that these women need to be successful in business, because you can’t get that on social media alone. You get a lot of hype and not ‘how-to.’”
“We want to make sure that they are running not just brands that are popular online and cute online,” she says. “They need the depth, they need cash flow. They need to understand investing, they need to understand diversifying. They need to understand how to work on their business, not just in it. Running a business, it’s not just Instagram.”
CEO Chick will also have a giveaway every week this month for Black women entrepreneurs, worth $5,000 in products and services, including $500 cash.
Even though the CEO Chick network is diverse, the giveaway is targeting Black women specifically because, as Otero says, “we are still, unfortunately, not bringing in the revenue that we need to. Black women in business lead in being the last to lead. We’ve got to do something about that.”
“The ultimate goal is that we help women stay in business,” through these challenging times, Otero says. “It’s possible. It’s doable. You can take your brand and your business to another level online and see the financial rewards. Don’t give up.”