SuperMoney Interview Series: Jenn T. Grace

Jenn T. Grace is a business strategist, speaker and author specializing in the LGBTQ market, her work guides corporate and non-profit clients as they navigate the space where doing business and managing the workplace intersects with LGBTQ issues.

We recently asked Jenn about her experience as business strategist and got her money saving tips for other entrepreneurs. Here’s what she had to say:

Can you tell us about your professional background? How did you get where you are today?

After a short five-and-a-half year stint working for someone else managing a marketing department for an insurance company, I became involved with my local LGBT chamber of commerce. Before the chamber’s official launch I was asked to create the branding and marketing for the newly forming organization. In a matter of months I became so passionate about the LGBT business movement that it propelled me to get involved in every way I could! I quickly went from the chair of the marketing committee – to a board member – and eventually to executive director.

In my capacity as executive director I met with small LGBT-owned businesses and allied businesses in helping them either grow their businesses or marketing their products or services to the LGBT community. I often heard questions about how to properly market or communicate with LGBT customers. Since I received the same questions repeatedly I realized that there was a lot of education that needed to be done.

So in 2012 I launched my blog, which focused on answering questions I received around marketing and communicating with the LGBT market. This has evolved quite a bit over the last five years, which leads me to the present day of being The Professional Lesbian.

What is an LGBT Business Strategist? How did you become interested in this area?

As an LGBT Business Strategist I help guide corporations, small businesses and non-profits, as they navigate the space where doing business and managing the workplace intersects with LGBT issues. This is no small feat and each day is different than the next. At any one time I have a wide variety of projects happening, each uniquely helping advance the LGBT community in a different way.

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For example, I spent much of 2015 working on a project where the needs of LGBT people and people with disabilities intersected. In 2016, I worked with a Fortune 100 client helping them attract and retain top LGBT talent from a workforce perspective, but also attain new LGBT customers as a result of their human resource and marketing efforts. On the opposite end, I’ve begun working with a vodka brand helping them determine their unique positioning in the LGBT marketplace. All in all, as an LGBT business strategist you can see me working in any capacity that furthers the LGBT cause from a business lens.

What are some of the challenges business owners face in reaching an LGBT audience?

There are many hurdles business owners encounter when reaching the LGBT market. Most often the root of any challenge is poorly communicating. There are many marketing tactics that can be employed that will better position a business for success in the LGBT marketplace, but that only goes so far if the business owner and employees are not communicating in a way that resonates with their desired LGBT customers.

I’ve written two books on these topics because there is so much to be talked about. I come from the perspective that people do not set about their day wondering how they can offend an LGBT person, but rather very small and subtle things happen that do indeed offend people. The more educated business owners can be on the nuance of the LGBT community, the more success they will see.

What drove you to becoming an entrepreneur?

I knew from a very young age that I wanted to own my own business, even if I didn’t know what shape it would take. However, I believe the true driving force in entrepreneurship is the simple fact that I am unable to work for someone else, it feels physically impossible to me. I also crave variety which entrepreneurship provides. Throughout my endeavors as an entrepreneur I usually have at least two businesses going at once, which is the current state right now.

What qualities do you believe a person needs to have in order to launch a business? What are some bad habits they should break?

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Honestly, I think the best thing to do is to start taking action right away. I see more people never launch because they spend so much time thinking about it. Procrastination can be the root of many problems. When you are inspired by something or have an idea, take action right away. Whether it is researching the idea, asking for help or outright starting it – that’s the best way to go. You have to launch the business to have the business – so stop thinking and start doing.

What have been some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced and/or most important lessons you’ve learned as an entrepreneur?

I think the biggest challenge for me, and many entrepreneurs I know, is hiring the right people. I’ve heard the phrase “Everything is figure-outable.” No matter what the challenge, what the task, whatever it is, someone has the answer, you just have to find it. Anything you need to know you can figure out. However, the problem area I’ve witnessed the most of, is finding the right people for your company – whether it is the right skill set or fitting with the culture of an organization, I find it to be the most difficult.

What advice can you offer to aspiring entrepreneurs on finding financial support for their businesses?

Financial support is critical. The best recommendation I have is find a mastermind group or a group of peers who can help hold you accountable. I’ve been part of mastermind groups for over five years and they are hands down the way that I’ve found financial support. Surround yourself with people who know more about you financially, or are more successful than you – or who simply have more years of experience. They become your rocks, your guides and provide multiple layers of support in addition to financial.

What are ways entrepreneurs and new business owners can save money?

As counter intuitive as this may be for new business owners, hire the right bookkeeper and/or accountant. For years I used a bookkeeper who was screwing me up royally. My financial advisor would constantly be saying, you need to find someone who understands tax law and can help you leverage the privileges you have as a business owner. I had no idea what she meant by this. Then I found an accountant who showed me how to use the law to my advantage. The law is designed in favor of small businesses, to promote growth and prosperity within small businesses. You just need to find someone who understands it who can show you the way. There are so many ways you can save money, invest money or have your money work for you by finding the right person to show you the way.

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What are your favorite resources for managing money as a business owner?

There is nothing better than a well organized QuickBooks account and a monthly profit and loss statement. It is not a sexy answer, but being able to see what money is coming in and what money is going out on a month-to-month basis is critical for making decisions. The cliché goes – you can’t manage what you don’t measure. Managing money is a critical part of growing your business over time.

What final piece of advice or wisdom can you offer aspiring entrepreneurs? What’s something you wished more of your clients would do?

The best piece of advice I can give is just be you. As you enter the business world becoming an owner, being an entrepreneur – you are going to meet amazing people who are doing it right, knocking it out of the park. You are going to feel envy and want to be like them. Don’t be like them – be like you. The best asset your business has is you and it’s the easiest thing to be. So whatever it is that you are known for, play it up. Do more of it – become polarizing. It will help weed out your ideal clients versus those who are on the fringe. Sally Hogshead is a brilliant marketer in this space – take her assessment – you’ll thank me later for it!