Nationally Renowned Reverend Gears Up for “Biker Blessing”

reverend soaries talkingHe’s a leather vest, boots-and-motorcycle-jacket-wearing minister at least part of the time.

That’s because while Reverend DeForest Soaries is a nationally renowned clergyman, author and thought leader he’s also a man on a mission to help transform an at-risk community, which means he tends to meet members of his congregation where they are.

On June 30th where they’ll be is the First Baptist Church of Lincoln Gardens where Soaries serves as senior pastor. There he’ll help preside over an annual “Biker Blessing” – a rally of more than 1,000 black male motorcycle riders converging on the small New Jersey town of Somerset from Virginia, Maryland, Connecticut, New York and other states throughout the East Coast. In addition to showcasing their motorcycle stunts, offering free food as well as financial literacy and health workshops, the cyclists, church and neighboring community groups will seek to raise awareness about gun violence in Somerset and surrounding cities.

“Like any neighborhood [Somerset] has had its exposure to violence,” explains Soaries, who presides over a congregation of more than 7,000 and says he’s expecting between 500 to 600 people at the event. “A gathering like this is important because it emphasizes the strength of a community – our ability to govern ourselves,” he asserts. “Our theme this year is gun violence,” he says, with a nod to Newtown, the Mother’s Day parade shooting in New Orleans and the ongoing campaign of violence in Chicago. “All of our cyclists will talk to the young people about participating in community activities and avoiding gangs, and encourage them to go to school.”

Soaries — a former New Jersey Secretary of State — has long worked to help better the state’s neighborhoods, and not only just attempting to rid them of weapons. Currently, the director of the Federal Home Loan Bank of New York and the Independence Realty Trust in Philadelphia, he is also the CEO of the Central Jersey Community Development, one of the state’s most comprehensive and holistically-run community development organizations.

“Back in the early 90s when we started this work we called it ‘faith-based community development,” says Soaries, “and we continue to stick to a plan to revitalize our neighborhoods. Since then we have seen a tremendous growth in local jobs as well as new affordable housing for senior citizens,” he says. “New Jersey is one of the most expensive places in the world to live, and so we partnered with a private African American developer and are in the process of building 64 housing units for senior citizens. In addition to homes there will be offices that provide social services so that anyone in the neighborhood who needs access – Medicaid, health or other government benefits – can go there and talk to a caseworker,” he adds. “We think the job of the church whenever possible is to encourage African American entrepreneurship.”

It is also to encourage parishioners to become debt-free. The author of “dfree: Breaking Free from Financial Slavery,” Soaries, who was featured on CNN’s Black in America documentary “Almighty Debt,” has also promoted a national anti-payday loan campaign with the goal of educating the public about predatory lenders that charge borrowers 300 – 800% interest on short-term loans. In addition he’s sought to mobilize a grass-roots effort to oppose predatory lending practices.

“These are all ways to help the economic base of our community,” he explains. “Being more strategic with our money is our only way to get free.”

Charlene Bastien

charlene bastien strength of natureIt’s an undisputed fact: black women are passionate about their hair.
And whether it’s natural, permed, weaved, braided or concealed with a wig, for most all that really matters is that it is gorgeous and as healthy as possible.

Charlene Bastien, the marketing guru behind the hugely successful hair-care company Strength of Nature, aims to give her customers what they want. The Global Marketing Director for the S.O.N. house of brands — home to hair-salon-quality products like African Pride, Elasta QP and Mega Growth Profectiv — says outside of making sure her products are universally visible, her second concern is making sure her consumers know that they don’t have to compromise health for beauty.

“Many times with your traditional relaxer, for instance, you can hurt your hair and scalp if the chemicals have not been properly mixed,” she explains. “To help keep this from happening, our new African Pride Dream Kids system, for example, contains an advanced cream-on-cream relaxer kit that allows you to mix two creams as opposed to the traditional cream-and-liquid combination, which makes the blend safer and more homogenous,” says Bastien. “Also, we’ve made it so you can actually add conditioners to this relaxer – something no other company is doing – in order to protect the hair. This creates a more gentle approach to relaxing for children and adults.”

Bastien, who has worked for the African-American and Latino-operated business since 2009, says the owners have long been committed to enhancing black women’s perceptions of themselves in a complexion-and-hair-conscious world, no matter how they wear their tresses.

“Fifty-five percent of women relax their hair in the United States,” says the former social worker, “and forty-five percent are natural. We believe that our company portfolio represents the balance, which means that we have product offerings for everyone. We have several product lines that meet the needs of natural-haired women,” she continues, “including Beautiful Textures, a brand that I co-created. It celebrates a woman’s natural texture, and educates her about exactly what that is. Our packaging is very unique: on the back of the box there are three sections — one is a statement of guarantee, the second describes how to best use our product depending on your hair type, and the third walks you through the steps depending on your hair type and texture. We also offer how-to videos online. We have a graph that tells you to use these products if you want to moisture and condition your hair, or take a “mix cocktailing” approach, which many naturalistas like to do. This brand is currently doing incredibly well.”

And if you’ve managed to miss African Pride, Beautiful Textures or any of the other brands Strength of Nature offers on store shelves, Bastien says she doubts you’ve missed all of their celebrity-centered promotional campaigns via social media and other forums.

“African Pride just did a contest with Mary Mary called “A Mother’s Love” in Chicago,” she says. “We offered fans an opportunity to meet the artists. Within one week of launching the promotion our Facebook page gained 6,000 fans. Now we’ve launched our “Beauty and the Beat” Summer Series for folks headed to New Orleans for 4th of July weekend. We work to stay connected to what our consumers are doing and what they love and try to meet them exactly where they are.”

The reason? Not enough companies care enough about the black female consumer, frankly, a trend Bastien says is just started to turn.

“There’s a fashion publication that [I will not name] that typically only advertised to white females with its fashion, beauty, perfume and hair ads,” she says. “We were studying the trend in this particular publication recently and found that for the first time ever they had more than 150 pages in it with 63 ads that had African American women headlining them. They are clearly talking to the African American woman now. They realize that African American women have dollars and disposable income. I think that African American women are in a unique place today in that we are able to see ourselves more than ever before as competitive. Now’s a good time for us to claim our space in the marketplace.”

Lucrative Side Hustles: Author Gil Robertson Shares Tricks of the Writing Trade

Author and journalist Gil Robertson (Image: Robertson)

We have good news for you. You can have a cool career and make a good living. No need to choose between loving your job and paying your mortgage. The following profile, part of the Cool Jobs series, offers a peek into the nuts and bolts, perks and salaries behind enjoyable careers.

Unless you just so happened to have penned, say, the volumes that became the epic television series “Game of Thrones,” it’s a pretty accepted fact that most professional writers don’t make a ton of money.

These days even successful freelance journalists and authors are finding it necessary to look to other streams of income as an increasing number of newspapers and magazines go the way of the dinosaurs, with many opting to teach, go into publicity or adopt other side hustles.

The harsh reality of the times makes being passionate about what you build your platform on that much more critical.

Gil Robertson, a journalist, author, lecturer and media consultant, knows this well.

Though he himself has long added several slashes after his name, Robertson is determined to make his literary offerings count, building his catalog with socially conscious, thought-provoking anthologies for African American audiences.

“I spent a great many years working as an entertainment journalist, and a pretty successful one,” Robertson says. “Then I reached a certain point in my career when I felt like I wanted to do something different — I wanted to tell different types of stories. And so the circumstances being what they were in my personal life—with my brother having contracted HIV, for instance— I felt like that would be a good place to start, to talk about the disease and talk about how it impacted our family. That became a book called ‘Not in My Family: AIDS in the African American Community,’ which was met with an NAACP Image Award nomination and a great deal of critical commercial success. Then my publisher asked, well, what do you want to do next? I decided that I wanted to continue putting together projects about Black identities.”

Going on to craft Family Affair: What it Means to be African American Today, the latest book Robertson has edited is called “Where Did Our Love Go: Essays on Love & Relationships in the African American Community,” featuring writings by the likes of R&B singer Anthony Hamilton, award-winning actress Viola Davis and various other celebrities, journalists and public figures. He’s planning on launching a nationwide tour for it this summer.

The book is in direct opposition to what the Los Angeles-area scribe and publicist says have been ongoing attacks on the state of African-American relationships in the press, without involving the thoughtful voices of African Americans themselves.

“It’s a collection of writings where the authors who are single, married and divorced offer thoughtful opinions and ideas about love and relationships in the Black community. I mean, how do we make love work as a group when we’re constantly under assault in other areas of our lives, including this one? This book, like all the others I’ve done, is about wellness in the African American community. It’s about creating meaningful dialogue.”

Mom and Daughter Make Hair-Story in NYC

doris hair care ny productsThese days it’s hard to know which hair care product to choose, given how oversaturated the market has become.

And now, with the natural hair movement in full swing, the competition is becoming increasingly fierce.

Enter Doris Hair Care New York, a small but steadily growing mom-and-pop-style business that began as humbly as now nationally recognized brand Carol’s Daughter — which has counted Will and Jada Pinkett Smith, Jay-Z and Mary J. Blige as partners — and has the same amount of potential.

Launched in 1974 by Jamaican immigrant Doris Duperley inside the kitchen of her family’s two-story home in Queens, New York, it wasn’t until 2008 that she made her homemade hair remedies available to non-clients of her euphonious neighborhood salon of the past 40 years. But as her customers’ cries grew louder for her to sell them commercially, Duperley, now in her 70s, finally agreed.

“I’ve always been in awe of what my mom’s able to do with all different types of Black hair,” says Marlene Duperley, one-half of the mother-daughter team that owns and operates the 100 percent Black and female New York-area business. “We’ve even had women who had lost their hair due to cancer use and our products help them grow it back,” she continues.

“My mom knows just about everything there is to know about growing happy, healthy hair because she’s done it for four decades. You name the problem – extreme breakage around the hairline, bald spots, chemical over-processing – she’s faced it and beat it. There is forty years worth of love and expertise that goes into every bottle, every jar, every tube we sell, and that’s what makes our products different from the rest.”

A dedication to using primarily natural ingredients as opposed to relying on potentially harmful chemicals sets Doris and Co. apart from many of their contemporaries. True to the Duperley family’s island roots, many of the product line’s 10-piece collection include essential ingredients like jojoba oil, shea butter, coconut oil –even heavy, Jamaican castor oil — hail from their homeland.

Celebrities like “Soul Food” star Nicole Ari Parker have gotten on board with Doris, as have notable hair publications and industry stylists. Though fans can’t yet purchase the products in stores, the entire collection is available online, and are currently shipped to countries around the world.

“We also sell our products at conventions, trade shows, and, of course, my mom’s salon,” offers Duperley, “and in addition to we are also currently considering offering our popular olive oil hair cream, scalp oil, reconstructive shampoo and newest items at some specifically targeted stores. ”

Though Marlene has a degree in business administration from Long Island University, she says much of what she and her mom have learned about running a successful business have come through years of trial and error as small-business owners.

“Money is always the biggest challenge,” admits Duperley, who said it cost roughly $150,000 to get their family business off the ground. “Unless you’re blessed to have financial backing you have to pay for all the ingredients, packaging and promotion yourself, and that gets expensive. We’re grateful that we already had a loyal community behind us when we started this,” she says.

She says an ambitious venture like the one she and her mom set out on is not for the faint of heart.

“Make sure you have the passion and the love for what you really want to do before you start a business,” she advises. “You’ve truly got to love what you do because it may not give you any profit for years. Also understand that you’re going to work harder for yourself than you will ever work for anybody else. If you work, say, an eight-hour day at a regular job, double that. You’ll be working at least 12 – 14 hours a day with your own business. But in the end it will be worth it.”

Close to 200 Countries Deep, Nomadness Travel Tribe Isn’t Stopping Anytime Soon

nomadness tribeAt this point there are literally only a handful of places in the world that, collectively, the members of Nomadness Travel Tribe have not been to.

As of last count there were just 11 – Nauru, Comoros, Tajikstan, Tuvalu, Uzbekistan, Samoa, Kyrgyzstan, Yemen, the Solomon Islands, Azerbijan and Brunei.

That’s right, those other roughly 185 other independent countries and territories?

Been there, done that.

A crew of more than 4,500 primarily young black and Latin women and men who have made globe-trotting a life mission, members – who range in age from 20 to 60 and organize meet-ups in places as far away as Moscow and Cape Town – pride themselves on traveling far beyond the Caribbean and into some of the furthest corners of the earth. And when they are there chances are they aren’t sunbathing: on the group’s private Facebook page folks constantly one-up each other with tales of their greatest adventures – jumping off the longest and highest suspension bridge in Switzerland; getting a snake massage in Israel; swimming with whale sharks in Honduras; running with the bulls in Panama.

This high-octave, thrill-seeking travel posse – which takes organized jaunts together several times a year — was conceived by 20-something founder and hostess Evita Turquoise Robinson a little over a year and a half ago, after she found herself feeling a bit lonely as the only black face she’d see for weeks while carrying out a teaching assignment in Japan. Void of opportunities to interact with many other travelers of color, she sprung into action – creating a group that visually and culturally reflected her interests.

“I couldn’t find a community where I felt I could be 100% myself,” explains the Bronx native, whose five-member team just wrapped up a nearly three-week cross-country RV tour meant to raise awareness about the benefits of international travel at some of the nation’s premier historically Black colleges and universities. “There was not a representation of people like me in the places I was visiting, and that prompted me to start my own [travel] family,” says Robinson, who also manages the Nomadness Travel Tribe blog.

To fund her dream and to keep her crew mobile Robinson organizes specialized tours all over the world, where, through a lottery-type system, a select number of members pay an average of just $300 for a slot on one of the Tribe’s generally week-long exclusive trips. The fee includes a bed in a rented house in each designated country, as well as a stake in any of the group’s planned activities. A modest surcharge goes toward Tribe administrative fees. Members – many of them frequent flier members or owners of buddy or companion passes – organize their own flights.

“So far small groups of us have traveled to Panama, Brazil, India, Berlin, Panama, Spain and other places together – we’ll be in Bali for New Years,” says the 2006 Iona College grad.

She has high hopes for the group’s potential to help encourage more people of color — particularly men — to travel.

“My overall intention for the Tribe is to provide a home for the underrepresented in the travel industry,” she says. “Our demographic is 90% black and Latino travelers. We have an 80% female demographic, and we’re looking to boost the number of men. There are over 6,000 passports represented within our group. And many of our people are either solo travelers or currently living as ex-patriots.”

Robinson has created an active business plan to help take her burgeoning community worldwide.

“I want us to be at the forefront of travel on many different levels,” she says. “Our goal is to get our own television series, and we have a pitch in front of a network right now. We can also accomplish some of our goals through merchandising – I already produce t-shirts, sweatshirts and other items, but I’d like them to be sold in stores. And I’d like for us to continue traveling to colleges and universities, which we were able to do last month via our third, pretty successful Kickstarter campaign,” says Robinson.

Though she has no formal financial background (rather her degree is in television production) Robinson says she has several business-savvy mentors, including family members who are entrepreneurs. She’s also hustled her way into getting media sponsorships ( and YRB Magazine supported the RV tour) to get to where she wants to go.

“My first year with Nomadness was about building the foundation,” she says. “This year it’s about getting as many eyes on it as possible so that we can take it to the next level.”

Publishing Powerhouse Uses Strategic Partnerships to Build an Empire

munson steed in suit

CEO of the Steed Media Group, Munson Steed (Image: File)

We have good news for you. You can have a cool career and make a good living. No need to choose between loving your job and paying your mortgage. The following profile, part of the Cool Jobs series, offers a peek into the nuts and bolts, perks and salaries behind enjoyable careers.

To say that Munson Steed oversees a media empire would not be an exaggeration.

CEO of the Steed Media Group, a multimedia company that includes flagship publication, Rolling Out— the largest chain of African-American-owned weekly newspapers in the country—-he’s literally got his finger on the pulse of black urban America.

But more than that, Steed, whose conglomerate has included magazines (Direct Wire), video and music programs (F.M. Video and Today’s Jazz), comic books (G-Force), Websites (, and a record label (Soulestial Elements), considers himself a visionary who is focused on building and maintaining a brand that is entertaining, politically relevant and civic-minded.

For him this means forming strategic partnerships with other highly successful brands to help corner the market space.

“We’ve got some phenomenal partnerships with Ford, CBS, McDonald’s, American Airlines and other big companies,” Steed starts of his “360” print, digital, online and mobile platforms. “[Working with brands of this caliber] allows you to operate outside of the box, utilizing your relationship with the community so that your brand in its identity is part of how you communicate with the world. Whether it’s about acquiring a new skill set, making an acquisition, gaining community recognition, or the sharing and bridging of partnerships between services and technology, that’s what transpires as you build brands that are authentic,” explains the Morehouse graduate, who cut his entrepreneurial teeth while he was still in college, launching a retail and entertainment business specializing in promotions, as well the sales of T-shirts and other college paraphernalia.

Rolling Out, which is nearly 15 years old, is at the center of Steed’s “authenticity” movement. He describes the paper as sort of a black version of the alternative weekly “The Village Voice”— one that has helped to break the careers of now high-profile stars.

“We’re very proud of the members of our community,” he says. “We’ve been there with some stars since the beginning of their careers, like Nene Leakes for instance. We didn’t start covering Nene when she was on ‘The Real Housewives of Atlanta.’ We built a relationship with her when she was making much smaller plays. We even went with her on a trip to Paris. We recognize the brilliance of the people in our community and seek to put them in the spotlight.”

Steed says that there are, of course, other methods to his business madness — beyond highlighting emerging personalities and staying connected to community through grassroots efforts. Much of his philosophy, he says, he’s discovered through relationships, self-education and by following the paths of his mentors.

“I had great support from African American agencies and brand managers who trusted my vision for executing things,” he says about the beginnings of his career. “And with my background as a promoter I was offered marketing opportunities on a grand scale. I’ve also looked to inspiring men like [Black Enterprise’s] Earl Graves, who made me believe I could do anything; also [BET’s] Bob Johnson and other individuals in the community who are and continue to be real businessmen,” he says. “Also I’ve found it’s always a good idea to immerse yourself in technology and read some of the best books on business that are out,” he adds. “That part is about educating yourself and having people trust that you have a vision — and then being able to share that vision effectively.”

To that end he offers the following advice to aspiring entrepreneurs, regardless of what field they are looking to break into.

“Study the industry before moving into it,” he advises. “I can’t say how much you need to study. Also test your passion for what you’re looking to do. You need to figure out if you’re moving into an industry you truly love. If you don’t love what you do you will not stay with it. If it’s not a passion point for you then you’ll let it go,” he advises. “And the last thing is: continue to evolve and innovate as a businessperson and a brand. If you keep looking for opportunities to grow they will present themselves to you with little effort.”

How the Name ‘Heavenly’ Helped This Woman Build a Dentistry Empire

dr heavenly kimesDr. Heavenly Kimes admits she may have been born with one of the best possible marketing tools imaginable.

A dentist with four practices in the Atlanta area, the married mother of three says many of her clients have flocked to her because of her name alone.

“Dr. Heavenly has become a brand — Heavenly Dental Associates,” she says. “You’d be surprised by how many people come to my office saying they were praying for a good dentist and then they saw ‘Heavenly Dental’ and thought ‘Hey, that’s where I need to be.’”

In the dental “blessing” business for more than 12 years now, pulling in an estimated $4 to $5 million a year (down from about $11 million before the market crashed), the Meharry Medical School graduate said she had originally planned on becoming a doctor — until a more attractive offer came her way.

“There was a recruiter who came to my school to talk about dentistry,” says Kimes. “He made dentistry sound so rewarding because as a woman I knew I wanted to be married — I wanted to have kids … and he made it seem like I could do that because I wouldn’t have to do a long residency. I could set my own hours rather than being on call as a medical doctor. Because of that I said, ‘Hmm, let me look into this dentistry thing,’” she explains.

The change of heart paid off — despite managing a staff of twenty people — including six associate dentists, an oral surgeon and an orthodonist — Kimes works only two days per week in a clinic. The rest of her work she’s able to do from home, including paying all her own bills.

And despite the considerable number of other black female dentists in the area Kimes has managed to carve a niche out for herself as both a practicioner and as an entrepreneur. It helps that with the help of her husband — a board-certified physician who co-signed for her first practice loan as she worked at improving her credit — she has bought a total of seven clinics in the Atlanta metropolitan area, three she purchased at the point of near bankruptcy, with the sole intention of flipping them.

“I build them up to sell them,” Kimes says of her strategy. “What I’ve learned through practice transition and running different companies is that I can build them up to a maximum capacity, which takes about seven years if you start them from scratch, and then sell them at top dollar.”

“The first time I did this was when I went to open up my second practice,” she continues. “It was with another dentist who was in dire straights [financially]. People had been calling me confidentially and saying, ‘I owe Uncle Sam a certain amount of money, and I need to sell my practice, like, today.’ So I would always keep cash on hand. I could write a check for a little bit of money — something like $8,000 — and just like that, own a new practice. I bought practices just by taking over the lease because the previous owner was about to lose everything anyway. So basically I self-taught, reading books on how to market myself because the marketing is the main thing. Once you get the patients in the door you can pretty much make it work.”

Kimes says achieving great success as a small business owner is also possible through word-of-mouth referrals, consistently good customer service, and more aggressive marketing strategies, like book sales. She says she wrote her advice book, “Heavenly’s Business Prescriptions: You CAN Have It All!” primarily for aspiring women entrepreneurs. She said for starters, she recommends facing your fear of failure head-on by taking classes on that which you do not know.

“Fear is real,” she says. “I think that prevents a lot of people from moving forward and doing more. When I went to open my first practice in Jonesboro I saw that there were a lot of dentists and physicians that had just come out school, like me, who didn’t know anything about running a business. They don’t teach that in medical school. So I decided to start taking business classes and educating myself in business– more than dentistry even — on how to run a successful business.”

She says education, preparedness and an equally ambitious and supportive partner has been her key to having it all.

“Now, am I completely balanced? No, nobody is,” she admits. “But you have to know what your priorities are. For me it’s God, then family, then career,” says Kimes, who now teaches workshops on how to build your business. “My family comes before career and that’s why I work in an office that’s close to home, where I can get to my kids quickly if they need me. I work part-time so I’m able to set my own hours, and then I have a husband who has the same work ethic as me, who also makes himself available to help take care of the kids. It’s not easy but we work smart so that we can maximize the amount of time we spend with our family.”

Cool Jobs: Talent CEO Chantelle Fraser a Global Star in Her Own Right

chantelle fraser

Chantelle Fraser, Flawless Entertainment and Promotions CEO (Image: File)

We have good news for you. You can have a cool career and make a good living. No need to choose between loving your job and paying your mortgage. The following profile, part of the Cool Jobs series, offers a peek into the nuts and bolts, perks and salaries behind enjoyable careers.

London transplant Chantelle Fraser has a keen eye for beauty—and business.

While she was working as a former agent for Elite Model Management in Los Angeles in the early 2000s she had a lightbulb moment: Where could retiring models go after they were done strolling the catwalk? And where could aspiring models go to gain more exposure?

Turns out she knew just the place, and it was was a business she’d have to start on her own.

Flawless Entertainment and Promotions, a niche NYC-based talent casting company she founded six years ago, pairs beautiful people with successful brands like MAC Cosmetics.

Counting companies like Estee Lauder, Playboy, Nike and Sean Jean as clients, the boutique firm doesn’t just supply companies with high-end models. It also provides them with all-around entertainers including musicians, aerial artists and DJs.

“I got the idea when I was working within an actual modeling agency,” says Fraser, who has a master’s degree in management from the London School of Economics. “What I found is that we constantly got calls from clients looking for models and talent for their events to promote their brands. At that time it wasn’t particularly good for the models’ careers to do event-based promotions, but later I’d see some of them struggling. Or some would be ending their modeling careers and didn’t have any other outlets. So I founded a sort of temp agency where models have a platform to showcase their skills,” she says.

Though Fraser’s 6-member team is based in New York they work accounts all over the world— having done everything from host charity polo tournaments in Nigeria to hiring an all Mongolian-speaking modeling-slash-bartending team to perform for a Mongolian ambassador in NYC.

Fraser says her company has come a long way since the days she founded it in her bedroom.

“I didn’t have any money whatsoever,” says the Jamaican businesswoman, who was 27 when she got started. “Not even enough money to pay rent,” she adds. “All I had was a Best Buy credit card, which I used to buy a computer. I didn’t even have a web site. All I had was my talent and my connections,” she recalled.

Fortunately, Fraser’s network was vast and her idea was a novel one.

“I had access to really, really high-end models already,” she says. “I was able to book all these companies within the first year because I was relentless. Plus, nobody else was providing an organized elegant, sophisticated service like mine at that time. Within that first year I had a fully equipped office, fully staffed.”

Fraser had many previous entrepreneurial starts-and-stops to help her learn the tricks of the trade.

“Since I was a child I have always been working,” she says “I started off washing cars when I was eight; I took on a newspaper route when I was 13; and I launched my first official business at 21—a technology recruitment firm called The Model Project, where I hired nutritionists, make-up artists and personal trainers. I’ve always wanted to be the architect of my own destiny. My goal has always been to have my own business.”

She says this enterprise is thriving: “We do the CW network media upfront every year and work with clients like US Weekly and Sports Illustrated,” she says. Right now Flawless is booking talent for a national makeup campaign, searching for Archie and Veronica comic book lookalikes to work at stores in 200 cities across the country.

How is she able to find such specific talent? Why, the Internet of course.

“I also find folks via word of mouth,” says Fraser. “Also, modeling agencies feed us talent.”

But the key to Flawless’ success, she says, is her experience in managing all types of people.

“In order to do what I do you really have to understand the human dynamic,” says the 34 year old. “When you’re dealing with so many people you have to understand how to manage them. That’s the biggest learning curve — managing different personality types.”

In additional to solid management skills the executive has three other pieces of business advice for aspiring entrepreneurs.

The first is to let go of excuses.

“If you’re going to start a company you have to just start it,” she says. “There are going to be things you don’t know when you start it — you just have to believe in yourself and know you’re learning. Having a business is like climbing a mountain or driving in the dark. You don’t have the see the destination, you just have to see the next couple of feet.”

Secondly, put your best foot forward — always.

“It’s important that you be the best version of yourself,” says Fraser. “The first line of your business is you. You are your own brand ambassador. What do you stand for? What does your business stand for? If you’re going to have a business make sure that you feel your best, look your best and present yourself well. People are attracted to success so you have to make sure that you are attractive in every way.”

Lastly, let go of fear.

“It’s the biggest sabotage for your success,” she advises. “That’s why so many people don’t launch their businesses. Have tunnel vision about what you’re doing. Keep people around you who are on the right frequency. Your frame of mind is very important. You have to be mentally strong to run a business. You attract people around you who are the same.”

Marketing Maven Sheila Coates’ 3 Tips on how to “Build Your Own Brand”

sheila coates smilingFormer top music executive Sheila Coates knows a winning brand when she sees one.

She should — she’s worked with some of the biggest names in show business: Mary J. Blige, Diddy, Jill Scott, Lenny Kravitz and more.

Now, as the owner and CEO of her own business, BYOB — or Build Your Own Brand — since 2009, she’s taken what she’s learned as an entertainment exec and made it work for her *own* brand. This means moving beyond entertainment (though she did just help R&B siren Keyshia Cole land a shoe deal with Steve Madden) and into corporate and personal-branding territory, inking deals with the First Lady of Bermuda, Comcast, Coca Cola, Neutrogena, State Farm, Sony, Dress for Success and other marquee names.

Coates swears that a great marketing plan — as evidenced by the campaigns she’s helped develop for major and unknown acts during her 10 years in the music game — can send even an already very successful business’ image (and thus sales) over the top.

Macy’s — a client she went after while launching her “Discover Your Brand” 10-city tour in 2010 — is evidence of this. She says she landed a contract with the department store juggernaut after presenting the company with solutions to some of its branding challenges.

“I was seeing these Macy’s commercials, despite the recession and the fact that they were letting people go,” she explains. “In the commercials, the chief executive said he was always open to new ideas so I set out to show him that my company could show Macy’s consumers how to shop better and be their own brand in this economic climate. I sent it to five executives, including the CEO and he replied in less than a week. He was impressed, but wrote that he was letting people go. But I didn’t stop there. I took that email, and found out who handled advertising and promotions. I got through to the head of multicultural marketing and told her that the CEO liked my proposal. I set up a meeting face-to-face, and she loved it and got it approved.”

Coates says while she had to teach herself how to be a successful entrepreneur, strategy and tenaciousness in marketing has long been in her blood.

“I took on the onus of learning how to brand during my tenure in music,” she says of the executive positions she held handling multi-million dollar marketing budgets for Sony/BMG, EMI/Capitol, Arista, Virgin, MCA, Perspective and Hidden Beach Records. “What I was focused on with music clients is what I use with all my clients today. I need to know, what is going to make my client unique? I find that it normally takes an in-depth conversation with any client who is looking to brand him or herself. For artists I used to use a sheet with all these questions on it, asking, ‘Why are you making this record? Who are you making it for? Why do you think your record is a hit and who is it for? They had to really think about how they were and how they could make that translate into fans and sales.’”

Ultimately the keys to Coates’ BYOB concept are simple, she says, though they’re deceptively powerful in their simplicity. They are:

1. Definite it: What is your ‘brand’ and what makes you unique? Are you creative, analytical, powerful, eclectic, persuasive, outgoing? Embrace your top three attributes and use them to your advantage.

2. Look it: Your personal and business brand/style should speak volumes without saying a word. The reality is that people form an opinion of you within 30 seconds of meeting you, before you even say a word – whether at a job interview, in a business meeting, or on a first date. “If someone tells you they are a hairdresser, you immediately look at their hair,” Coates explains. “If their hair doesn’t look good, you instantly think twice about letting them do your hair.”

3. Be it: Project who you are and be consistent. Those who are most successful, know who they are and stick to their image and persona.

“I feel very happy and fortunate to have created something that changes the way people think, live, project and dress; it’s extremely empowering,” Coates adds. “I love helping people and developing concepts, so being able to combine the two while changing lives is a blessing.”

Tionne “T-Boz” Watkins: Rapper, Director, Survivor and “Champion”

Her reality show just ended but Tionne “T-Boz” Watkins has got so much going on she can barely tick off the season’s highlights.

As it turns out “Totally T-Boz” — a short-lived series on VH1 — was just the first in a long line of new projects the fem-cee is expected to release now that her health has stabilized. The 42-year-old rapper — a long-time celebrity poster child for sickle-cell anemia — survived a near-fatal brain tumor a few years back, a medical scare that put a monkey wrench in her personal and professional life. Now, MC Mack 10’s ex-wife and mother of their daughter, Chase, has gone back to work, tackling television, music and a whole host of new entrepreneurial ventures.

One of them is a two-parter: a biopic VH1 has signed on to do about T-Boz’s groundbreaking group TLC, as well as an accompanying soundtrack. It will include some music she’s set to record with Canadian rap star Drake.

“[The music] is actually for our new 20th anniversary package — the movie and CD that we’re putting together,” T-Boz explains of she and surviving bandmate Rozonda “Chilli” Thomas’ plans to honor their more than two decades in the music business. (Lisa “Left Eye” Lopez died in a car accident in 2002.)

“We’re going to do two new singles and re-release some of our older hits. As for the movie, we’re hoping to begin shooting at the end of this month, the beginning of March,” she says of the duo’s consulting and co-producing roles. “We’re trying to finalize the characters now and I am a little nervous about that because it’s hard to find somebody [who can play you], especially when, you know, when you’re still alive and stuff,” she laughs of the film helmed by “Drumline” director Charles Stone. “We’ll see.”

T-Boz is also playing the waiting game regarding several other ideas that have been percolating inside her head for awhile. She says they’ll all be developed in due time.

“I’m in the stage where I’m having to turn some stuff down because I can’t do everything at the same time,” she shares. “I’m trying to prioritize and strategically plan what’s more important to me now, particularly on the movie and TV front.

“‘ATL’ [with T.I. and Lauren London] was the first movie I executive produced, so when I was down for three years with my brain tumor I started writing movie treatments to keep myself busy,” T-Boz explains. “I also started writing TV shows and cartoons. I want to produce more movies. I’m also writing a second book — my first one was called ‘Thoughts’ and it came out in 1999.  Between my music and the TLC biopic and me doing music with other people it’s getting kind of crazy — I’m being approached about doing skin care lines, writing songs and all kinds of other stuff — so I’m going to have to calm back down again and not be all over the place,” she says.

One thing the singer-songwriter will always make time for, however, is charity. T-Boz says she will continue to be a face for sickle-cell anemia, a disease that has plagued her since childhood.

“I just put out a song called “Champion” on iTunes,” notes the multiple Grammy award winner. “It’s basically a song I recorded to raise money for children living with leukemia and sickle cell — kids who grew up with the disease just like me. I’m asking people to support — to download it only costs $1.29. I wrote this song because I feel like champions aren’t born, they’re made,” she says. “And that goes out to anybody who has worked hard for anything — whether it’s sports, track, a boxing match or cancer. It’s for anybody who has ever overcome something in their life that they worked really hard for — you’re a champion.”